The Great Human Odyssey in Concert

The Great Human Odyssey in Concert
Event on 2016-02-25 00:00:00
Enmax Hall, Winspear Centre
Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
Narrated by Niobe Thompson, anthropologist and filmmaker
Darren Fung, conductor


A riveting documentary produced by anthropologist and filmmaker Dr. Niobe Thompson on the origins of humanity and its path to the present was given life with the music of former Edmonton composer Darren Fung in a series presented on CBC’s The Nature of Things. See a specially-prepared version of the film projected above the musicians of the ESO conducted by Darren with live narration by Niobe himself. A dazzling display for your eyes, ears, heart and minds.


Delve deeper into the story of The Great Human Odyssey at the interactive site A World of Extremes. Move through the worlds of sea, desert and tundra nomads. Explore the environments they inhabit in first-person, and walk (or swim) a mile in their shoes.Ticket Information

Dress Circle (A)
Terrace (B)
Orchestra (C)
Upper Circle (D)
Gallery (E)
Front Orchestra (F)

Tickets subject to applicable service charges.Bill & Mary Jo Robbins
Series Supporters Director's Statement
Director’s Statement: Dr. Niobe Thompson

“Awash in fresh insights, scientists have had to revise virtually every chapter of the human story.” Scientific American (2014)

Where did we come from? How did we survive near extinction? And why did we become our world’s only global species? I believe few stories have the power to grip our attention like our very own: the human story.

So when CBC’s The Nature of Things asked me take its audience on a tour of the newest discoveries about our past, learning from the world’s leading experts on human origins and taking part in the lives of traditional nomads and hunter gatherers around the planet, it was a dream realized.

I began making The Great Human Odyssey with that conviction that we are a miraculous creature: the only form of life unhitched from the natural limits of an ecological niche, able to adapt to new environments, and change them to suit our needs. The “evolution of adaptability” is our inheritance from a difficult past. At one time, Homo sapiens stood on the brink of extinction, numbering only a few thousand individuals, somewhere in Africa. Soon after that, our species found ways to rebuild, and we colonized the entire planet.

Not all were so lucky. I like to compare the world of our ancestors to Middle-Earth, full of different kinds of walking apes, all much like us. There were Hobbits, Neanderthals, a newly discovered creature called a Denisovan, and an entire cast of Homo erectus characters of which we know almost nothing. Some of our cousins were so like us that we “married” into their lines, or they “married” into ours; our DNA today carries the signals of those meetings.

But where are they now? Since the last Ice Age, humans have occupied a very lonely branch of the evolutionary tree. You have to wonder why we alone are the last surviving humans, and in the same breath, you must marvel at the extraordinary success of our species, at home on every continent, in every climate, on land and at sea.

With this documentary series, I set out to discover what we can know about the ancient world that shaped us, the incredible challenges to survival we overcame, and our difficult journey from Africa to settle all the planet’s diverse ecosystems. In the process, I hope to shed light on our remarkable human flexibility, the essence of our enduring presence in an unpredictable and hostile world.

Before beginning production on The Great Human Odyssey, I had explored other, more recent chapters in our species’ past. The origins of the modern Inuit in a violent invasion of the Arctic 1000 years ago, for the 2009 documentary, Inuit Odyssey. The arrival of humans in the New World during the last Ice Age, an astonishing journey from Arctic Asia when glaciers still covered half of North America, for the 2011 documentary Code Breakers. And then, the role endurance running played in the survival of our early humans, for the 2012 documentary The Perfect Runner.

Each of these journeys into our past reinforced the same lesson: our ancestors were extraordinary people, capable of far more than we give them credit. They were curious and adventurous risk-takers, they were masters of technology, they thought like scientists, and they were fun loving, artistically sensitive, and emotionally complex.

This is why early humans accomplished so much, learning to live well in every environment on Earth, exploring their way out of Africa, onwards to the Arctic, Australia, and the Americas, and finally to the most remote islands of the Pacific. Yet, because these voyages of exploration took place before recorded history, we think of the Age of Exploration as beginning with men like Magellan, Franklin, and Heyerdahl. But the more we learn about prehistoric migrations, the more impressive early humans become – they too were masters of exploration, they adapted as they went, and they were brave enough to look over the next hill, or beyond the ocean horizon.

For me, the question is why? Why are humans so resourceful, so good at figuring out the myriad puzzles that nature throws at us? A clue to our resilience: we evolved during the most volatile era our planet has experienced since the extinction of the dinosaurs, 65m years ago. 

Humans were forged by calamity. We became tenacious, virtually impossible to wipe out, incredibly good at dealing with change. We became fast-breeding settlers, a relentless colonizer. As soon as the modern brain evolved, our species became unstoppable. The very mind that today believes it needs a new smart phone every 12 months is the same one that invented and adapted its way from the parched Kalahari Desert to the shores of the Arctic Ocean within 1,500 generations. To put that into perspective, before that point in time – over the previous 100,000 generations (2 million years) – earlier humans invented only a single primitive tool, the stone hand-axe.

I am an anthropologist who became a filmmaker. I left university research because I believe the communication of science is my path. I want my children to grow up in a scientifically literate society, where films that explore the natural world play a central role. But I also believe in the power of art to enlighten, and I am thrilled to be pushing the artistic boundaries of film, striving to make science just as spectacular as it is fascinating. The Great Human Odyssey does both; it is a gorgeous and breathtaking cinematographic odyssey and an encounter with cutting-edge science.

Darren Fung, conductor

At one point in his life, Darren used to be a really good piano player. Then he decided to compose: at the age of fifteen he wrote a piece for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, and then it all went downhill. After finishing his degree at McGill and living and loving Montreal for twelve years, Darren is now based out of Los Angeles.

Amongst his credits, Darren recreated Canada's second national anthem, the beloved Hockey Theme, for CTV and TSN. His work on Bell Canada’s Orchestra spot, run during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, was voted as Canada’s top commercial by readers of The Globe and Mail. His critically acclaimed work on the mini-series Lost Years garnered him a 2012 Canadian Screen Award nomination. His feature and short film scores have been heard at prestigious film festivals around the world, including Toronto, Cannes, and Sundance.

Darren currently serves as the Second Vice President of the Screen Composers Guild of Canada, and acts as a Program Advisor for the Canadian Film Centre's Slaight Music Residency. He is represented by Maria Machado of the prestigious Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency. Venue Info

Enmax Hall, Winspear Centre
#4 Sir Winston Churchill Square
Edmonton, AB
Google Map

 Getting Here

The Francis Winspear Centre for Music is on the corner of 102nd Avenue and 99th Street, in the heart of The Arts District in downtown Edmonton. It is readily accessible by car, Edmonton Transit (bus and LRT), and the Pedway system.

The City of Edmonton provides over 1500 convenient parking stalls within a 5-minute walk from Winspear Centre, The Citadel Theatre and Shaw Conference Centre. The Library, Canada Place and City Hall Parkades provide heated underground parking with pedway connections to the event venues. Parking is also available at on-street meters in the vicinity.


Nearly every level of the Winspear Centre is able to accommodate patrons with wheelchairs. Please advise our Box Office staff when you purchase your tickets that access to wheelchair seating will be necessary.

The Winspear Centre can provide an assistive listening device if you require one. Please visit the concierge desk in the main lobby.

 Dining Near the Winspear

The Winspear Centre's downtown location is ideally situated for some of the best dining experiences Edmonton has to offer. Whether you're seeking dinner before the show or a late night treat after, you can find it at one of these restaurants located within a few blocks of the Winspear Centre.

 At the Event

What to Wear
For some, an event at a world-class facility like the Winspear Centre is a great excuse to dress to the nines. But it’s hardly necessary. If that’s your style – go for it! If it’s not – hey, you paid for the ticket, so do what makes you feel comfortable. You’ll see a wide range of dress, from casual to pretty classy, depending on the kind of event it is. Business casual is probably a great middle ground for most Edmonton Symphony Orchestra concerts.

Perfume & Scents
In consideration to your fellow patrons who may have sensitivities or allergies to scented products, we ask that you use such products with great discretion. If, as a patron, you experience difficulty due to another patron’s use of fragrance, please alert our front of house staff, who will do everything possible to accommodate you.

Food & Beverage
The Winspear Centre has a number of stations in operation pre-show and during intermission. Bars, coffee bars, dessert stations and a martini bar are waiting for you. A good bet for intermission is to pre-order your drink before the show, and it will be waiting for you, so you can avoid lining up during the break.

Click here for more information on planning your experience.

at Winspear Centre
#4 Sir Winston Churchill Square (99 St & 102 Ave)
Edmonton, Canada

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