Winter arts festivals offer cool cold-busters


In the summertime, festivals boast outdoor tents, roving entertainers, and street food. In the winter, Vancouver’s growing roster of cold-weather festivals surprisingly offers all that—and more. We’re talking everything from daring performing arts and cutting-edge dance to walk-through lantern wonderlands and distillery tours. Here are just some of the larger events vying to pull you out of hibernation.


PuSh International Performing Arts Festival

Until February 2 at venues around town

The genre-melding performing-arts fest makes the final “push” into its closing weekend with some of its most powerful shows. Edgy dance, interdisciplinary theatre, and experimental music are all on the roster. 

The Big Attractions: Ireland’s Have I No Mouth rolls out a devastating story about a real-life mother and son trying to deal with the death of a husband and father, Thursday to Saturday (January 30 to February 1 at the Waterfront Theatre); and Portuguese icon António Zambujo pushes the heart-rending fado form into realms of jazz at the BlueShore Financial Centre for the Performing Arts at Capilano University on Sunday (February 2). 


CIBC LunarFest

February 7 to 9 at the Vancouver Art Gallery Plaza

Immerse yourself in Asian culture and food in this annual, lantern-happy celebration of the Lunar New Year. 

The Big Attraction: Journey through Lantern Palaces, a new installation-show that blends theatre with the illumated art form, telling the story of life-size, glowing horses travelling amid the palaces of historical Asia, at the plaza each day from 12 to 7 p.m., on the hour. 


Northwest Comedy Fest

February 13 to 22 at venues around town

Standup and improv take over the city’s clubs and theatres in a laugh free-for-all that encompasses everyone from big names to cult favourites. 

The Big Attractions: Hot tickets include veteran comic Patton Oswalt, who you know from the movie Young Adult, TV’s The King of Queens, and elsewhere (February 21 at the Vogue); 30 Rock favourite and trucker-hat champion Judah Friedlander (February 13 to 15 at the Comedy MIX); and c’mon, we know you’re curious to find out what WWE legend Mick Foley’s standup act is all about at Lafflines (February 13 to 15). 



February 14 to 16 around Granville Island

Pop-up dances, art exhibits, distillery tours, parades, mask-making, and theatre liven up the island on a cold winter weekend. 

The Big Attractions: The Vancouver Fringe Festival is presenting the hilarious Monster Theatre hit Hockey Night at the Puck and Pickle Pub at Studio 1398 (February 13 to 15), featuring Jon Paterson and Ryan Gladstone playing—yes—every person in the bar watching a gold-medal game. And PechaKucha: Granville Island is a special installment of the innovative-idea exchange, with guests like Arts Club Theatre Company artistic director Bill Millerd and i.e. creative’s Cheryl Hamilton, at the Net Loft on the Saturday night (February 16). 


Talking Stick Festival

February 18 to March 2 at the York Theatre and elsewhere

The aboriginal-arts celebration continues to offer up a diverse array of shows, from plays to dance works to concerts. 

The Big Attractions: Juno-winner Crystal Shawanda’s concert (March 1 at the York) promises to be a big draw, but don’t miss the fest’s strong theatre contingent this year, with two shows that explore the haunting stories of women and girls who go missing: Quilchena (February 19 and 20 at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre) and The Hours That Remain (February 22, 23, and 25 at the Roundhouse). 


Italy’s ImPerfect Dancers round out a strong program at the Chutzpah Festival.


Chutzpah Festival

February 22 to March 9 at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre and elsewhere

Dance, music, theatre, and comedy hit the stage in celebration of Jewish contemporary arts from around the world. 

The Big Attractions: Bands like Yemen Blues (February 27 and 28 at Venue) and Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis (March 9 at Vancouver FanClub) rock cool Middle Eastern sounds, but it’s the dance program—complete with Italy’s acclaimed, cutting-edge ImPerfect Dancers (March 6, 8, and 9 at the Rothstein) and L.A.’s BODYTRAFFIC, premiering a work by ultrahot Israeli choreographer Hofesh Schechter (February 22 to 24 at the Rothstein)—that’s really impressive. 


Coastal First Nations Dance Festival

March 4 to 9 at the UBC Museum of Anthropology

Aboriginal stories, songs, and dances from coastal BritishColumbia, the Yukon, and Alaska turn the museum into a whirling setting for First Nations history and artistry. 

The Big Attractions: Signature evening performances happen Friday and Saturday night, when a mixed program of spectacular coastal dance hits the stage. 


Vancouver International Dance Festival

March 7 to 29 at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre and elsewhere

The contemporary-dance extravaganza emphasizes the international in its name this year, with works coming from as far away as China, Germany, and Spain to complement local creations by the likes of Kokoro Dance and the 605 Collective. 

The Big Attraction: Spaniard Israel Galván is said to push flamenco into realms you haven’t seen before in his ode to the Edad de Oro (“Golden Age”). 


Looking for more ways to fight the winter blahs? Here is a small sampling of some of the best shows heating up the scene in the coming month or so:

Grupo Corpo

February 7 and 8 at the Vancouver Playhouse

Here’s a show to really spice up a chilly evening: Brazil’s finest contemporary-dance troupe is a powerhouse of intensity and wild costumes. 


Pacific Rim Celebration

February 8 and 9 at the Orpheum

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra launches a series around the Lunar New Year, featuring Maestro Long Yu, artistic director of the China Philharmonic and music director of the Shanghai and Guangzhou symphonies, and Chinese violinist Wen Wei on the first night, and in an ode to Korea the second night, violinist Sarah Chang and celebrated soprano Young-Mi Kim. 


Music From the New Wilderness

February 11 to 15 at the Cultch

Western Front New Music premieres its ambitious ode to the B.C. landscape, created out of the 2014 Rio Tinto Alcan Award for Music. It incorporates archival wax-cylinder recordings from the Okanagan and recent field recordings from the Broughton Archipelago, promising soundscapes like you’ve never heard. 


Grace Symmetry

February 20 to 22 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Ballet B.C. pairs up with the Turning Point Ensemble for what promises to be a transcendent evening of dance and new music. The choreographers are strong across the board: Wen Wei Wang, Medhi Walerski, and Kevin O’Day. 


Don Giovanni

March 1 and 6 to 9 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Vancouver Opera brings Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s famous seducer to the stage, with a final descent into enough hell fire to melt whatever ice is left outside. 


Tempest Replica

March 5 to 8 at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU Woodward’s in the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts

Dance icon Crystal Pite’s haunting, visually striking ode to Shakespeare’s The Tempest makes a brief return to town with a production by her company, Kidd Pivot. 


Bridge of Song

March 8 at Pyatt Hall, VSO School of Music

What more wintry way to celebrate than to immerse yourself in the northern sounds of the Vancouver Cantata Singers’ concert of Baltic music, along with choral pieces by complementary Canadian composers. 


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