From Latin salsa to lanterns, Vancouver's summer arts festivals sizzle
Banjo virtuosos, mad tea parties, ninja B-boys, and salsa in the streets: they make up just a few of the unexpected summer surprises that await at this year’s arts festivals.
Among the big news: a much-missed lantern fest is set to return to its East Side home turf; a top local actor is tackling one of Shakespeare’s darkest roles; a dance troupe is taking over Victory Square; and an outdoor theatre fest is mounting a Titanic task. Curious enough now to take time away from the beach? Read on.
Bard on the Beach
(Until September 22 in the tents in Vanier Park)
For its 23rd season (has it really been that long?), the annual seaside Shakespeare festival covers everything from controversial comedy to one of the broodiest works in the Bard’s repertoire. In the big, open-backed mainstage tent, custom built with more comfort and technical upgrades last year, Meg Roe directs the romantic comedy The Taming of the Shrew (to September 22) and Miles Potter helms the tragedy Macbeth (to September 20). In the more intimate, 240-seat Douglas Campbell Studio Stage Tent, check out The Merry Wives of Windsor (June 28 to September 21) and Dean Paul Gibson’s King John (July 11 to September 19).
The Draw: Expect a Macbeth with extra toil and trouble, all set on an eerie gothic set with a killer cast: the superb Bob Frazer takes on the power-hungry title role, veteran Bernard Cuffling is his target, King Duncan, and Colleen Wheeler plays his bloodstained Lady.
Songfire Festival of Song
(Until June 24 at UBC and venues around town)
Sometimes a simple voice and a piano can be more powerful than an 80-member orchestra. At least that’s the idea at the Vancouver International Song Institute’s festival of art song, where melodies continue to soar into late June. Participants are also discussing the topic in-depth: all this week, till June 16, experts in arts and social change take part in an Arts of Conscience Symposium and Film Series.
The Draw: One of the highlights of Songfire is witnessing the premieres of new work in the fest-closing VISI at the Waterfront program (June 24 at the Waterfront Theatre). Among this rendition’s highlights is the debut of the theatre-infused Seaworthy, inspired by the mystery of the ghost ship Mary Celeste.
A Midsummer Fete
(June 24, 1 to 5 p.m., at Colony Farm Regional Park, Port Coquitlam)
Riffing on the idea of an old English summer fete, this relatively new event features storytelling, music, art installations, roving characters, sack races, and a giant labyrinth along a picturesque, pastoral river bank. It’s put on by Public Dreams, and the price is right, at five bucks for adults and free entry for seniors and children under 12.
The Draw: Don your best hat for a central tea party that would make the Mad Hatter go mad with jealousy.
Sunday Afternoon Salsa
(Sundays from 3 to 7 p.m., July 1 to August 26 at Robson Square)
More free fun, this time with an added hit of Cuban heat. If you haven’t witnessed the weekly salsa dancing that happens in the heart of the city, we’re telling you that it’s the closest thing you’re going to get to Latin America in the Pacific Northwest.
The Draw: You don’t need to know your break steps or clave rhythms to take part. Step up for lessons from 3 to 3:30 p.m., or you can just take in the pro-style performances that happen at 5 p.m.
Dancing on the Edge
(July 5 to 14 at the Firehall Arts Centre, the Vancouver Playhouse, and other sites)
The 24th annual dance extravaganza puts veteran performers like Paul-André Fortier alongside up-and-comers from here and across the country. Aside from taking in the full-length mainstage shows, you can sample the choreographic tapas at the popular mixed Edge programs (we’re excited about gems like Sophie Yendole and Meredith Kalaman’s The Lost Art of Girl Guiding). Or you can forgo the darkened theatre for site-specific wonders like Brad Muirhead and Science Friction’s What’s the Idea? (July 10 and 11), which finds 22 musicians and five dancers animating Victory Square.
The Draw: The buzz is all about the 605 Collective’s long-awaited debut of Inheritor Album (July 6 and 7 at the Vancouver Playhouse), in which the dance scene’s cool kids riffing on their generation, sampling beats as much as urban and contemporary movement.
(July 5 to 15 at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts and the SFU Woodward’s complex)
The second annual celebration of South Asian culture sprinkles extra spice into the first part of the summer. The roster is as diverse as the community, with a masala of big-time Bollywood stars, lectures, cooking demos, feminist speakers, and world-music groups.
The Draw: The film series called A Life in the Limelight: Sharmila Tagore and Five Decades of Indian Cinema (July 6 to 8 and 13 to 15 at the Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema kicks off its opening night with an Indian-film mega icon, Tagore live and in-person, discussing her glamorous life as one of the former queens of Bollywood (and the mother of current superstar Saif Ali Khan).
Theatre Under the Stars
(July 8 to August 18 at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park)
Other than the fact that its aging venue has been renovated, the big attraction at TUTS this year is the Vancouver premiere of Titanic: A New Musical, a Tony award–winner and Broadway hit. It alternates with the classic The Music Man, which is set in 1912—100 years ago and the same year that the great ship went down to the bottom of the sea.
The Draw: Titanic should prove unsinkable, thanks to having former Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company artistic managing director Max Reimer, known for his musicals, at the helm.
All Over the Map
(July 8, 15, and 22, at 1 and 3 p.m., at Ron Basford Park on Granville Island)
Free, all-ages outdoor dance and music from around the world: really, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, what’s not to like? For its ninth year, All Over the Map brings in the Vancouver Cantonese Opera, Kokoma African Heritage Ensemble, and the Dancers of Damelahamid to the quaint little park on Granville Island.
The Draw: This year’s programming is strong, but for sheer tropical heat, don’t miss Kokoma (July 15). Where else are you going to see tribal dance and drumming rhythms from southeastern Nigeria this summer?
Neanderthal Arts Festival
(July 18 to 29 at the Cultch)
This year, the city’s most cutting-edge theatre festival is invading every corner of the Cultch. National and local works will take place not just in the Historic Theatre and Culture Lab, but the dressing-room kitchens and the wine bar.
The Draw: Intriguing titles this year include Conrad Alexandrowicz’s House of X, a black comedy that’s a mashup of melodrama, horror, and fairy tale; and Tyumen, Then, a stylized look at two soldiers guarding Vladimir Lenin’s corpse in the boxcar of a motionless train, from Toronto’s Groundwater Productions.
(July 21 at Trout Lake)
The legendary lantern festival is ready to make its long-awaited return to its home turf. The event moved downtown for the past two years, due to everything from financial problems and growing crowds to construction at Trout Lake. The theme this year is “Let your bright light shine”, so attend one of the 20 workshops ahead of time to craft yourself an artful illuminator. Public Dreams has also invited pros to build lit-up structures in the park.
The Draw: Quite simply, to see the return of those bobbing, glowing lanterns reflecting off the water at Trout Lake. In recent weeks, the organizers have continued pleading for donations to foot the bill for the city-required policing and security.
Vancouver Early Music Festival
(July 29 to August 17 at various venues)
The fest’s concert series can be quietly ethereal in recitals like Lovesick, featuring Claudio Monteverdi pieces performed by soprano Ellen Hargis, with harpsichordist Christopher Bagan (July 29). But it can also be epic: an all-star cast of early-music singers (including polished and sought-after countertenor Tim Mead, in the title role) performs George Frederick Handel’s masterpiece Orlando in concert, in collaboration with Musicfest (August 15 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts).
The Draw: Orlando is early music’s big splash this summer, but the polychoral vespers of Gabrieli’s Venice is also worth noting, featuring Montreal’s Les Voix Baroque and La Rose des Vents (August 10 at Christ Church Cathedral).
Queer Arts Festival
(July 31 to August 18 at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre and other venues)
The festival continues to show its pride, with its can’t-miss visual-arts exhibits running the length of the fest at the Roundhouse, plus workshops, play and opera readings, and much, much more.
The Draw: Darcy Michael’s hilarious variety show, The Gayest Show on Earth (August 7 at the Roundhouse), promises risqué laughs and out-loud standup; and MACHiNENOiSY’s Law of Proximity (August 15 to 18 at the Scotiabank Dance Centre) will be a multimedia dance spectacle. Info: queerartsfestival.com/.
Powell Street Festival
(August 4 and 5 at Oppenheimer Park, the Firehall Arts Centre, and other venues)
Think martial arts, sumo wrestling, and ikebana alongside B-boy groups, MCs, and experimental theatre. The country’s largest Japanese Canadian celebration is unique in melding the traditional and the coolly contemporary.
The Draw: Check out these mashups: poet Sachiko Murakami’s Henko: A Powell Street Renga invites participants to give a 21st-century twist to the ancient form of poetry, and Sawayakai Taiko drummers will perform with the Dead Beat Ninjas B-boy group. And don’t miss the Saturday evening concert (August 4 at SFU Woodward’s in the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts), with jazz pianist and vocalist Emi Meyer, folksinger Ana Miura, and a piece called Karate Theatre of Earth by the dynamic duo of Maiko Bae Yamamoto with Veda Hille.
(August 10 to 19 at various venues)
The summer music festival broadens its appeal, with much more than the classical fare it made its name with. Sure, there are shows like Deux Pianos: Hommage à Debussy, pianists Philippe Cassard and François Chaplin’s ode to the 150th birthday of Claude Debussy (August 18 at the Vancouver Playhouse). And Toronto’s Gryphon Trio will interpret glistening classics by Ludwig van Beethoven and Antonin Dvořák (August 15 and 17 at Christ Church Cathedral). But throw acts like the lounge band Pink Martini, banjo virtuoso Jayme Stone, and Norwegian a cappella group Nordic Voices into the mix, and you quickly have a concert series that delightfully defies easy categorization.
The Draw: The multimedia orchestral opener Here to Stay: The Gershwin Experience (August 10 at the Orpheum) should capture the mood of Summertime perfectly.
Vancouver International Fringe Festival
(September 6 to 16 at venues on and around Granville Island)
The Vancouver International Fringe Festival will end the summer with the usual bang. Acts span the tiny and the international, the site-specific and the theatre-based.
The Draw: The return of Jem Rolls and Wonderheads (the company behind last year’s masked Grim and Fischer) offer hope of twisted fun.