Best of Vancouver 2012 contributors' picks: Arts
For the Georgia Straight’s 17th annual Best of Vancouver issue, our editorial team has spent months on the lookout for good deeds, weird urban details, and various howlers to highlight. Here’s our contributors’ picks for Best of Vancouver 2012.
Best place for public art
First the interior of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre got a glamorous facelift. Then Her Highness’s sprawling outdoor plaza got a sleek makeover. But ever since then, the space has seemed a tad, well, empty when it’s not show night. That’s why we were so happy to see the recent arrival of Italy-trained Campbell River sculptor Cameron Kerr’s work—10,000 pounds of it. His five pale, geometric marble and granite forms seem to both pay tribute to and wittily comment on the urban infrastructure and modernist architecture around them. Commissioned by the city to mark its 125th anniversary, the sculptures, alas, aren’t permanent. They’re only on view until November—save for the striking sculpture that sits at the corner of Hamilton and West Georgia streets.
Best architectural high-five
The hand-shaped smokestack on the southeast side of the Cambie Street Bridge actually changes colours, as though different shades of nail polish are appearing on the fingertips. In fact, UBC architecture professor Bill Pechet was inspired by nail salons when he designed the structure, which is part of the city’s neighbourhood energy utility. His faculty colleague Matthew Soules told the Straight earlier this year that the “nails” are a visualization of energy production, with the colours reflecting the amount being generated. “Also, when you’re driving across the bridge, it’s like getting a big high-five when you enter the city,” Soules said.
Best dance ambassador
Choreographer Crystal Pite just keeps picking up momentum. Last year, the alumna of Ballet B.C. and William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt took her work around Europe to wide acclaim and created a piece for New York City’s esteemed Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. Her troupe, Kidd Pivot, was even invited to take up residence in Germany for a while. This year, she’s nabbed both the Canada Council for the Arts’ Jacqueline Lemieux Prize and a Dora Mavor Moore award. What’s attracting all the excitement? Her unique, and slightly twisted, vision. Kidd Pivot featured dancers battling menacing puppets (Dark Matters) and kung-fu superheroes (The You Show); in work for the National Ballet of Canada, she’s sent ballerinas skittering en pointe like bugs out of giant nests. If you haven’t entered one of Pite’s magic-theatrical worlds before, you’ll get the chance twice this season: first, her piece by Cedar Lake is hitting town September 28 and 29 at the Vancouver Playhouse; next, her much-anticipated The Tempest Replica, complete with white-faced “replicas” and nostalgic cityscapes, hits the same venue November 8 and 9, both presented by DanceHouse.
Best dance artist in residence
If you caught last spring’s three-part Bliss program, you know the huge potential that Ballet B.C.’s new artist in residence, Montreal’s José Navas, brings to the company. The midsection was a devastating ode to grief that found dancers embracing and collapsing in each other’s arms; it reduced people throughout the audience to tears. It was bookended by two exhilarating, spinning works of speeding, virtuosic en pointe work—prompting viewers to jump to their feet and cheer at the end. Before artistic director Emily Molnar brought Navas to Vancouver, the contemporary dancer had never set a piece en pointe. The risk has paid off: Navas has really found his voice, and he’s become an integral force in the company’s rebuilding of its identity as a Euro-styled, cutting-edge ballet troupe.
Best comeback story
This past July, the Public Dreams Society reported that 40,000 people turned out for the venerable Illuminares spectacle on its first return to Trout Lake in two years, in an event full of illuminated art installations in the park. East Siders had been disappointed when the group moved the lantern festival out of its traditional home: first indoors, to the former Storyeum site in Gastown; and then, last year, to Canada Place, where it drew an estimated 15,000. In fact, people were so PO’d when Public Dreams cancelled the event in 2008 that the chair of the park board actually had to warn them against holding an unofficial version of the fest without proper permits. Now, with these numbers, the East Side community has resolutely reclaimed the festival, and you can pretty much bet that it will be back at the willow-enveloped lake for its 25th anniversary next year.
Best disappearing act involving a major arts organization
Now you see it. Now you don’t. You could be forgiven if that was your feeling after the lightning-fast folding of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company. Sure, there were signs that our regional theatre company was suffering: a season full of coproductions, bailouts from the city. Its directors said the outstanding debt was about $1 million and that rather than enter bankruptcy, it would be easier to cease operations. It was clear that few in the artistic or wider community had foreseen such a drastic turn of events, and shock registered throughout the city, through protests, message boards, and elsewhere. The question on many people’s minds: how could they let this happen to the oldest professional theatre in B.C. and our venerable regional theatre? And why, unlike Ballet B.C. with its near collapse in 2008, couldn’t the company seek bankruptcy protection and rally the community to save it? As the finger-pointing began—at the administration, at the artistic decisions, at all levels of government funding—it became apparent that many of these questions might never be fully answered.
Best reason for hope after the Vancouver Playhouse closure
The York Theatre
639 Commercial Drive
Ask theatre companies in this city what their biggest challenge is, and most will say the lack of affordable venues. Vancouver is a place where only a few professional players—the Arts Club, Bard on the Beach, Pacific Theatre, and the Firehall Arts Centre—have buildings (or tents) to call their own. But that challenge of finding a place to put on a play should improve a lot with the arrival of the renovated York Theatre, which the Cultch is overseeing and expects to open in about a year. With 365 seats, a fly tower, and an orchestra pit, the one time New York Theatre and Raja Theatre is expected to be primarily a rental facility. And that means a higher profile for the new wave of young companies here who might otherwise be relegated to a back alley somewhere. The restoration, led by architect Gregory Henriquez, is under way now, and the final design will have a two-storey glass lobby that will look onto the street.
Best payday for local art
This year, Vancouver’s Jeff Wall broke his own record, selling an artwork for $3.6 million at Christie’s auction house in New York. That makes it the most expensive Canadian photograph ever sold, and the third-most-expensive photo sold in history. And it’s a good indication that the so-called Vancouver School of photography is in the big leagues. Sprawling, macabre, and cinematic, the image, called Dead Troops Talk (A Vision After an Ambush of a Red Army Patrol Near Moqor, Afghanistan, Winter 1986), features actors portraying the range of emotions of Soviet soldiers reacting to—and even chatting about—their own deaths at the hands of the mujahedeen. The sale is almost twice the price fetched this past spring by another famous B.C. artist. At Heffel’s spring auction, Emily Carr’s well-known 1930 oil painting Eagle Totem fetched $1.6 million—the second-highest amount her work has ever nabbed. Carr’s record? in 2009, her Wind in the Treetops took in $2.16 million.
Best sign that the symphony ain’t stuffy
Yes, there are big, established classical names like Isabel Bayrakdarian and Midori in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s 2012-13 season lineup. But a night at the symphony takes on new meaning as our hometown orchestra tries to draw in new audiences and smash any stereotypes of a staid art form. The VSO is hosting Cirque de la Symphonie, with its live music accompanying Cirque du Soleil performers; it’s also getting its cha-cha on with Ballroom With a Twist, featuring Dancing With the Stars performers Edyta Sliwinska and Alec Mazo, as well as other TV celebs. On September 24—mamma mia!—Arrival From Sweden covers the tunes of ABBA with the symphony, and then, in November, the VSO accompanies Charlie Chaplin’s classic City Lights, turning the Orpheum into an old movie house again, complete with a performance on the Wurlitzer organ. Add Rufus Wainwright and the Barenaked Ladies and—well, you can practically hear the sweet harmony of bums settling into seats.