Editors' Picks: Arts


John Chong photo

Best over-the-top artwork in the Fraser Valley

If Michael Jackson had lived to stage a long-running Las Vegas show like Wayne Newton’s or Céline Dion’s, perhaps the King of Pop would have purchased one of Chilliwack artist Kevin Stone’s giant stainless-steel sculptures to top off the production. Stone, whose gleaming creations typically weigh more than two tonnes, put his 10-metre-long, four-metre-high Chinese Imperial Water Dragon on the market this year for a cool US$10 million. A tad pricey, but the veteran artist did spend 12,000 hours on it. Even if you can only afford to gape, check out the dragon and two massive eagles at Metal Animation Studio’s Web site.

Best hotel art

Listel Hotel
1300 Robson Street

Shangri-La Vancouver
1128 West Georgia Street

Vancouver Art Gallery Offsite

Fairmont Pacific Rim
1038 Canada Place

Long known as Vancouver’s most “artful” hotel, the Listel has sculpture outside and in the lobby, but art gets kicked up a big notch in the guest rooms. The Artist Series Suites feature local and international artists, the Museum Floors are partnered with the Museum of Anthropology, and the Gallery Floors’ art is curated by the Buschlen Mowatt gallery.

If you haven’t yet gawked at the outdoor exhibition space of Vancouver Art Gallery Offsite, at the base of the Shangri-La Hotel, kick yourself. You’ve got until November 29 to check out this powerful, really big, brilliant photo installation, Horizon (Sky), by Chinese artist O Zhang. It’s six billboard-sized photographic prints on vinyl of young girls from the artist’s childhood home in rural China. This is the first of VAG Offsite’s displays that will see a new local or international public-art project every six months.

Watch for the unveiling of British artist Liam Gillick’s text that will wrap around the exterior—the Cordova Street and Burrard Street sides, all the way up to the 22nd floor—of the soon-to-open Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel (January 18, 2010). Vancouverites were given a sneak peek in August 2008. The text (it’s in Helvetica bold) opens with “lying on top of a building”¦the clouds looked no nearer.” It’s also the largest single piece of public art in Vancouver.

Best way to piss off starving local artists

Cut their funding

When the B.C. Liberal government revealed in late August that gaming grants to the arts were being virtually annihilated and then unveiled an updated September budget that included planned cuts of up to 81-percent for core arts-and-culture funding in 2010-2011, artists across the province rallied forces like never before. The subsequent brouhaha (not to mention threats of legal action) forced the Liberals into a slight backpedal, with the reinstatement of gambling grants to organizations—both arts and nonarts groups, approximately 540 of them out of a total of about 6,800—with multiyear commitments. Although many organizations were still left out in the cold, the collective fury of thousands of cultural workers remains a force to be reckoned with.

Best international plug for a local show

When the ticket sales to the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Les Misérables suddenly spiked in April, staff happily chalked it up to good marketing. Then they checked their e-mail and realized they were experiencing the Susan Boyle effect. Boyle is that frumpy Scottish cat lady who auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent and tore up the Internet with her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from—you guessed it—Les Misérables. While the Arts Club’s production went on to become the highest-selling show in the company’s history, Boyle ended up losing both the competition and her shit: following her defeat, she spent five days in a clinic for “exhaustion”.

Best theatre in the sky that isn’t a lightning storm

Performing Arts Lodge Theatre
581 Cardero Street

Walk into an inconspicuous apartment building in Coal Harbour and get onto the elevator to the top floor if you want to find one of the city’s coolest theatres, the Performing Arts Lodge (PAL) Theatre. This past year alone it has housed terrific performances of Palace of the End and John and Beatrice, to name a few. During intermission, you can wander around on the rooftop garden, maintained by the residents of the lodge, whose mission is to provide affordable housing to seniors and the disabled from the performing arts and related professions. An intimate venue, great theatre, and a good cause make PAL Vancouver one of the best penthouse suites around.

Best proof that Christopher Gaze doesn't need to brush up his Shakespeare

On August 7, Allan Morgan, the actor who usually portrayed the Bishop of Carlyle in Bard on the Beach’s splendid production of Richard 11, fell ill. He was promptly replaced by festival director Christopher Gaze, who was not, technically speaking, the role’s understudy. To be sure, he had to read from a script, but his delivery was pitch perfect, as was his body language. Who knows? Maybe Gaze dreams in iambic pentameter.

Best street performer keeping english bay audiences enthralled

Walking through downtown, you’ll often have to squeeze past groups of people watching street performers. One such entertainer who stops pedestrians in their tracks down at English Bay goes by the name of Byron from England. Ever the consummate outdoor jester, he keeps massive crowds thoroughly entertained by making lewd jokes to passersby and people who dare to leave midperformance (“Mom, don’t leave—I need your support” or “You know this is a free show, right?”), inviting audience participation by getting volunteers to help him with juggling balls and torches, and capping things off with a grand finale involving a straitjacket. Talk about knowing how to work a crowd.

Best wacky, profane, irreverent standup comedy troupe

The Sunday Service

Always surreal, occasionally weird, and sometimes outright brilliant, The Sunday Service is absurdist comedy at its best and a great way to spend a Sunday evening. For the past four years, troupe members Ryan Beil, Taz Vanrassel, Aaron Read, and Kevin Lee have been singing, miming, and doing various outrageous things in front of packed crowds at the Hennessey Dining Lounge (53 West Broadway). While hilarity and pop-culture references abound, a large man on a very small keyboard sets the score as audience members shout suggestions and the group’s award-winning members drop in and out of skits at a manic pace. This is smart, fast, and bizarre showmanship that eventually becomes addictive, and at five bucks cover, costs less than many Starbucks coffees.

Best outdoor interactive theatre event

Bollywood Wedding

If you were lucky this summer, you caught one of the best interactive theatre productions this city hosted. Bollywood Wedding was set outdoors at the Italian Gardens in Hastings Park in July. Audience members were essentially a part of this comedic extravaganza, serving as wedding guests. The audience walked around throughout the show, from set to set, which culminated in a joyous, fully participatory wedding celebration featuring a half-hour set by Vancouver’s hottest bhangra band, En Karma. The plot revolved around an arranged marriage, feuding families, and the clashing of religions and cultures. How could goofy antics not ensue? In true Bollywood fashion, guests were treated to a feast for the senses: sumptuous, colourful costumes; driving, exhilarating music; and some truly brilliant dancing.

Best mise en scene

This honour usually goes to legitimate theatre productions, not operatic extravaganzas, no doubt because it’s easier to determine who did what in the former medium. Nevertheless, the best local mise en scí¨ne of 2009 unfolded on the stage of the Playhouse Theatre during the Vancouver Opera Association’s astonishingly good production of Richard Strauss’s one-act opera, Salome. Although most of the press was unsurprisingly devoted to the quality of the singing, it should not be forgotten that, between them, musical director Joseph Darlington, scenic designer Robert Dahlstrom, lighting designer Gerald King, and stage manager Sheila Munn came up with a single set layout that allowed everyone in the theatre to get a perfect view of exactly what was going on.

Best Cantonese alternative to Madame Butterfly

Raise your hand if you’ve been to a Cantonese opera. Perhaps not? The latest action flick may often win out over a night with the Vancouver Cantonese Opera troupe, but next time don’t discount it so quickly. The group mounts productions periodically throughout the year as they showcase the best that Cantonese opera has to offer. At first, the sing-song tones and clanging of drums and cymbals feel jarringly unfamiliar, but as the evening progresses you’ll be enchanted by the richly embroidered costumes and by the dramatic makeup. Story lines are often set during ancient Chinese dynasties (think thousands of years ago), so be prepared for court intrigue and tragic love affairs. Shows can be on the long side (four hours), so get comfortable in your seat and enjoy the journey back in time.

Best antidote for downtown construction

Shoreline Public Art Walk

The seemingly never-ending construction zone that is currently Vancouver’s downtown core might have you fleeing from it as often and quickly as possible, but there are reasons to stay. Head for the waters and find some solace in Vancouver’s pride: its waterfront scenery and public art space. The Shoreline Public Art Walk is a walking tour of Vancouver, highlighting historical facts and works of art along the way. It’ll take you on a 13-kilometre walk around the downtown shoreline, meandering through seven different neighbourhoods. It’s a free, self-guided tour that will help you see beyond the construction sites and rekindle your appreciation for how stunning this city really is. Maps are available at the office of cultural affairs, City Hall, and downloadable from www.city.vancouver.bc.ca/publicartregistry/ .

Best place to watch flamenco dancers

Kino Cafe
3456 Cambie Street

As the sun starts to hang low in the summer sky, a diverse and lively bunch of people can be found crowding around Kino’s wooden tables, ordering pitcher after pitcher of the excellent sangria and waiting for one of the best shows in the city to start. Originally a neighbourhood coffee joint beside the Park Theatre on Cambie Street, Kino started hosting flamenco dancers and musicians in the mid 1990s and hasn’t looked back. Almost every night, captivating flamenco dancers, their hair tightly pinned back with flowers and ribbons, gyrate and stamp their feet to Spanish melodies, dresses whirling in a riot of layered silk and lace. Backing musicians on beaten-up guitars clap, snap, and shout staccato flourishes to their complicated rhythms while a charismatic and debonair performer sings forceful, intense flamenco ballads. It’s unlike anything else in the city, and the results are transcendent.

Best merging of cultures in dance

Cafe de Chinitas
Various venues

In an intoxicating combination that blends the best of two distinct cultures, the Café de Chinitas project combines the sultry exoticism of China and the fiery passion of Spain. Together, they form a classic “East meets West” scenario, but delivered in an art form that’s entirely all its own. This is essentially a blending of traditional Spanish flamenco with an Asian flair. The Mosaico Flamenco Dance Theatre, home of the project for the past few years, is thrilled to showcase its dancers’ talents within the exotic music of the Orchid Ensemble, exemplifying the theatre’s philosophy of embracing cultural diversity. Their dancers come from a range of ethnic backgrounds including Spanish, Mexican, English, Chinese, and Filipino, and they bring to the project a wonderful combination of the highest level of artistic collaboration. The series has been performed in, essentially, whatever theatres or largish spaces are available, and although personal reasons precluded any shows this year, plans are to take up next year where they left off.

Best unexpected arts venues

Celebration Hall at Mountain View Cemetery
5455 Fraser Street

Chapel Arts
304 Dunlevy Avenue

Celebration Hall, a beautiful new modernist public facility a block west of 39th Avenue and Fraser Street, is the latest manifestation of the unique and welcome vision of the folks running the city-owned Mountain View Cemetery. Since October 2005, A Night for All Souls has harnessed diverse cultural traditions to help us honour those we’ve lost. Now the cemetery’s managers are trying to bring a broad range of performing-arts events into this fascinating and often-forgotten part of our city. The packed house for Theatre Conspiracy’s Graveside Macbeth reading in August exemplified the effort. Down at 304 Dunlevy, Chapel Arts has found smart new uses for an old funeral parlour. The venue has hosted a wide range of concerts, plays, and art shows. Two years after the HIVE theatre showcase descended upon the Chapel, we’re still trying to shake the images of a doomed homeless person living in a Dumpster and a talking corpse rising from a table in the embalming room.

Best of sculpted vancouver

VanDusen Botanical Garden
5251 Oak Street

Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale
290 West 3rd Avenue

Nope, we’re not talking about the beautiful bods at Kits Beach. We’re stoked that Vancouver seems like a cosmopolitan city when it’s filled with public art as it is now, with two cool sculpture exhibits that add grace and texture. One is temporary—Zimsculpt; the other, the Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale, is here until 2011. Vancouver is the only North American stop for Zimsculpt, which is composed of 150 Zimbabwean shona stone sculptures placed throughout VanDusen Botanical Garden. The display is free with garden admission ($8.85) and goes to October 4. As part of the biannual public Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale, 30 sculptures from six continents have been installed in 12 neighbourhoods, along beaches, bike and walking paths, and in parks and plazas. These are in addition to five legacy pieces from previous Biennales scheduled to be reinstalled in new spots around town. (The first Biennale was shaped by the Buschlen Mowatt Galleries together with the Vancouver park board in 1998 and resulted in a brilliant summer-long sculpture exhibit at English Bay.) Check out the Web site for Biennale locations, events including the BIKEnnale Great Ride on October 4 (participants cycle to all the sculptures), and more.

Comments (5) Add New Comment
The Sunday Service is an Improv comedy "troupe", not standup. Can't really think of any standup troupes offhand...
Rating: -12
I love Cafe de Chinitas.
Rating: -8
Well deserved props for the Sunday Service! THE best thing to do on a sunday evening in Vancouver.
Rating: -7
Aww...Spectral Theatre productions aren't on here. I really love them
Rating: +10
My favorite thing about Byron from England - he's actually from Vancouver. North American street performers learned long ago that adopting an English accent leads to much bigger hats at the end of the show.
Rating: +15
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