Look back in wonder: the top 12 shows of 2007

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      You rarely know what to expect when you head out to the theatre, concert hall, or gallery, but surprises of the good kind often come when a single piece of outstanding work helps an entire show to lift off. Here, the Straight's cultural critics take a look back at performances that raised the bar in 2007.

      (Produced by Theatre Replacement and High Performance Rodeo at Video In on February 4) In each of the six monologues that made up Bioboxes: Artifacting Human Experience, solo actors performed for audience members one at a time–in tiny theatres that fitted over our heads and put our faces inches apart. Nerve-racking at first, the intimacy was also deeply rewarding and spoke to the essential humanity of theatrical exchange. Maiko Bae Yamamoto, co-artistic director of Theatre Replacement, got the idea when she was in Mexico and saw a man doing shows for one person at a time under a blanket. > Colin Thomas

      (A Vancouver Opera production at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on November 10) As "La commedia í¨ finita!", the last line of Ruggiero Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, rang through the theatre, it capped off one of the most thrilling ensemble performances of the year. This opera had it all: a superb cast, heart-stopping action scenes, and many memorable tunes. With his sensitive portrayal of the pathetic main character, and a big voice to boot, John Mac Master earned himself a spot in the great Pagliaccis club. Months later, we're still humming "Vesti la giubba". > Jessica Werb

      (A Festival Vancouver production at the UBC First Nations Longhouse on August 11) In a program that was lovely, lilting, and at times also eerily dissonant, the Finnish choir Philomela's 20 singers were, individually and collectively, flawless. But if any one member stood out, it was conductor Marjukka Riihimí¤ki, who was astonishingly sensitive to nuances of time and space. Through her restless recombining of different vocal groupings and her innovative use of the stage, she produced that most curious thing: a concert as vital and varied as a great multi ­channel recording. > Alexander Varty

      SMASH UP
      (An Animals of Distinction and Holy Body Tattoo coproduction at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre on May 8) "I Am a Chain Reaction", one segment of the installation-based Smash Up and the year's most unforgettable dance piece, was a collaborative effort with animator Amit Pitaru and visual artist James Paterson. But props go to Dana Gingras for pulling it all together as both the choreographer and performer in the exhilarating work. Those lucky enough to see it peered down from the Cultch balcony on the bodies of Gingras and Sarah Doucet twisting and scrabbling around the floor. As they moved, projected video of Pitaru's cool, scrawling drawings snaked from their limbs and torsos, at times echoing their shapes like murder-scene chalk outlines. Its brilliance lay in its absolute fusion of dance and animation. > Janet Smith

      (A Studio 58 production at Studio 58 on February 9) Sheer exuberance made this show one of the best I've seen in 40 years of theatregoing. It was even more impressive because director David Hudgins was working with student actors. I'm sure he's grateful to them; in numbers such as the Hot Box Girls' "Bushel and a Peck" and the guys' stunningly athletic "The Crap Game Dance", his talented Studio 58 cast delivered such slickly energetic work that older performers would have to risk death to match them. > Colin Thomas

      (At the Scotia ­bank Dance Centre on June 2) Violist-composer Stefan Smulovitz and singer Viviane Houle are the husband-and-wife team behind one of Vancouver's most promising new production companies, Pictures for the Sky, but they're not necessarily bent on hogging the spotlight. Then again, it's unreasonable to expect to be the centre of attention when you're sharing the stage with Holy Body Tattoo dance company cofounder Noam Gagnon. Gagnon was his usual incandescent rock-star self early on in Gesture4, but displayed even greater depths of emotion once he engaged with jamie griffiths' multifaceted video projections. With up to three Gagnons in sight–a still image in colour, a moving one in black and white, and the live dancer himself–pleasure in his movement was quite effectively multiplied. > Alexander Varty

      (At the Vancouver Art Gallery on July 17) American artist Andrea Zittel is much acclaimed for her streamlined architectural sculptures, which propose new ways of thinking about domestic space and over-consumption. What I found most compelling in her travelling exhibition, however, was her inventive clothing. For years, Zittel has created her own sewn, crocheted, and felted "uniforms" in natural fibres, allowing her to wear beautiful and original garments while maintaining a tight budget and resisting the wasteful dictates of fashion. Her dresses, tunics, and tops beautifully marry colour, texture, and form. As fibre sculpture, they also possesses an appealing humanity. > Robin Laurence

      (A PuSh International Performing Arts Festival/Dance Centre copresentation at Scotiabank Dance Centre on January 19) The pixie-haired Eddie Ladd arrived from Wales to take Vancouverites on her twisted journey through Tony Montana's Miami via projected video imagery of her parents' kitschy rural home. Along the way, the blue-screen–happy performer also gave us an insight into the way a person can bust up boundaries between dance, film, and theatre. Fans of Brian De Palma's trash epic also found themselves busting up. > Janet Smith

      (A Radix Theatre production in the Mambo Ballroom of the Pacific Palisades Hotel on March 29) In this collectively created parody of the self-help movement, Emelia Symington Fedy demonstrated both her fearlessness as a provocateur and her generosity as an artist. At the top of the show, she challenged audience members to put up their hands: "Who here takes a crap and then stands up and looks at it? Oh, come on, everybody should have their hands up by now." Later, a passage where she lay naked in front of a video of lapping waves was profoundly challenging in its vulnerability and stillness. > Colin Thomas

      (At the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery on November 13) Although I was drawn to Luis Jacob's recent show by the buzz around his ambitious video installation A Dance for Those of Us Whose Hearts Have Turned to Ice”¦, what really enchanted me was his Album III, comprising 159 plastic-laminated image-montage panels. These works juxtaposed photos and reproductions drawn from magazines, books, and newspapers. The Toronto-based Jacob has created a flow of correspondences and oppositions of form and subject, within each panel and throughout the series. From crowds of sunbathers to rows of new cars in a vast lot, and from the monumental architecture of Machu Picchu to the face of Bart Simpson, the work pulls together a mesmerizing, wordless narrative of life, art, and perception. > Robin Laurence

      (At the Vancouver East Cultural Centre on February 18) Every time the five members of Standing Wave perform they offer at least one moment of alchemy, when they wring previously unimaginable sounds from their instruments. In their first concert of 2007, it was violinist Rebecca Whitling's turn: as the soloist in John Cage's Six Melodies for Violin and Keyboard, she limned the great experimentalist's surprisingly tuneful lead lines while simultaneously accompanying herself with ghostly echoes of some forlorn reed organ. Her feat was sonic sleight of hand of the highest order. > Alexander Varty