PuSh International Performing Arts Festival unveils range of surprises

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      A live-action video game with real-life performers and handheld controllers. An enormous scale model of Auschwitz with thousands of handmade prisoner and executioner puppets. The silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc transformed into a 3-D video art installation.

      Expect the unexpected when shows like these hit Vancouver from around the world as part of the sixth PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, a genre-busting series that offers up the multimedia, the strange, and the just plain cool. The annual event announced its program for January 20 to February 6, 2010, today (November 5), and executive director Norman Armour said it’s one of the most “robust” lineups yet.

      “There is a scale to what the work is tackling—and a whole range of surprises for people,” Armour told the Straight. “The festival is really finding itself: we’ve moved beyond its teenagehood. We’re extending more and more on the breadth and depth of the festival,” he added, pointing out January’s event will see the premiere of PuSh’s first big international commission, the video-game-gone-live called Best Before.

      In all, the fest will encompass 14 different works at 11 venues around town, and is expected to attract more than the 24,000 audience members who attended the 2009 edition. Several of the shows are coproductions with the Cultural Olympiad.

      Among the festival’s highlights:

      > White Cabin, by Russia’s Akhe Theatre, a surreal theatre work where actors create macabre scenes out of everything from a baguette to Hubba Bubba chewing gum (January 21 to 23 at Performance Works);

      > Jérí´me Bel’s The Show Must Go On, in which the Parisian enfant terrible of dance sets local performers like Noam Gagnon, Susan Elliott, Adrienne Wong, and—you heard right—Jim Green and Max Wyman moving to the music of an on-stage DJ (January 20 to 23 at the new Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU Woodward’s);

      > Jerk, based on writer Dennis Cooper’s deeply disturbing story of David Brooks, real-life accomplice to gruesome Texas serial killer Dean Corll—told through puppetry (January 21 to 24 at the VIVO Media Arts Centre);

      > KAMP, another dark puppet show, this time by Rotterdam’s Hotel Modern, set amid a meticulous scale model of Auschwitz, complete with overcrowded barracks, barbed wire, and railway tracks, and filmed in live video by war-correspondent-style actors (February 3 to 6 at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre);

      > Two shows that pay homage to Carl Dreyer’s 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc: New York video artist Reid Farrington’s The Passion Project, a blend of movement, projection, and sound collage, installed at Pacific Theatre (January 27 to February 6), and a screening of the movie with a new composition by Stefan Smulovitz, performed by Eye of Newt (January 28 at Christ Church Cathedral);

      > Best Before, the working title of the show commissioned by PuSh and created by Berlin’s Rimini Protokoll—one that aims to turn a multiplayer video game live, creating a simulated city where 200 spectators use their game controllers to affect the action (January 29 to February 6 at the Cultch);

      > Nevermore, an Arts Club, Catalyst Theatre, Cultch, and Cultural Olympiad copresentation that conjures a gothic dreamscape of Edgar Allan Poe’s life (January 21 to February 6 at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage).

      Armour acknowledged the big themes. Referring to this era of arts cuts, he added: “In these...idiotic times, there is a sense to these works of standing up for what one believes in.”

      Find festival guides at pushfestival.ca/ or at JJ Bean locations.