Remember when summer in Vancouver meant a sleepy hiatus from the busy arts season-a time when a handful of fests and a show or two would suffice for those city dwellers who hadn’t escaped the concrete and green glass for the mountains? We can forgive you if you don’t, because that era seems so long ago now.
If anything, these days the cultural roster heats up along with the rising temperatures. And this year, the choices are unprecedented. Along with an ever-growing menu of arts fests that overlap all summer long—will that be experimental theatre, a Mexican fiesta, or Australian classical music?—there are a few major events happening that set this summer apart.
From July 22 to August 22, Cirque du Soleil puts up its tent for Kooza, a return to its roots in acrobatics and clowning that’s been dubbed one of its strongest shows ever; Disney’s The Lion King finally roars its way into town at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from July 13 to August 8; and high king of puffy shirts and domain mastery Jerry Seinfeld hits the Q.E. on August 19 and 20.
Add to that three wildly popular shows at the Arts Club Theatre—Tony Award–winning musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (at the Granville Island stage June 23 to July 31), Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (held over till July 11 at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage), and then Glengarry Glen Ross, starring TV’s Eric McCormack (July 22 to August 22 at the Stanley)—and must-do one-offs like the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s annual outdoor concert at Burnaby’s Deer Lake Park (July 11); the Illuminares lantern fest, which is moving to the Downtown Eastside July 24; and the Vancouver Art Gallery’s alluring impressionism exhibit The Modern Woman, and you really don’t have much time to escape to the mountains this summer. Maybe next year it’ll slow down?
Until it does, here is a brief guide to help you plot out some of your arts-festing this season.
Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival
(June 18 to 20 around the waters of False Creek)
There’s a lot more to see than the racing action at the 22nd annual fest, from a Silk Road Food Festival to music from around the globe.
The Draw: The World Beat Stage swings into action each day, with music as diverse as old-school-reggae artists Mostly Marley and Acadian-zydeco-mashed Gary Comeau & the Voodoo Allstars.
Snapshot: Capturing the cultural mosaic that defines the event, Mexican ranchero-styled Mariachi del Sol throwing a fiesta at World Beat amid the Asian-born dragonboat races.
Falstaff (Dean Paul Gibson with Alessandro Juliani) is at Bard on the Beach.
Bard On The Beach
(Until September 25 at Vanier Park)
The 21st season of Vancouver’s Shakespearean festival finds Much Ado About Nothing and Antony and Cleopatra in the big, open-air main-stage tent, and starting in July, Falstaff and Henry V in the Studio Stage tent.
The Draw: It’s a tossup between the steamy Antony and Cleopatra, the directorial debut of longtime Bard actor Scott Bellis, and Falstaff, a new adaptation of Henry IV, I and II helmed by Glynis Leyshon.
Snapshot: Veteran thesp and director Dean Paul Gibson in long flowing locks, beer stein in hand, as the larger-than-life rogue Falstaff.
Dancing On The Edge
(July 8 to 18 at the Firehall Arts Centre and other venues)
The 22nd annual contemporary dance festival takes the pulse of the scene with a roster of well-known and emerging local names—Joe Ink, Edmond Kilpatrick, Co.Erasga, Co. Vision selective, and The Contingency Plan—plus two park-based performances: Dusk Dances in Queen Elizabeth Park and Mal de Mer in Crab Park.
The Draw: The Canadian premiere of Berlin artist Thomas Lehmen’s Schreibstí¼ck—a choreographic score of one-minute slices of life that range from the comedic to the crass, simultaneously interpreted three different ways by three companies.
Snapshot: Members of MOVE: the company rocking out to the sounds of No Doubt in Sold Doubt, at the Vancouver Playhouse on July 9 and 10.
Theatre Under The Stars
(July 9 to August 21 at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park)
The 64-year-old summer-theatre institution stages Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and Singin’ in the Rain.
The Draw: Our money’s on the nostalgic stage interpretation of Gene Kelly’s magical MGM musical.
Snapshot: The irony of watching actors croon “Singin’ in the Rain” while singin’ in the rain that hits Vancouver each summer.
All Over The Map
(July 11 to August 29 at Ron Basford Park on Granville Island)
The annual dance and music series brings the world to Granville Island each Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Draw: TomoeArts and Otowa-ryu Japanese Dance Group will blend kabuki, folk, and contemporary styles into a serene afternoon (July 18).
Snapshot: The elaborately elegant costumes and fluttering fans of the Vancouver Korean Dance Society (July 11).
Neanderthal Arts Festival
(July 21 to August 1 at the Cultch)
Upintheair Theatre and Left Right Minds are launching this series of new and experimental theatre, modelling it after Toronto’s SummerWorks Festival. Four local and two national companies strut their stuff, while a revamped Walking Fish Showcase displays the work of emerging artists.
The Draw: The chance to see edgy, provocative theatre during a season better known for blockbuster musicals.
Snapshot: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse try to rehabilitate their image while bringing about the end of the world, in Genus Theatre’s 4H Club by Frano Marsic.
Vancouver Early Music Festival
(July 25 to August 14 on the UBC campus)
The early-music fest celebrates its 40th birthday with a concert series devoted to Claudio Monteverdi.
The Draw: No question, the monumental mounting of Vespers of 1610, a copresentation with MusicFest Vancouver, at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on August 12—an epic concert to mark the piece’s awe-inspiring 400th anniversary. An all-star roster of singers joins the wind band The Whole Noyse and Early Music Vancouver’s Baroque Festival Players.
Snapshot: A flurry of fancy fingerwork when the fest trots out three instruments (two harpsichords and a fortepiano) and four hands (keyboard masters Michael Jarvis and Christopher Bagan).
Queer Arts Festival
(July 27 to August 14 at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre)
Pride in Art goes multidisciplinary with this festival of visual art. music, cabaret, and film by queer artists.
The Draw: Jodaiko’s all-women taiko-drumming ensemble pounds out the rhythms and holds a workshop.
Snapshot: Twenty local visual artists explore the idea of Queertopia in vivid splendour.
Powell Street Festival
(July 31 and August 1 at Oppenheimer Park and various venues)
After having to relocate due to renovations at its long-time site, the celebration of Japanese culture is back in a newly refurbished Oppenheimer Park.
The Draw: Along with traditional food stalls, taiko drumming, and sumo wrestling, the fest continues to push the edge of artistic expression. Look for Andrea Nann and Maiko Bae Yamamoto’s interdisciplinary work at the nearby Vancouver Japanese Language School or NeWorld Theatre’s series of youth-directed PodPlays presented around the park.
Snapshot: Japanese new-media artists Tochka Factory making doodle art out of the light from people’s cellphones, bike lights, iPods, and more (at a venue to be announced, July 31).
(August 6 to 15 at venues around town)
They come from a land Down Under to the annual festival of classical, jazz, and world music, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary with an ode to the sounds of Australia—including Oz a capella quartet The Idea of North (August 14 and 15 at Christ Church Cathedral and VanDusen Botanical Garden, respectively).
The Draw: Conguero legend Poncho Sanchez headlining Latin jazz stars from Argentina, the U.S., and Canada for the opening night’s spicy Celebración at the Orpheum.
Snapshot: Six of the city’s top choirs-including musica intima, Elektra Women’s Choir, and the Vancouver Bach Choir-joining Japan’s all-female Brilliant Harmony ensemble to create a wall of sound at Vancouver Sings (at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on August 13).
Vancouver Chinatown Festival
(August 14 and 15 at Columbia and Keefer streets)
This year’s colourful explosion of dance, music, and folk arts marks the neighbourhood’s 125th anniversary.
The Draw: Getting hands-on experience with ancient art forms like paper cutting and calligraphy.
Snapshot: Travel back to the old Chinatown through an exhibit of historical photos at the Chinese Cultural Centre.
Telus Taiwan Festival
(September 4 to 6 at the Plaza of Nations and September 4 to 8 at the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch)
The multilingual fest showcases film, fashion, music, and culinary arts, with a spotlight on modern Taiwan this year.
The Draw: The UML: Rise of Indie Nation concert lets you rock out Taipei-style (September 5).
Snapshot: During the Battle of Elegance Fashion Show on September 4, designer Jasper Huang brings the same red-and-pink floral pattern to a couture dress that artist Michael Lin spread across the VAG this year.
(September 7 to 17 at venues around town)
This year’s fiesta is grander than ever, with Mexico marking the bicentennial of its independence and the centennial of its revolution. The event features food, art, film, dance, music, y mucho, mucho más.
The Draw: The huge, free Independence Fiesta in the new plaza by the Olympic flame on September 11 promises the kind of outdoor eating, mariachi music, and swirling ruffled skirts that will make you feel like you’ve just landed in Mazatlan (the region that’s the focus of this year’s party).
Snapshot: Famed Mexican artist Sebastian unveils a sculpture at the VanDusen Botanical Garden on September 14.
Vancouver International Fringe Festival
(September 9 to 19)
The annual, end-of-summer theatre foofaraw boasts 83 shows, up from last year’s 68. Look for several outdoor events and the return of faves like TJ Dawe and Jacques Lalonde.
The Draw: Escape Artists I and Escape Artists II stage their shows on a fire escape—complete with a Plexiglas roof if it rains.
Snapshot: The pedicab play Tour whisking audience members around in a bike-led jaunt.
Australia’s a cappella ensemble The Idea of North comes to MusicFest Vancouver on August 14 and 15 for the event’s celebration of all things Oz.