Arts fests sizzle all summer in Vancouver

Vikings, tea parties, outdoor salsa, and baroque lutes: the season’s events continue to diversify—and an amazing number are free

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      Sure, cracking a cold one and catching some rays are great, but at a certain point this summer, you’re going to want to get a little culture. And lucky for you, there are even more new arts festivals this year to pull you off your lawn chair.

      They range from artistically twisted tea parties to the grand-scale, three-day extravaganza that will mark the city’s 125th anniversary this year. Most striking of all, an amazing number of them are free. You heard that right.

      So here’s our guide to getting chased by Vikings, learning to salsa outdoors, watching creep shows under docks, and stuffing your face with Chinese food. See? Getting a little hot-season culture doesn’t have to be painful. And you can even keep your flip-flops on for most of the following affairs.

      Bard on the Beach (Until September 24 at the tents in Vanier Park)
      The 22nd annual fest goes from the light and frothy to the dark and murky with its choices this year. Western Canada’s largest Shakespearean company stages As You Like It and The Merchant of Venice at its large open-air tent in Vanier park, and Henry VI: War of the Roses and Richard III at its more intimate Studio Stage. The Draw: The chance to check out the new main-stage tent, with reserved seating that will allow you to avoid rushing down to the site to line up—and to enjoy all the merriment and mead in the open-air “lobby” before the show.

      Songfire Feastival of Song (Until June 25 at venues around town)
      The Vancouver International Song Institute presents almost every conceivable incarnation of art song—a form that elegantly melds poetry and music. Concerts range from classical choral evenings to new compositions. The Draw: The VISI gala concert, A Vancouver Schubertiade, this Saturday (June 18) at the Chan Centre for Performing Arts, promises Franz Schubert’s sublime lieder, Johannes Brahms’s emotional vocal quartets, and much more.

      Scandanavian Midsummer Festival (From Friday to Sunday [June 17 to 19] at the Scandinavian Community Centre)
      Music, dance, marketplaces (mmm, meatballs), and more bring the Burnaby centre for all things Scandinavian alive. You’ll even get to dance, play, and “wife carry” around the Midsummer pole. Main-stage acts include Finnish folk-dancers Purpurit, coloratura soprano Kaoru Henry, Swedish songsters Simon Nyberg and Elise Boeur, and many more. The Draw: No contest here. It’s the authentic Viking Village, complete with Old Norse games, traditional demonstrations of stuff like weaving, warrior skills, and blacksmithing, and, best of all, random kidnappings, bride price negotiations, and sword duels. Really. What’s not to like?

      Fete De La Musique (June 21 around Gastown, from 5 to 10 p.m.)
      This is busking boosted to a whole new level. Kicked off in France in 1982, this one-day fest now takes place in 460 cities around the globe, filling the streets of each with music. Now Franí§ais du Monde í  Vancouver and the Alliance Franí§aise de Vancouver are joining forces to bring La Fíªte to Vancouver—meaning scores of artists in genres from classical to jazz to heavy metal will fill 35 different zones around Gastown with sound. The Draw: The chance to hear bands, for free, in every building, thoroughfare, and alleyway in the historic ’hood—and if one’s not to your taste, there’s another just steps away.

      A Midsummer Fete (June 26 at Colony Farm Regional Park)
      Ecology and art meet in one of the most creative new summertime traditions. Public Dreams Society, the people who bring you Illuminares (which incidentally takes place on July 30 at Canada Place; few details yet), turn the grounds of Colony Farm Regional Park into an unexpected mix of gardeners, beekeepers, and artisans, with roving performers and the distinct feel of a traditional English-village festival from some bygone era. Think storytellers, cut-grass labyrinths, and harp music in a pastoral setting of community gardens and willow trees. The Draw: Definitely wear a hat for the tent tea party, overseen by “gentleman waiters”.

      Twilight Tea Party (June 26, 8 to 10 p.m., at the Means of Production Garden at 6th Avenue and St. Catherines Street)
      Here’s a celebration that lights up the night with solar-powered lanterns and phosphorescent installations by a series of local artists, presented by the Means of Production Artists Raw Resource Collective, Second Site collective, and Naomi Singer. Bring a flashlight. The Draw: We can’t decide between Illuminated Shrum, Peter Courtemanche’s installation of a solar-powered fungus that plays back wind patterns on amber LEDs, or the appearance of Madame Moth, Lori Weidenhammer’s “psychic medium” cloaked in an illuminated cocoon.

      Sunday Afternoon Salsa (Sundays from 3 to 7 p.m., July 3 to August 28 at Robson Square)
      Don’t be surprised to see steam rising from Robson Square on Sundays this summer. The weekly gatherings are a chance to pretend you’re in Havana and dancing the salsa the way it was meant to be: outdoors in the summer heat, in the heart of the city. And it’s free. The Draw: So you think you can dance? Try out the lessons from 3 to 3:30 p.m., or if you’re still too shy to shake it, take in the performances that happen at 5 p.m.—and just try to stand still.

      Dancing on ht Edge (July 7 to 16 at the Firehall Arts Centre and venues around town)
      When they’re not scaling downtown buildings, they’ll be grooving on the grass at the park. The 23rd annual celebration of dance innovation continues to play with format and spaces, with Aeriosa and Eagle Song Dancers performing gravity-defying work at the Vancouver Public Library and Dusk Dances at Queen Elizabeth Park. Inside, look for names like Toronto’s Susanna Hood and Dancemakers, as well as Vancouver talents, from Josh Beamish to Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, exploring new work. The Draw: Israel is one of the world’s hot spots for dance right now, and if you loved recent visits by the likes of Batsheva, then you’ll like Tel Aviv–based choreographer Arkadi Zaides’s Quiet, which opens the fest and is a North American premiere—quite a coup. The piece was created with both Palestinians and Israelis, and explores the need to reflect amid the country’s constant climate of violence.

      Indian summer (July 7 to 17 at SFU Woodward’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts)
      The season gets a spicy new entry with this celebration of Indian art, ideas, and performance. Special guests range from puppet and dance-theatre acts to literary bright lights like Yann Martel and Anosh Irani to cuisine specialists like Vikram Vij. The Draw: Violin icon Dr. L Subramaniam, dubbed the Paganini of Indian classical music, performs in Vancouver for the first time on July 9.

      Summer Live (July 8, 9, and 10, noon to 11 p.m., at Brockton Point in Stanley Park)
      The dame may be old but she still likes to party: the City throws a 125th birthday bash for Vancouver via a free, family-friendly, three-day arts-and-entertainment blowout in our most iconic park. Acts from the New Pornographers to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra mix with Coast Salish storytelling, Taiwanese puppets, video art, and tons more across multiple stages and spaces. The Draw: The music lineup has the big appeal here, with loads of local heroes like Mother Mother, Dan Mangan, Said the Whale, and Spirit of the West.

      Theatre Under the Stars (July 8 to August 20 at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park)
      The musicals Bye Bye Birdie and Anything Goes alternate at the historic spot in the park. The Draw: Aside from the atmospheric outdoor seating under the towering conifers, with raccoons and squirrels often joining the audience, our pick this year is probably Anything Goes. It’s Cole Porter at his most Cole Porterish, and it seems like the right vintage for really enjoying the Bowl as it was back in the day.

      All over The Map (Sundays at 2 p.m., July 10 to August 21 [except July 31 and August 7] at Ron Basford Park on Granville Island)
      The name says it all: the outdoor dance series spans the globe in its programming. This year’s offerings range from flamenco to Hungarian folk. There’s even a collaboration between butoh-inspired Kokoro Dance and noise-punkers the SSRIs (on August 14). The Draw: The big deal here is that it’s all free, meaning you can afford to bring the kids and grandma, too.

      Neanderrthal Arts Festival (July 20 to 31 at the Cultch)
      Upintheair Theatre and Left Right Minds mount the city’s newest theatre fest for its second year. The emphasis is on the fresh, young, and cutting-edge, with five revolving, full-length plays and three new shorts under the Walking Fish program. The Draw: Neanderthal’s magic is that you never know what to expect. That said, here’s a shout-out for two shows: ITSAZOO’s Chairs, a hip, Beckett-like tale that mixes flash animation and a found-sound musicscape into the live, wasteland-set performance; and Montrealer Johanna Nutter’s stranger-than-fiction confessional about her true-life sibling’s transgendered pregnancy in My Pregnant Brother.

      Powell Street Festival (July 30 and 31 at Oppenheimer Park)
      The fest celebrates its 35th anniversary with a pumped-up array of food, music, arts, and martial arts in the heart of old Japantown. Acts this year include Japan’s cool NikaSaya, featuring lead singer Saya Onodera, of the hypnotic Tenniscoats; traditional and contemporary fusionists the Sei Trio; and San Francisco songwriter Goh Nakamura. The Draw: The Tashme Project finds theatre artists Matt Miwa and Julie Tamiko Manning performing a multimedia retelling of their families’ experiences in an internment camp, all in an intimate kitchen setting.

      Vancouver Early Music Festival (July 31 to August 14 at various venues)
      The event travels back, wa-a-a-y back, in time with concerts that span the intimate (baroque lute by Sylvius Leopold Weiss on August 2 at the Roy Barnett Recital Hall) to the larger scale (a staging of Henry Purcell’s King Arthur on August 10 at the Chan Centre for Performing Arts). The Draw: Benjamin Bagby’s renowned Sequentia medieval ensemble returns with a North American premiere performance of the lost songs of the Carolingian palaces of the 8th to 10th centuries in a program called Frankish Phantoms (July 31 at UBC’s Roy Barnett).

      Musicfest Vancouver (August 5 to 14 at various venues)
      The city’s eclectic summer music mainstay enters its 11th incarnation, proving accordion virtuosos, jazz pianists, tabla players, Cuban trios, and classical string quartets can comfortably share a program. Big names this year include jazz violinist Regina Carter, renowned pianist Mariangela Vacatello, and—alert to Glee fans!—England’s a cappella originals, the Swingle Singers. The Draw: For the first time, singer Sarah McLachlan hooks up with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra for the big opening gala on August 5 at the Orpheum Theatre. Just what she’ll be singing and how it will sound? Let’s just say they’re building a mystery.

      Vancouver Chinatown Festival (August 6 and 7 at Columbia and Keefer streets)
      The Vancouver Chinatown Business Improvement Association serves up multicultural stage performances, kids’ activities, open markets, and more, and it seems to be a popular mix: a whopping 50,000 people hit the event last summer. The Draw: Attend on an empty stomach. As you might imagine, it’s all about the eats—especially this year. The theme for 2011 is Food for Folks, and organizers are trotting out cooking demonstrations and other mouth-watering programming for the occasion.

      Taiwanfest(September 3 to 5 in downtown Vancouver)
      The annual event makes exploding stereotypes about Taiwanese culture the focus of this year’s multidisciplinary celebration. The program features screenings of documentaries about unexpected characters from the island nation, plus concerts by cutting-edge groups like Musou Band and the Chairman that fuse eastern and western sounds. The Draw: Let the slurping begin! The fest is mounting a giant banquet on Granville Street to celebrate Vancouver’s 125th anniversary. Chen Hung, a three-time champion chef of the Best Beef Noodle competition in Taiwan will be overseeing the serving of thousands of bowls of the steaming, savoury stuff.

      Vancouver International Fringe Festival (September 8 to 18 at venues on and around Granville Island)
      Along with more than 600 performances from here and around the world, the annual theatre extravaganza has several new twists this year. Among them, look for Art Is Land, a series of works made from natural and repurposed materials across the island by the Art Is Land Network, and the new Fringe-for-All, a one-night frenzy (September 8) of two-to-five-minute teasers by fest artists who want to give audiences a taste of their work. The Draw: Care for a creep show under the docks or a musical set in thick undergrowth? Look for theatre to happen in some very wild places this year, including everything from a yoga studio to a waterpark. This year, there’s a strong emphasis on site-specific shows, thanks to Onsite—a new program to mentor people to create 12 new productions in nontraditional settings.