The creative sparks flew in Vancouver's arts scene in 2011

The creative sparks flew in 2011, illuminating everything from heartbreaking classic dramas to brave new images.

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      When you look back on 2011’s arts events, it’s not the overall shows you remember but the small, unforgettable moments. Here are some of our arts writers’ top snapshots from the year on-stage and in galleries, from sexy bagpipes to revelatory Shakespeare.

      West Side Story
      (A Vancouver Opera production at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on October 22)
      Vancouver Opera’s staging of Leonard Bernstein’s Broadway musical received a mostly lukewarm reception from critics and audiences. Even so, there were some standout performers within the young cast, not least of whom was Cleopatra Williams as the feisty Anita. Her raucous, high-kicking “America” was energetic, funny, and seductive. A true triple threat, she brought some much-appreciated sizzle to the Queen E. stage.
      > Jessica Werb

      The Merchant of Venice
      (A Bard on the Beach production in the Mainstage tent on June 18)
      Early on, Duncan Fraser’s Antonio reached for the elbow of Charlie Gallant’s Bassanio, but he didn’t complete the gesture, knowing that his love for the beautiful, much younger man was doomed. It was a heartbreaker and a harbinger of the riches to come in director Rachel Ditor’s clear-eyed, revelatory interpretation of William Shakespeare’s classic.
      > Colin Thomas

      Ride the Cyclone
      (An Atomic Vaudeville production on the Arts Club’s Revue Stage on September 29)
      When Kholby Wardell, playing Noel Gruber, the only gay boy in Uranium, Saskatchewan, doffed his private-school uniform to reveal the lingerie of a French cabaret chanteuse and launched into the defiant song “Fucked-Up Girl”, the hairs on my arms stood up so fast some of them probably shot right out of their follicles. Wardell is a charismatic performer. And Jacob Richmond, who wrote the book for Ride the Cyclone, is a bulldozer of a talent. This may have been the most exciting Vancouver theatre opening ever.
      > Colin Thomas

      The You Show
      (A Kidd Pivot production at the Cultch on May 11)
      In Crystal Pite’s oddball epic “A Picture of You Flying”, a reluctant superhero (Jermaine Maurice Spivey, in a homemade blanket cape) kung-fu fights with bad guys and juggles relationship problems. In the most inspired sequence, he and Sandra Marín Garcia sparred like RoboCop-Transformers, with the other members of the corps hoisting them and mechanically clicking into action as legs, gunarms, and shields.
      > Janet Smith

      Volo and 3 Fold
      (Ballet B.C. at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on February 17 and November 17)
      Basically, Ballet B.C. had an entire year of knockout moments in 2011. But there were two programs that stood out. In Volo, no one could forget the striking opening of French choreographer Medhi Walerski’s beautifully off-kilter Petite Cérémonie. As audience members flooded back into the theatre from intermission, they saw dancer Gilbert Small shuffling at the centre of an abyss: the stage had been opened up right to its flies, with exposed wires, concrete, and light racks. Then the rest of the troupe—the men in black suits and the women in late-’50s-style black dresses—streamed in from the aisles as the lights went down and joined him in his methodical little kicks. In 3 Fold, the moment was obvious: in Robert Glumbek’s new Diversion, the same dancer, Small, had female partners hurled at him from off-stage. With each one, he’d fall down catching her, only getting up in time to receive another human cannonball in his arms.
      > Janet Smith

      Samantha Bee
      (At the Vancouver Playhouse on June 4)
      While the vast majority of Vancouverites were enjoying a Canucks 3-2 victory over the hated Boston Bruins, and a 2-0 lead in the final, a few stragglers waived the temporary high for an intimate chat with the best fake news reporter on TV. Bee was hilarious and charming, inviting audience members to sit next to her on-stage to ask questions. Even though the city was in pre-riot celebration mode, a couple of dozen Daily Show fans went home even happier.
      > Guy MacPherson

      Russell Brand
      (At the River Rock Show Theatre on August 6)
      Other celebrities slink away through back doors after public appearances, but Brand immersed himself in the people following his excellent standup set in Richmond. Hundreds stuck around the upper lobby for Brand to sign autographs. He made good on his promise, strolling into the horde to be groped, prodded, and photographed for half an hour.
      > Guy MacPherson

      Fraulein Maria
      (DanceHouse’s presentation of Doug Elkins & Friends at the Vancouver Playhouse on February 4)
      With a cross-dressing Liesl, a hip-hopping Rolf, and a small army of slap-dancing von Trapp kids, it was hard to pick just one standout scene from Doug Elkins’s warped ode to The Sound of Music. But it didn’t get much more brilliantly twisted than Elkins’s own hoodied, sneakered Mother Superior going B-boy on the anthemic “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”—grabbing his crotch to the lyrics “Ford ev’ry stream” as he got into his flow. It had to be seen to be believed, and it met with all-out whooping from the crowd.
      > Janet Smith

      Silk Road Ensemble
      (A Vancouver Recital Society presentation at the Orpheum Theatre on April 10)
      Sexy and bagpipes aren’t two words you’d commonly associate with one another. But when Spanish beauty Cristina Pato wielded her Galician bagpipes as part of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, her long, dark hair flailing in ecstasy as she wailed exquisite microtones with abandon, jaws dropped throughout the packed theatre. She was passionate, seductive, and, yes, sexy. Bagpipes: who knew?
      > Jessica Werb

      One Night Stand with R. Murray Schafer
      (A Music on Main presentation at Heritage Hall on March 16)
      The Music on Main series of informal concerts always delivers casually intimate affairs, and its R. Murray Schafer concert was no exception. With the treasured Canadian composer in attendance, the audience was filled with admirers who hung on his every self-effacing word. “If a couple of beautiful women come ask you to write something, you can’t resist,” he explained, referring to Trio Verlaine harpist Heidi Krutzen and flutist Lorna McGhee, in introducing a new work he had written for the group. The combination of music, friendship, and laughter was simply delightful.
      > Jessica Werb

      Hiroshima by Ishiuchi Miyako
      (At the UBC Museum of Anthropology on October 10)
      Japanese photographer Ishiuchi Miyako was talking about the subject of her recent series: clothing and accessories left behind by people killed in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. We were looking at her colour photographs, installed at the UBC Museum of Anthropology, and she expressed her aspiration to release the objects they depict from the weight of their “calcified” history. Just then, the image of a short-sleeved dress—a dress burned black and gossamer thin by the blast—seemed to lift off the wall and ascend, like a butterfly, into the air.
      > Robin Lawrence

      Shore, Forest and Beyond: Art From The Audain Collection
      (At the Vancouver Art Gallery on October 28)
      In a dimly lit room on the first floor of the Vancouver Art Gallery, a group of First Nations masks, created on the Northwest Coast during the 19th century, stared out at visitors, exuding a powerful ceremonial presence. Once traded across Europe and the United States, they were acquired during the past decade by local philanthropist and real-estate developer Michael Audain. Like other historic and contemporary artworks he has collected, the masks are both objects of and witnesses to his desire to retrieve them from the international marketplace—to bring them home to their coast.
      > Robin Lawrence