As arts fans in Vancouver well know, festival season isn’t just for summertime: our town hosts a plethora of midwinter events that liven up the coldest, darkest days of the year and aim to pull you away from your couch.
This year’s roster comes complete with big-name comedians, cutting-edge dance troupes, and everything in between—enough to propel you right into the pink blooms of early spring. (See the Cherry Blossom Festival in our guide below.)
PuSh International Performing Arts Festival
At venues around town to February 4
The citywide event serves up a form-mashing feast of shows that boldly blur the lines between performance art, theatre, music, dance, film, spoken-word poetry, visual art, and more. This year’s lineup includes works from Ireland, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Italy, and Taiwan.
Top Pick: As the fest enters its final weekend, be sure to catch Dublin Old School (January 30 to February 3 at the Cultch), which the Independent called “laugh-out-loud verbal virtuosity”, or the mesmerizing moving artwork The Eternal Tides (February 3 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre), from the grande dame of Taiwanese dance.
At the Vancouver Art Gallery Plaza and various other locations from February 7 to 24
Bring in the Year of the Dog with lantern installations and other canine-friendly celebrations at the plaza, or catch the 800-lantern archways and workshops at Oakridge Mall.
Top Pick: On Valentine’s Day, choreographer Joshua Beamish stages a piece inspired by one of China’s greatest love stories, as well as one of its greatest concertos—The Butterfly Lovers—for the Coastal City Ballet at the Vancouver Playhouse.
Talking Stick Festival
At the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre and elsewhere around town from February 14 to 24
Full Circle: First Nations Performance kicks off 11 days with the theme Scháyilhen, which translates literally to “Salmon Going Up River”—an apt metaphor for the journey happening right now with a boom in Indigenous art forms. Shows span everything from music and dance to theatre and visual arts. Events include an Indigenous Industry Series, the jig-happy Métis Kitchen Party, the Celebration of Powwow Culture & Aboriginal Artisan Fair, and a new Reel Indigenuity! Mentorship Program to create short films.
Top Pick: Don’t miss Sokalo, by world-renowned Québécois percussive dancers [ZØGMA], who will be collaborating with Vancouver’s own Louis Riel Métis Dancers, or the multimedia Yukon journey Map of the Land, Map of the Stars by Gwandaak Theatre.
At the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre and other venues from February 15 to March 15
Music, dance, theatre, standup, and other art forms make an eclectic mix at the annual celebration of Jewish arts. The programming includes Canadian comedy queen Mary Walsh, Israeli keyboardist and singer Idan Raichel, U.S. jazz saxophone star Uri Gurvich and his quartet, and the multidisciplinary theatre work Salomé: Woman of Valor (by composer-trumpeter Frank London and poet Adeena Karasick).
Top Pick: As usual, the fest brings a diverse world of stellar contemporary dance to the stage, including the fun, near-acrobatic eye candy of U.S.–based Ezralow Dance (February 15 to 17) and the exquisite stylings of Italy’s MM Contemporary Dance Company (March 1 to 3).
Coastal First Nations Dance Festival
At the UBC Museum of Anthropology from February 27 to March 4
Indigenous dance artists from British Columbia, the Yukon, Alaska, and Washington state—as well as international guests from farther afield—fill the museum with tribal rhythms, colourful regalia, and ancient movement. Afternoon shows run on March 3 and 4, and are free with admission.
Top Pick: At opening-night celebrations on March 2, take in the disparate yet connected dance styles of everyone from Hawaiians (Peter Rockford Espiritu) to the Haida (Rainbow Creek Dancers).
Vancouver International Dance Festival
March 1 to 24 at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre and other venues around town
Kokoro Dance curates its eclectic mix of free and paid programming, from here (Amber Funk Barton’s the response. and Peter Bingham’s EDAM) and afar (the U.S.’s White Wave Young Soon Kim Dance Company and Lola Lince’s Experimental Dance Company from Mexico).
Top Pick: Shen Wei Dance Arts (March 2 and 3 at the Vancouver Playhouse) will haunt you with its striking imagery, from the ghost-white, cone-headed figures that scuttle around the stage in Folding to the flickering dancers in an abstract Rite of Spring. Shen Wei thinks big: he helped choreograph thousands of performers for the 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium.
JFL Northwest Comedy Fest
At venues around town from March 1 to 10
Big names and indie favourites make the entire city a laughing matter in the first weeks of March. Headliners this year include standup stars Bill Burr, Jo Koy, Maria Bamford, Brian Regan, Mike Birbiglia, and many more international and local favourites.
Top Pick: Take a cue from late-night TV, and check out two stars of The Daily Show—correspondent Ronny Chieng at the Rio Theatre on March 3 and host Trevor Noah at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on March 9. Meanwhile, Saturday Night Live fans have the chance to see alumni Sasheer Zamata (March 2 at the Biltmore Cabaret) and Jay Pharoah (March 10 at the Vogue Theatre).
Cherry Blossom Festival
At venues and parks around town from March 30 to April 23
As the city edges into spring, be sure to think pink: this Asian-inflected event celebrates the beautiful blooms lining Vancouver streets at this time of year, through food, brewery tours, performances like the free Cherry Jam Concert downtown (April 5, noon, at Burrard SkyTrain Station), and celebrations like the Sakura Days Japan Fair at VanDusen Botanical Garden (April 14).
Top Pick: The Spring Lights Illumination at Queen Elizabeth Park, an extravaganza of dance, music, and projected digital art, will give two evenings extra glow; dates to be announced.