Fall Arts Preview 2019 festival critics' picks: Launch of Transform boosts season's roster

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      Suddenly summertime has a rival for the biggest roundup of arts festivals: fall.

      Not only has the Chutzpah Festival moved its celebration of Jewish culture from midwinter to October, but there is a major new event being launched at the Cultch for two weeks in October.

      Transform: A Cabaret Festival was curated by Cultch executive director Heather Redfern and Oji-Cree playwright, composer, and director Corey Payette, who’s also artistic director at Urban Ink Productions. And that meld of non-Indigenous and Indigenous forces has birthed a festival unlike anything else in North America—or, quite possibly, in the world.

      “The first impulse was that cabaret didn’t really have a home here, and there’s no touring circuit for it across Canada,” Payette explains over the phone. “So the idea was to take that political form of art and make it a platform for Vancouver audiences and artists to start to have larger conversations.

      “We’ve also made the choice to veer away from the standard vision of cabaret, you know, with the red curtain and white faces,” Payette continues. “We wanted to go back to what it was: a political movement about artists rising up, and tying that into the movements of reconciliation—to now reclaim that and make it our own. And hopefully we’re making a container for these festivals to happen everywhere, because these conversations are everywhere.”

      Payette and Redfern also seized the idea of the cabaret as a space where people can push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in the mainstream.

      The result is, on one hand, Redfern and Payette seeking out popular Indigenous musicians, burlesque dancers, and drag artists who might not regularly get the chance to perform in a big theatre in front of a wider audience. Elsewhere, they’ve arranged collaborations between hand-picked artists, such as the Cirque Transforming program’s mix of Indigenous hoop dancers and other contemporary acrobats.

      Here’s more on highlights of Transform and some of the other fests livening up the fall season.


      Vancouver International Flamenco Festival

      At the Vancouver Playhouse, the Waterfront Theatre, and other venues until September 29

      Vancouver’s Flamenco Rosario brings a little southern Spanish heat to fall, with a lineup of local and international stars. The Draw: Spanish sensation Manuel Liñán’s intense Baile de Autor has been sizzling its way around the globe to rave reviews (September 14 at the Playhouse). Target Audience: Fans of ruffles, Spanish culture, hammering feet, and la pasión.


      Public Disco brings the party to Alley Oop as part of BC Culture Days.

      B.C. Culture Days

      At venues around the Lower Mainland from September 27 to 29

      Painting, theatre, experimental performance art, literature, design, cinema, and more take over community centres, galleries, and other public spaces for the celebration’s 10th anniversary. Sample highlights: Public Disco’s hoop zone and all-ages dance party in Alley Oop (south of West Hastings between Seymour and Granville streets) on the final day; behind-the-scenes tours of the 21,000-square-foot Arts Factory the same day; and open rehearsals of the Goh Ballet’s The Nutcracker on the Friday night. (See culturedays.ca/.)

      The Draw: Amid the scores of offerings, check out Culture Days ambassador Oli Salvas’s hands-on, family-friendly Rebel With a Cause: Exploring the Maker Movement, September 28 and 29 at the CBC Plaza from noon to 1:30 p.m.; he’ll help you connect the arts with science and engineering, using wooden sticks, electric wires, and more.

      Target Audience: Parents, kids, and anyone looking to reignite their inner artist.


      Singer-songwriter Leela Gilday hits Transform.

      Transform: A Cabaret Festival

      At the Cultch Historic Theatre, the Vancity Culture Lab, and the York Theatre from October 2 to 12

      More than 50 Indigenous and non-Indigenous performers, from comedians and hip-hop artists to drag performers and circus acrobats, launch the city’s newest festival. Highlights include drag sensations the Darlings, the Indigenous burlesque babes of Virago Nation, singer Veda Hille, singer Leela Gilday, Inuit throat-singing dance-beat mavens Silla and Rise, and a Diwali Night that blends South Asian and Indigenous performers.

      The Draw: Don’t miss the two wild opening cabaret nights on October 2 and 3, designed to give audiences a taste of what’s to come, and hosted by Musqueam artist Quelemia Sparrow and Australian sensation Lisa Fa’alafi (of Hot Brown Honey).

      Target Audience: The nontraditional, the nonbinary, the nonconforming, and the nonboring.


      MM Contemporary Dance's Schubert Frames, at the Chutzpah Festival
      Riccardo Panozzo

      Chutzpah Festival

      At the Norman Rothstein Theatre, Vogue Theatre, Rickshaw Theatre, and WISE Hall from October 24 to November 2

      The celebration of Jewish culture brings in topnotch acts in everything from world music to dance, from around the globe. This year’s event puts a spotlight on live music with film, and boasts the world premiere of ProArteDanza’s The 9th (based on Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony), MM Contemporary Dance’s Gershwin Suite and Schubert Frames, and the North American premiere of Tamara Micner’s one-woman show Holocaust Brunch.

      The Draw: Guitar hero and composer Gary Lucas performs live with two films, Frankenstein and Spanish Dracula. And did we mention the divine Ms. Sandra Bernhard?

      Target Audience: Culture vultures with wide-ranging appetites.


      Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival

      At various venues around the Downtown Eastside from October 30 to November 10

      Music, stories, theatre, poetry, films, dance, readings, forums, workshops, gallery exhibits, history walks, and more make up over 100 events at over 40 venues. Highlights include Urban Ink Productions’ workshop presentation of the play SRO (as in single-room-occupancy hotel) by Middle of the Sky, and ūtszan, Lilwat artist Yvonne Wallace’s one-woman show about reclaiming language and resilience.

      The Draw: The Firehall Arts Centre’s Donna Spencer directs the ambitious Opening Doors, a collaboration with Vancouver Moving Theatre that dramatizes personal histories from Daphne Marlatt and Carole Itter’s extraordinary local-legend book of the same name.

      Target Audience: Those who know that where there’s hope, there’s life—and there’s also thriving art.


      Marshmallow Clouds, a Tangible Interactions installation at a past Eastside Culture Crawl.

      Eastside Culture Crawl

      At studios around East Vancouver from November 14 to 17

      Grab your map and your sneakers, pray for sunshine (or at least not too much drizzle), and go: more than 500 artists, craftspeople, and designers open their amazing studios to an audience of thousands—45,000 last year alone—during the Crawl. Think everything from painters to jewellers, sculptors, furniture makers, weavers, potters, and glassblowers.

      The Draw: For newbies, labyrin­thine 1000 Parker is always a good starting spot, but old hands know to seek out heritage houses and offbeat industrial sites like 1282 Franklin Street, Railtown Studios, and Strathcona’s atmospheric Paneficio Studios.

      Target Audience: Art collectors, holiday-gift shoppers, and the art-curious.