Festival LAUNCH! encourages a new generation of artists

A 149 Arts Society production. At SFU Woodward’s in the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, on Friday, June 21

A festival devoted to emerging artists is a wonderful idea, but poses problems for the critic: although honest appraisal can help new talent flourish, using the hammer of judgment to play a public game of Whac-A-Mole with tender young shoots seems both cruel and pointless. So let’s just say that if you have a chance to see Julianne Chapple dance in the next few weeks, make sure to take it. With an artist’s residency in Italy already behind her and a season at Ireland’s Tipperary Dance Platform coming up, she might not stay here much longer.

Because the driving force behind the brand-new Festival LAUNCH! is made up of seasoned arts professionals, however, it’s probably fair to question some of the 149 Arts Society’s choices. The organization’s aims—to showcase unique talents, to enhance their performance resumés, and to offer mentorship opportunities, according to artistic director Michael Boucher’s program notes—are entirely laudable. And the mentors on tap, including critic Max Wyman, veteran actor Jay Brazeau, and former Vancouver Folk Music Festival head Gary Cristall, all have impeccable credentials. Still, aspects of this initial venture need to be addressed.

First off, the name: there’s a festival launched in Vancouver every week, it seems; some astute cultural observers think we’re becoming a culture of festivals, in which everyday concerts and gallery openings and play premieres can’t gain traction unless presented as part of a glittering package. In this context, Festival LAUNCH! reads as the rather generic kickoff with a decidedly amorphous focus.

Secondly, pleasant as it was to hear several songs from LAUNCH! host Veda Hille, it’s dubious whether the emerging artists, especially the musical acts, were well served by having their work heard in close proximity to her brilliance. There aren’t many established talents who can rival Hille’s emotional acumen, musical intelligence, and exploratory spirit: having her perform highlighted the unformed nature of what several of the young artists had to offer, and not in a “Hey, this is raw and fresh!” kind of way.

One more criticism: springing songwriter Saul Chabot out of the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts’ Studio D and having him provide incidental music for the post-show reception did him a massive disservice. Between the chat and the clinking glasses, it was simply impossible to hear his lyrics.

Okay, so what was good?

Julianne Chapple we’ve already mentioned; she was up first and her extremely virtuosic dancing lingered longest. She’s part of a new generation of dancer-choreographers whose work has been coloured by yoga poses and breakdancing moves; pulling her body into previously unimaginable shapes, she displayed sublime conditioning and split-second timing. Like I said, catch her if you can.

Gavin Kade Sommers bravely faced technical difficulties to deliver excerpts from a longer spoken-word/songwriting/storytelling piece, GirlBoy, that honestly examines the pain and liberation of being neither one gender nor the other—assuming, of course, that gender is a binary proposition, which does seem increasingly implausible.

Rami Katz’s short documentary “An Exploration of Light” wants to be a bigger film; it would benefit from going beyond the SFU physics department for its sources, but its scientific and poetic look at why we see what we do was intriguing.

Yvette Lu’s excerpt from her theatrical monologue Stories From the Closet was another standout. In this gentle yet passionate presentation, Lu speaks to the terrors and misunderstandings faced by those suffering from chronic illness, and her background as a family physician as well as an actor and filmmaker brings considerable authority to her well-written text.

Actor Stephanie Izsak, dancer-choreographer Meredith Kalaman, dance-pop artist Chelsea Laing, filmmaker Sepehr Samimi, and interdisciplinary artist Lisa Simpson were also featured. All deserve encouragement—as does Festival LAUNCH! itself, with the reservations noted above.