Expect the unexpected on the cultural horizon this summer, with arts festivals serving up everything from female mariachi bands to plays about vibrators to dance tributes to Iggy Pop.
Below, sort through the ever-growing array of arts celebrations vying to pull you away from the beach and barbecue this season.
Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival
At Vanier Park to September 23
Two wildly visual, reimagined classics—a Much Ado About Nothing located in the black-and-white world of 1950s Italian film, and a Winter’s Tale whose sets include an eye-popping, cubism-inspired Bohemia—rotate in the main-stage tent this year; two seasoned, boldly visionary directors, John Murphy and Dean Paul Gibson, take the helm, respectively. On the more intimate Howard Family Stage in the Douglas Campbell Theatre, a contemporary-set version of The Merchant of Venice alternates with the comedic work The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Look for special events, from alfresco choral concerts to fireworks, throughout the summer.
The Draw: With so many talented directors and designers onboard this year, it’s almost impossible to pick, but we’re partial to Much Ado’s Fellini-esque, La Dolce Vita feel, and always curious about a thoughtful mounting of Merchant, staged here by actor-director Nigel Shawn Williams, of Toronto’s acclaimed Factory Theatre.
City of Bhangra Festival
At Surrey City Hall Plaza, the Vogue Theatre, and elsewhere from June 11 to 17
The fest moves its free Downtown Bhangra concert from Vancouver to Surrey’s City Hall Plaza for the first time. Here in town, you can catch performers such as feminist multimedia poet Rupi Kaur at the Vogue Theatre on June 14.
The Draw: The Downtown Bhangra event is still the biggest deal, with bhangra teams bringing the beats; look for names like singer Zora Randhawa and rapper Fateh Doe, and producer DJ Intense.
South Granville ArtWalk
Along or near Gallery Row on June 17
More than a dozen exhibitions vie for your attention between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., many of them offering up wine and cheese, demonstrations, and a chance to meet the artists. Almost every artistic style and medium is on view along Gallery Row, from large-scale oil painting to photography.
The Draw: The must-see is the CANADA 150 group exhibition by Kimoto Gallery and Thrive Art Studio artists, with—yes—150 original Canadian pieces on the wall, and nary a clichéd maple leaf or hockey stick in sight. The works, by more than 50 new and well-known city and regional artists, include oils, acrylics, watercolours, drawing, photography, and sculpture, all hung salon-style, at reachable prices from $500 to $1,500.
Mariachi Festival Canada
At the Vogue Theatre on June 17
Party like it’s fiesta time in Plaza Garibaldi: the seventh annual event closes its B.C.–wide run with the best charro-suit-wearing artists from Canada, the States, and Mexico, sounding trumpets, violins, and guitars. Alongside local bands like Mariachi Los Dorados, look for indigenous performers and folkloric dancers.
The Draw: The all-female Mariachi Mujer Latina, straight from Mexico’s main hotbed of mariachi, Jalisco.
Queer Arts Festival
At the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre and other venues from June 17 to 29
The festival’s 2017 theme, UnSettled, explores the idea of two-spirit—the term often used in indigenous cultures to describe LGBT members of their societies. The event’s central visual-arts exhibit finds Siksika visual artist Adrian Stimson curating work about two-spirit identity, with a roster that includes George Littlechild, Raven John, and Wanda Nanibush. That programming joins a cutting-edge rainbow of music, dance, spoken word, film, new-media art, and more.
The Draw: Don’t miss the Chippewa Travellers and the Allegra Chamber Orchestra performing local cellist-composer Cris Derksen’s Juno-nominated Orchestral Powwow on June 24.
Dancing on the Edge
At the Firehall Arts Centre and other venues from July 6 to 15
The 29th annual fest kicks off with shows by the Beijing Modern Dance Company, presenting its hypnotic Oath-Midnight Rain. From there, the event centres its 10-day celebration around seven mixed programs of works from here and across the country; names include Toronto’s Sara Porter and Yvonne Ng, and Vancouver’s Mascall Dance, Serge Bennathan, Julianne Chapple, Daelik, and Cori Caulfield. Elsewhere, look for Co.ERASGA and Bangkok’s Pichet Klunchun Dance Company, with their kitsched-out collaboration Unwrapping Culture, and Kinesis Dance somatheatro’s new ENTRAP. Outdoors, look up, way up, for Aeriosa Dance Society and Spakwus Slulem Thunderbird Sharing Ceremony in the trees of Stanley Park, and LINK Dance Foundation’s Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? at three intersections around the city.
The Draw: Rock fans won’t want to miss the amped-up NO FUN, an interdisciplinary ode to the music and movement of perennial bad boy Iggy Pop.
Theatre Under the Stars
At Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park from July 7 to August 19
Go for the scenery, or go for the musicals: historic Malkin Bowl, set under towering Stanley Park trees, makes a magical locale for large-scale stagings. This year, TUTS juxtaposes the classic, kid-friendly Mary Poppins with The Drowsy Chaperone, a smart send-up of 1920s musicals.
The Draw: While you can’t go wrong with the classic songs and high-flying action in Poppins (“A Spoonful of Sugar”, anyone?), up your Canadian content by giving The Drowsy Chaperone a try. Penned by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, with music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, it’s a good old-fashioned song-and-dance extravaganza with a tongue-in-cheek edge.
Sunday Afternoon Salsa
At Robson Square from July 9 to August 13
The hottest summer dance event in town mixes it up this year, adding an after-party that spotlights different dance styles—from the Hustle to West Coast swing—from 7 to 9 p.m. The usual open-air salsa dancing runs from 3 to 7 p.m., with the first half-hour devoted to lessons, social dancing till 7, and dance shows and performances at 5.
The Draw: The ability to learn how to shake it like Dancing With the Stars: the half-hour beginner lesson launches both the afternoon session and the after-party, meaning anyone can take part. Oh, did we mention it’s all free?
Ensemble Theatre Company Repertory Festival
At the Jericho Arts Centre from July 13 to August 18
In the pleasant setting of Jericho Beach, some of the summer’s most challenging and provocative theatre takes place. The lineup this year encompasses Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play), Simon Bent’s play adapted from the Irving novel A Prayer for Owen Meany, and David Pownall’s Master Class, all brought to life by a crack repertory troupe.
The Draw: The roster is strong across the board this year, but we can’t wait to see the critically lauded In the Next Room, about a young doctor who uses the dawn of electricity to solve women’s “hysteria”, seemingly without being able to recognize what it is he’s actually unleashing in stiff-upper-lip Victorian times. the Guardian called it a “superb drama of female frustration”.
Vancouver Bach Festival
At Christ Church Cathedral and the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts from August 1 to 11
Early Music Vancouver brings back this exquisite Bach celebration for its second summer. The concerts range from the intimate beauty of American countertenor Terry Wey and Swedish soprano Jenny Högström singing chamber cantatas to a truly epic performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John Passion on August 11 at the Chan, the latter featuring the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, the Vancouver Cantata Singers, a team of international soloists, and English tenor Thomas Hobbs.
The Draw: Cellist Matt Haimovitz playing Bach’s Cello Suites with awesome new overtures written by the contemporary likes of Philip Glass and David Sanford.
Harmony Arts Festival
Along the West Vancouver waterfront from August 4 to 13
Art markets, culinary events, and live concerts scatter along one of the region’s prettiest shores. Among the highlights this year are feature artist Pierre Coupey, with an exhibit at the Ferry Building Gallery, and a midweek interactive media installation called Day & Twilight, with animation and projections each night.
The Draw: If you can manage to drag yourself indoors, make sure to catch the new exhibition Settlement & Migration at the West Vancouver Museum.
Monsoon Festival of Performing Arts
At the York Theatre and the Surrey Arts Centre from August 4 to 13
The South Asian Arts Society sets off a summer storm of performing arts, this year with a spotlight on theatre. The lineup includes the one-woman play Burq Off! and the locally created Malavika, a classical Hindi dance drama by the Nrityenakatha troupe, all complemented by workshops on everything from playwriting to acting.
The Draw: Nadia Manzoor’s Burq Off! is an autobiographical coming-of-age comedy about what it was like to be a British Pakistani girl growing up in a conservative Muslim family. Said to be wildly entertaining, it’s enjoyed sold-out runs in New York, L.A., San Francisco, London, and Toronto.
Powell Street Festival
At Oppenheimer Park, the Firehall Arts Centre, and other venues on August 5 and 6
Fete Japanese culture, and its long history here, through literary events, screenings, a wild variety of concerts, and more. Amid the offerings: Ensemble Liberta, a classical Japanese music group; legendary Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s key translators, Jay Ruben and Ted Goossen; poet Sally Ito; iconic author Joy Kogawa; and Asato Ikeda with a presentation on Japan’s “third gender”.
The Draw: Where else are you going to find a combo like this this summer: George & Noriko, a Japanese blues cowboy and a Tsugaru shamisen player, both from Melbourne, Australia?
Vancouver Mural Festival
Across Mount Pleasant and Strathcona from August 7 to 12
After a hugely popular inaugural event last year, the mural celebration returns with a massive palette of happenings, with plans to add no fewer than 60 rad new murals to Mount Pleasant and Strathcona. Highlights include live mural-painting (like the Supersnag Live Art Night on August 8) and art battles; the Red Bull Tour Bus Stage, with Yukon Blonde and Louise Burns; a Georgia Straight speaker series; and a Vancouver Craft Beer Week beer garden on August 12.
The Draw: Big names bringing bright new life to city walls this year include Austria’s Nychos, Italy’s Peeta, Spain’s Cinta Vidal, and local stars like Andy Dixon and Fiona Ackerman; locales to be announced.
Vines Art Festival
At Trout Lake Park and parks around the city from August 9 to 19
Environmentalism and the arts meld in this innovative grassroots festival that’s in its third year. Dance, art installations, and performances bring creativity to the city’s green spaces, with interactive, sustainability- and eco-themed art projects in parks around town, via the Vancouver park board’s artists-in-residence program.
The Draw: The big event happens August 19 at the south end of Trout Lake Park, when the entire green space comes alive with artistic endeavours, vendors, and more.
Kaleidoscope Arts Festival
At Town Centre Park, Coquitlam
Arts, crafts, music, and dance, all spread across a huge grassy field. Look for bands like the Matinee and the Paperboys, as well as plenty of food trucks and local craft beer.
The Draw: The divine Ms. Bif Naked performs at 8:30 p.m. on the Plaza Stage—and it's all free.
All Over the Map
At Ron Basford Park on Granville Island on August 13, 20, and 27
World dance hits the outdoor stage twice daily, at 1 and 3 p.m., on the lush green mound near Performance Works. This year’s offerings range from swing dance to traditional Métis folk dance.
The Draw: Follow the sound of pounding drums to Uzume Taiko, whose artists turn percussion into a spectacle of martial-arts-like dance (August 20).
Vancouver Fringe Festival
At venues around Granville Island and elsewhere from September 7 to 17
More than 700 shows from here and abroad bring Granville Island’s cornucopia of stages alive. Artists who opt for the Bring Your Own Venue series take the action further out into the city, while a site-specific stream leads audiences into places they might never expect—kind of like the array of theatre on hand.
The Draw: Amid the international offerings, seek out German comedian Paco Erhard, or Melbourne humorist Lana Schwarcz, with her breast-cancer-survival tale Lovely Lady Lump.