Here’s a truth as the Powell Street Festival gets ready to celebrate its 47th edition this year: you really don’t need a plan. Featuring everything from dance, theatre, and music to educational walks, martial arts displays, and a smorgasbord of food, there’s a nonstop slate of attractions to keep you engaged. No surprise the fest has become one of the longest-running community arts events in Canada, with the truly impressive thing being it’s still free to attend.
Previous editions have attracted over 17,000 visitors to the Downtown Eastside, which remains historically imporant to Vancouver’s Japanese Canadian population. The community’s earliest immigrants—almost all of them young men—originally settled in the area around Powell Street, turning it into their social and business hub. Translated as Paueru Gai, the street became the centre of what was known as Japantown.
This year, as always, the mission of the Powell Street Festival (running August 5 and 6) is to celebrate community. Everyone is welcome. Overwhelmed by all there is to see? That’s okay, we’re to help with four can’t-miss standouts.
Finally, a pro tip: be sure to check out this year’s amazing merch, with the Jillian Tamaki-designed T-shirts being so cool that you’re going to have to act fast. Save us an XL. And we’ll see you in the park.
At the Firehall Arts Centre on August 5 at 1pm
As difficult as this is to sometimes accept, the world today has some fairly severe problems, most caused by almost every human being on the planet. It’s time to do some thinking if you’re using plastics, burning fossil fuels, eating California-grown strawberries, or throwing out nine bags of garbage per week. Los Angeles–spawned (and now Vancouver-based) animator and designer Miwa Matreyek kickstarts an important conversation with Infinitely Yours. The dream-fever shadow performance uses climate change as a leaping-off point for an exploration that’s as visually (and sonically) beautiful as it is harrowing. The artist is seen in shadow, but the world in her multi-layered animated production is instantly recognizable, and it’s not pretty. Daunting as this might seem, we can, as a species, stop what we’re doing to a planet in crisis. Infinitely Yours might not have the answers, but it moves the needle on a discussion that, maybe, might make the world a better place.
At the Oppenheimer Park Diamond Stage on August 6 at 2:30pm
Stop and think for a second what the term “folk” music means in North America. The answer is everything from the blue-collar minimalism of Arlo Guthrie to the harmony-drenched indie majesty of Fleet Foxes to the ragged-glory weirdness of You Won’t. So it’s perhaps only fitting that Vancouver’s Ten Ten, which describes itself as “an evolving art experiment with its roots in the Japanese folk tradition,” seems to be drawing from all sections of the record store. The instruments employed—taiko drums, shinobue and shakuhach (Japanes flutes), and shamisen (halfway between a guitar and a banjo)—are most certainly traditional, but Ten Ten uses them to create something that’s also rooted in the here-and-now. One second the group sounds like it’s walking through the Owakudani Forest on a mist-shrouded spring morning; the next it’s crashing around in whatever Japan’s version of Garageville is before pulling a hard left for WOMAD. Yes, Ten Ten is that impressive.
The Butterfly Project
At the Firehall Arts Centre on August 5 at 2:15pm
Queer, trans, non-binary opera singer Teiya Kasahara dares to do the unthinkable, at least for Giacomo Puccini purists: reinvent Madama Butterfly. Some will argue it’s about time someone did it, with the story of 15-year-old Japanese geisha Cio-Cio-San often criticized today for racist stereotypes and general cultural appropriation. Featuring the work of Vancouver audio designer Andrea Wong,The Butterfly Project pulls one of the world’s most famous operas into the 21st century with a radically different take. “In my reimagination,” Kasahara has explained, “Chōchō-san comes back to tell her own version of the story, beginning where that story leaves off.” Curious as to just how different The Butterfly Project is from Madama Butterfly? Start with the spelling of Cio-Cio-San. Or, um, Chōchō-san. Accompanied by Wong’s live and recorded music, Kasahara sings in both Italian and Japanese—the vibe all old-world concert halls one second, and urban-cool hip-hop the next. Somehow you know, as a trailblazer, Pucinni would approve.
At the Street Stage on August 5 at 3pm
The brilliance of Non Sweet is that there’s something about the project that seems every bit as unapologetically wacky as Tokyo. And, whether you’re talking the all-in cosplay kids of Harajuku, or the Brylcreemed rockabilly dancers in Yoyogi Park, that’s meant as a compliment. The all-girl group files itself under hyper-authentic J-Pop, even though it’s based right here in rainy old Vancouver. To listen to Non Sweet’s (mostly) triple-candy-dipped songs is to conclude the project’s various members inhale helium the way the rest of us breathe oxygen. Assuming your ringtone isn’t the glitter-bomb banger “By Your Side”, there’s a strong possibility you’ve never heard of Non Sweet even though the group is from your home town. The doubly weird thing there being the group, which is on a mission to“lead the way for J-pop style girl groups in North America,” has a totally sweet 20,000-plus followers on Instagram. What are you missing out on? There’s an easy way to find out.