SFU Woodward’s experiences a cultural revival with a return to live performances

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      Prior to the pandemic, SFU Woodward’s had emerged as a backbone of the city’s cultural life. During its first nine years, it hosted elaborately produced theatrical events, dance productions, film festivals, Indigenous performances, and literary readings.

      “On average, we were producing over 200 events a year,” Michael Boucher, director of cultural programs and partnerships at SFU Woodward’s, tells the Straight by phone. “We have over 30 partnerships. On top of that, we’re also involved in commissions.”

      For a venue that thrives on live shows, the pandemic came as a monumental shock. Shows were put on hold and Boucher had no idea whether they could be resurrected once live performances could resume. According to him, everyone had to put on their “best patience masks”.

      “They kept being delayed and delayed, so now we’ve gone through two annual calendars of restructuring,” Boucher says.

      Now, SFU Woodward’s is back in the business of culture. And its impresario in charge of live performances couldn’t be happier.

      “We’re not shying away from presenting provocative, engaging work,” Boucher declares. “That’s our mandate: redefine contemporary arts. It’s a constant iteration of, ‘What is contemporary?’ You’ve got to be on the edge of whatever that is.”

      Michael Boucher has shepherded the growth of programming and partnerships at SFU Woodward's.

      That mandate was reflected in late November when SFU Woodward’s and Full Circle: First Nations Performance copresented Red Sky Performance’s Trace. A thoroughly contemporary dance interpretation of an Anishinaabe creation story, it was conceived and directed by Teme-Augama-Anishinaabe artist Sandra Laronde and includes a futuristic score by Métis composer Eliot Britton.

      Boucher describes Trace as a deeply emotional and intimate story of the cosmos that left audiences feeling breathless.

      He’s also a director of the SFU-affiliated 149 Arts Society, which is copresenting another example of SFU Woodward’s postpandemic efforts to redefine contemporary arts.

      In partnership with DanceHouse and with support from the National Arts Centre, the 149 Arts Society is bringing forward a livestreaming of works in progress from five Canadian choreographers.

      This project, NEXT: New Dance in Development, offered two-week residencies to romham pádraig gallacher and Lance Lim of All Bodies Dance Project, Shion Skye Carter, Ralph Escamillan, and Zahra Shahab. It will be presented online at 4 p.m. on December 15.

      Choreographer Shion Skye Carter is one of the choreographers invited to SFU Woodward's.
      Dayna Szyndrowski.

      Boucher says that none of this would have been possible without the support of Department of Canadian Heritage’s Canada Arts Presentation Fund Program and its Support for Workers in Live Arts and Music Sectors Fund.

      “The emerging artists have been, in a way, without any infrastructure,” Boucher points out. “So this initiative proved to be incredibly significant in terms of a stepping stone to get them back to creating again.”

      The 149 Arts Society is named after the $1.49 day specials at the former Woodward’s store. Boucher says the society has long focused on emerging artists. It’s why it created Festival LAUNCH!, which Boucher is hoping to relaunch.

      Because SFU Woodward’s lost almost two years of live performances, it’s planning to hold its 10th anniversary two years late—in the fall of 2022—with a series of special events. And in January 2023, SFU Woodward’s will present the world premiere of a commissioned work by Electric Company Theatre.

      Cofounder Jonathon Young’s An Undeveloped Sound will be appear in its final form at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre in the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. A work in progress will be shown at the same location from February 1 to 4, 2022.

      “Loosely inspired by Goethe’s Faust, An Undeveloped Sound is about the essential wager made between development and destruction,” the Electric Company Theatre website states.

      Then there’s the eighth Vancouver Turkish Film Festival, which runs from December 10 to 18, with the opening night screening at SFU Woodward’s.

      “It’s a really interesting eye on Turkey, its culture, and its history and its politics,” Boucher says.

      And on December 16, Reel Causes is presenting a live screening of Someone Like Me, a critically acclaimed National Film Board–produced documentary about a gay Ugandan asylum seeker’s settlement in Vancouver. Directed by Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams, the film showed the inner workings of Rainbow Refugee group, which sponsored the refugee named Drake.

      Yes, indeed, SFU Woodward’s is back.