The top 10 Vancouver arts moments of 2013

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      It's that time of year when writers put together totally random lists—so why fight the urge? After all, 2013 had a lot of news to celebrate when it came to the Vancouver arts world. Here are some of the highlights that hold the promise of a happy new year for our cultural scene—but certainly not all of them. Feel free to add your own.

      1. Ballet B.C. receiving standing O's at Jacob's Pillow. Perhaps the biggest sign of the renewed strength of our regional dance troupe was its warm reception at the Massachusetts dance mecca, where audiences know top-tier, cutting-edge contemporary dance when they see it. The Boston Globe called the strides the company is making "exciting", and referred to the "high balletic ability of these terrific dancers". That Ballet B.C. also announced its third straight operating surplus in 2013 was just confirmation it's risen high from the ashes of its financial collapse of 2008.

      2. The opening of the York Theatre. The Cultch's renovation of the old New York/Raja offers a desperately needed new 370-seat rental space for theatre troupes around the city, and should bring new cultural life to a neglected end of the Drive. That it debuted with such a 'hood-friendly, raucous holiday treat as Jack and the Beanstalk: An East Van Panto was just an added bonus.

      3. Vancouver Symphony Orchestra maestro Bramwell Tovey extending his contract and receiving an Order of Canada. With the announcement that the conductor will see the VSO through its 2017-18 season, the popular Tovey becomes the longest-serving artistic director at the organization (with a whopping 18 years at the podium) and gives the VSO the kind of stability most big orchestras can only dream of. 

      4. The launch of the Vancouver Fringe Festival's winter-spring series. From February through May, theatre fans get to extend the Fringe magic well beyond September, and catch fest hits like One Man Lord of the Rings, by Charles Ross (of the Fringe hit One Man Star Wars Trilogy); Hockey Night at the Puck and Pickle Pub (a Pick of the Fringe Winner earlier this year); and Nashville Hurricane (featuring Chase Padgett, of another 2013 Fringe hit, 6Guitars)—rockin' shows all.  

      5. The Vancouver Opera announcing a new Shane Koyczan opera called Stickboy. Composer Jordan Nobles will pen the music for the new commission, set to debut in October 2014 at the Vancouver Playhouse—a meaningul signal that opera is alive and relevant, and that the VO is intensely interested in building young audiences. The new, 80-minute opera will be based on Stickboy, Koyczan's 2008 novel in verse—a work that was based on the poet's own experiences of bullying when he was younger.

      6. The launch of the Capture Photography Festival. Long a hotbed of contemporary photo art, Vancouver has never had a proper fest to celebrate its talents and an event of this kind was long overdue. Capture's brilliance was that it brought together every form, from the "commercial" to the political and the abstract and the digitally altered—from Jim Breukelman's colouring-book assemblages to Dina Goldstein's tongue-in-cheek trips into Barbie and Ken's dollhouse to Ed Burtynsky's vast panoramas of industrial carnage—in a sizzling, ambitious citywide event.

      7. Bard on the Beach and the Arts Club announcing new residency in a giant performing-arts production centre in Southeast False Creek. The two successful groups will join forces in a new arts hub that will house a 250-seat theatre, four rehearsal halls, costume and props shops, and offices. A bit of positive news for a space that was once intended to be leased to the now-defunct Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company.

      8. Douglas Coupland building Lego at the Vancouver Art Gallery. In a series of whimsical events at the VAG, the artistic multitasker (and recent Order of Canada award-winner) led children and adults alike in building structures for his solo exhibition in 2014. From the look of the wildly coloured and zig-zaggy tall towers, the crowd-sourced art project promises hugely fun results when it's installed and unveiled in May. 

      9. Dances for a Small Stage extending into the Emerald. Movent Production's blend of hip local musicians, contemporary dancers, and a retro-Rat-Pack-styled dinner club paid off in jampacked shows for its new "point 5" events—a menu of hip little collaborations sure to draw new fans to dance.

      10. Green Thumb Theatre's move into Carleton Hall. Here was a win-win for everyone: Green Thumb was desperate for space after moving out of the old green house by the Cultch due to redevelopments over there, and the 1896 school building was under threat of demolition after an arson attack in 2008. Now the venerable, acclaimed youth-theatre troup is renting the property (and a building adjacent to it) at below-market rate as part of a 20-year lease agreement with the school board, ending years of instability for Green Thumb.



      Sandy Garossino

      Jan 2, 2014 at 7:41pm

      Great list. Btw, it's Shane Koyczan. S-H-A-N-E.

      Sol Feggio

      Jan 2, 2014 at 9:48pm

      The Vancouver Opera Production of STICKBOY will bite them in the ass. The librettist doesn't write the opera, THE COMPOSER writes the opera. I'm astonished that a semi-literate paper like the Straight would fall for this old-time marketing tool. The librettist is mostly irrelevant in opera. If the music doesn't work, then the opera is dead on delivery - no matter who wrote the words. Even Margaret Atwood.

      All this flapping of arms about Shane Koyczan writing the libretto is nothing but hot air. He can write whatever he wants, but if Mr. Nobles (the real star of this commission) doesn't write a great score, then the opera is irrelevant and unimportant. You may sell young people on the opera because of Koyczan, but they're not the ones who know anything about opera. Opera is still controlled by the rich. They'll only like it if Jordan Nobles writes a great score. They don't care about Shane and that's that. Do you think that people who follow Koyczan will fork out $75 to see his opera? NO way.

      That's the truth and nothing but the truth. Wake-up, Georgia Straight. You should know better than this.

      Doing it at the Playhouse is nothing new. THE ARCHITECT by David MacIntyre and Tom Cone was at the Playhouse twenty years ago. STICKBOY is merely following in their footsteps 20 years later.

      Koyczan is a selling point, nothing more, and he could write the phone book as much as it matters in opera. If the music doesn't work, then the opera doesn't work. Please put the spotlight on Jordan Nobles - not the guy writing the words. He ain't important, Nobles is important. He's the one writing the music. He's surely the important one!

      Martin Dunphy

      Jan 2, 2014 at 9:51pm


      Thank you, it is fixed.


      Jan 3, 2014 at 8:44am

      Koyczan or Coyzan or Boyman or whatever his name is--this is one of the WORST tendencies in art--pandering to the public.

      When art and culture becomes intentionally popular (e.g. "What can we do to increase attendance?" etc, etc. etc.) it almost by definition dilutes its purpose. Great art is universal--it does NOT seek to cater to a specific market or ideally to a market at all. Rather it seeks to raise the human spirit.

      These kinds of populist moves may appear to be necessary for many art/culture organizations, but all arts organizations should also beware of marketing imperatives. These imperatives exist only because in recent years competition for money and attention span has increased.

      This brutal competition--in art and culture as well as other things--needs to be fought, ideally with non-politicized government support, but if necessary with private money.

      Alan Layton

      Jan 3, 2014 at 9:44am

      I'm always glad to see the arts in Vancouver highlighted. Unfortunately it's sometimes a hard sell here since so many people are in to outdoor activities and as evidenced above, there seems to be a hatred of 'rich people' and often they are associated with the arts and are necessary for their patronage. So any time that Vancouver gets recognition for the arts is a good thing.

      Spoken word fan

      Jan 3, 2014 at 10:10am

      Only someone who has never seen Shane Koyczan perform would call his work "pandering". Can't think of anyone else better at using words to "raise the human spirit".