For the Georgia Straight’s 18th annual Best of Vancouver issue, our editorial team has spent months on the lookout for good deeds, weird urban details, and various howlers to highlight. Here’s our contributors’ picks for Best of Vancouver 2013.
Best musical gift
The nonprofit Instruments Beyond Borders society came up with the bright idea of collecting donations of flutes, violins, and other instruments to benefit the Landfill Harmonic Orchestra in Cateura, Paraguay. It’s a celebrated children’s group that makes music with recycled instruments from the local dump. Organizer Janos Maté told the Straight that almost 150 pieces are in storage at Prussin Music (3607 West Broadway, 604-736-3036) in Vancouver. “We’re waiting for the orchestra in Paraguay to set up the infrastructure to be able to receive the instruments,” he said. Maté added that a longer-term goal is to expand the program to provide instruments to poor children and youth in the Lower Mainland and in other countries. “We’re also going to organize a big concert in the new year, maybe in the Chan Centre, to raise tens of thousands of dollars to provide some musical scholarships for the kids,” he said.
Best music initiative worthy of a standing ovation
Last June, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra announced a community partnership with St. James Music Academy, a school that provides free music lessons for children and youth from low-income families in the Downtown Eastside and other neighbourhoods. Under the agreement, the largest performing-arts organization in Western Canada will share its musical and educational resources in order to open up more opportunities for the young but underprivileged to discover their full potential.
Best grand jete forward for West Coast ballet
The biggest news in the Vancouver dance scene this year happened back east and south of the border, at a legendary heritage farm in Massachusetts. It was there, at the acclaimed Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, that Ballet B.C. performed to sold-out houses and received standing ovations. The troupe’s own Rachel Meyer even appeared on the fest’s poster. The Boston Globe called the company “exciting” and the dancers “terrific”. The significance of this praise cannot be overstated: four years ago, Ballet B.C. was on the brink of financial collapse. New artistic director Emily Molnar has slowly been rebuilding it as a showcase for technical virtuosity and cutting-edge contemporary choreography. The reviews here have been outstanding, but there’s nothing like getting a whole heap of affirmation from a dance-savvy international audience. The secret is finally out.
Best art party
After a dozen years, the Vancouver Art Gallery’s adults-only events on select Friday nights keep reeling them in by the thousands, and no wonder. At the last extravaganza, pulled together by the Arrival Agency, you could wander from an outdoor lounge covered with white balloons to a clubby indoor hangout where DJs spun tunes while art innovator Paul Wong showed projections. When you wanted a break from the cocktails, you could stroll through the sleek Grand Hotel exhibit, listen to the psychedelic sounds of Von Bingen rocking the rooftop, catch a bit of opera echoing up through the rotunda, and witness silkscreens being made outdoors. Yes, it’s a place to see and be seen—but also a place for art to be seen. The next FUSE is in November; get there early to beat the hordes.
Best addition to the Drive
The new (old) York Theatre
The much-anticipated York Theatre is rising on the once-tired block by Commercial Drive and East Georgia Street, and you can finally see the potential. The former home to the Vancouver Little Theatre, built in 1913, will fill a badly needed niche as a rental space to mid-sized troupes, with around 350 seats. Whether the LEED-certified restoration led by architect Gregory Henriquez, which includes a new two-storey glass lobby, will maintain the art deco integrity of the original building remains to be seen. What’s of little doubt, though, is that the Cultch-run venue will liven up the ’hood and boost the arts scene. Watch for its grand opening on December 4, when it launches a new holiday tradition with the East Van Panto.
Best sign that classical music is playing it cool
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra is going hip this season, as odes to all things retro run alongside pop-cult–obsessed programs. Have a shaken-not-stirred martini before catching Fifty Years of James Bond (January 10 and 11) or The Cocktail Hour: Music of the Mad Men Era (November 8 and 9). You’ll want to pull out your best skinny ties, stovepipe suits, and vintage shifts for the latter. The attire should be decidedly more goth at the Danny Elfman’s Music From the Films of Tim Burton (November 23), complete with projections of creepy drawings from the movies. And The Music of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses Second Quest (October 16) promises to bring out an even younger set, as gamers invade the Orpheum. Expect to see modified Peter Pan suits here, but probably best to leave the swords and shields at home.
Best thinking inside the box
Visual art and live theatre have been taking over shipping containers, with artists turning them into magical, and sometimes unsettling, boxes of creativity. This year, the troupe Boca del Lupo staged Voyage, an imaginary trip across the Pacific in complete darkness, in one of the giant metal units. Later, in Stanley Park’s Fall Away Home, they stacked the containers for projections and sets. Elsewhere, at the summer’s Khatsahlano! Music & Art Festival, visionary Tom Anselmi launched This Happened Here, a small village of containers that were turned into a movie theatre for vintage shorts like “Bambi Meets Godzilla”, an interactive studio for digital art by Paul Wong, or a darkened room for slide shows of old punk-rock concerts.
Best reasons to head to UBC outside of classes
The city may be planning to establish a cultural district downtown, but we think there’s a rival much farther west. This year, the Museum of Anthropology has been bringing in record numbers to shows like Safar/Voyage, a stunning and thought-provoking exhibit of contemporary art from the Middle East. But it’s not the only arts hub to hit when you head to the UBC campus. The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts’ lineup just gets better and better, with appearances this season by none other than Philip Glass and the world-music fado megastar Mariza, among others. Opera at UBC continues to be the place to spot the rising sopranos and tenors of tomorrow. And Theatre at UBC? Check out the boffo programming at its Frederick Wood Theatre, with everyone from Bertolt Brecht to Anton Chekhov on the menu this season.
Best participatory art project launched this year
Disposable Camera Project
Okay, so we actually have someone in Ontario to thank for this. As part of an urban-photography festival in March, Toronto artist Michaelangelo Yambao left disposable cameras around that city with notes asking passersby to take photos and put the cameras back. The photos were then posted to the project’s website and displayed in a gallery. The idea has since spread to other cities, including Los Angeles, Montreal, Auckland, and—under the auspices of local coordinators Nick Hill and Paul Nuestro—Vancouver. Visit disposablecameraproject.ca/vancouver.html for galleries of images captured at the Grouse Grind, English Bay, Gastown, and other Vancouver locales, and follow twitter.com/FindDCP for hints about where the cameras will be next.