PuShing through the winter: What to see at the 2019 PuSh Festival

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PuSh International Performing Arts Festival | various venues | January 17 – February 3, 2019

It’s hard to believe the PuSh Festival is 15 years old. It has become a staple of the winter arts calendar in Vancouver and helps to keep the winter blues away by bringing us innovative international performing arts and showcasing some of our best local talent. There is something for everyone in this milestone year with dance, theatre, music, film, and interdisciplinary works that are sure to transport, provoke, and delight. With over 26 shows in this year’s festival, you might not be sure where to begin. Here are some top picks to get you started: 

Best show for dance lovers: Attractor

January 18 – 19, Vancouver Playhouse

In the trailer for Attractor, the company of Dancenorth Australia seems to be in a trance as they while around the stage in a frenzied mass. At times, they seem in synch, but at others it seems like chaos. It’s beautiful chaos, though, and adding to the ritualized tone is Indonesian duo Senyawa playing heavy metal-influenced folk music with driving rhythms. There’s even an opportunity for pre-selected audience members to join in the chaotic, cathartic fun.    

Best shows for those looking for “something different”: Ringo and L’Homme de Hus

January 18, Performance Works; February 1 – 2, Vancouver Playhouse

In Ringo, Tetsuya Umeda uses a variety of everyday objects including tin cans, dry ice, bowls, and hot plates to create a unique experience that defies expectations. A sort of dynamic art installation, his piece involves lights, sounds, and visuals created from his assortment of objects. It will probably seem like a strange science experiment at first, but all accounts are that Umeda is brilliant.

Camille Boitel’s clown-like identity, L’Homme de Hus, is a bumbling, acrobatic character who is sure to surprise and delight. As Boitel attempts to set up a table and chair, everything goes wrong and the simple task is turned into a gargantuan undertaking as more and more sawhorses stand in his way. If you love a good laugh and quirky characters, this looks like the show for you.

Best show about a social issue: salt.

January 24 – 26, Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre

In this solo show about the Transatlantic Slave Triangle, Selina Thompson tells the story of the journey she took along one stretch of that route — in a cargo ship. Armed with a sledgehammer and plenty of conviction, Thompson seems ready to take hold of the audience’s attention and not let go. It seems she will be imploring the audience to listen, to reflect, and to remember. It’s a personal work with wide-ranging implications. Thompson is also presenting an installation, Race Cards, that can be visited anytime during the festival. She has composed 1,000 questions about race and put them on cards. Visitors are asked to respond to questions such as, “Why do people assume that racism will just passively die out if we wait long enough?”

Best shows for fans of experimental music: 100 Keyboards and Marginal Consort

January 19, Russian Hall; January 20, Performance Works

In 100 Keyboards, Japanese multi-instrumental sound artist ASUNA arranges battery-powered, analogue keyboards in concentric circles to create waves of overlapping notes. Inspired by the Moiré effect of superimposed patterns, he uses it in a musical context as each keyboard joins in to contribute one sustained note. The sound builds louder and louder as the choir of keyboards takes on a life of its own.

The four musicians of Marginal Consort collaborate with their many acoustic, electronic, and original instruments to create atmospheric music that melds together to form the sonic backdrop of relaxed environment where audiences are free to move around as they wish and experience the music from different positions. The group prefers not to rehearse, making each show unique and unpredictable.

Best innovative show: Prince Hamlet

January 23 – 27, Frederic Wood Theatre

While it seems that Hamlet has been done in every way imaginable, Why Not Theatre presents an innovative adaptation of Shakespeare’s most performed play in this bilingual (English and American Sign Language) production. The two languages are meant to blend together seamlessly, making the show accessible to hearing and deaf audiences. This looks like a must-see for fans of the bard and those looking for innovative, inclusive theatre.

Best dance/theatre hybrid: Suddenly Slaughter

January 25 – 26, Russian Hall

PuSh Artists-in-Residence The Biting School (Vancouver brothers and artists Aryo and Arash Khakpour) have taken on a major work of Iranian theatre: Abbas Nalbandian’s 1971 Suddenly, This God Lover Died in the Love of God, This God Slain Died by the Sword of God. It was too radical to be accepted in Iran; it lives again in this Vancouver premiere. The story centres on a communal house in a poor area of Tehran as it examines greed and envy. The action takes place in a corridor, the audience forced to decide which direction to look and which action to take in. It is also unique in its interdisciplinarity with physicality and gesture telling the story as well as conventional theatre.

Best show for film lovers: Bicycle Thieves

January 26 – 27, Performance Works

A group of six musicians and four actors provides live musical and voice accompaniment to the landmark neorealist film Bicycle Thieves. PuSh commissioned composer and musical director Joelysa Pankanea to create a show paying tribute to a film, and she chose this film by Vittorio De Sica about a poor man and his son as they search for a stolen bicycle in the chaos of post-WWII Rome. The music and film are said to interact to make the content of the film all the more haunting, and the actors provide live voiceovers as the film plays silently in the background.

Best show about the human condition: Zvizdal (Chernobyl – So Far So Close)

January 31 – February 2, Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre

This project sounds extremely moving. Journalist Cathy Blisson and some members of Antwerp-based art collective, BERLIN, spent five years filming Nadia and Pétro Opanassovitch Lubenoc, an elderly couple living within the irradiated Chernobyl exclusion zone. They live completely alone and isolated in Zvizdal and think they are immune to the radiation. They refuse to leave. The film of the couple is paired with an installation: live shots of miniature models of their home. The result looks beautiful and deeply moving as it documents this unique story.

Best site-specific show: Fragile Forms

February 2 – 7, Anvil Centre

Created specifically to be performed in New Westminster’s Anvil Centre, audiences will follow the artists of MACHINENOISY through the venue and up the stairs. The piece is said to explore the theories of Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa, who wrote about architecture and the sensing body. Artists from Canada and Finland have joined forces for this ambitious piece about the sensorial, social and political aspects of space. It will be interesting to see how the movement and space interact with each other to add to the significance of the work.


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