Keep on PuShing: What to see at the 2020 PuSh Festival

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PuSh International Performing Arts Festival | various venues | January 21 – February 9, 2020

A new decade; a new artistic director; the same ground-breaking programming. The 2020 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival is almost here, and its line-up is full of local and international performers who are sure to not only entertain us but also leave us with new ideas and plenty to think about. Whether you are a music fan, dance lover, theatre junkie, or you’re just looking for something innovative or quirky, this year’s festival looks like it will fit the bill. Here’s a quick guide to some of the most anticipated shows.


Best show for dance lovers: Frontera

January 30, Queen Elizabeth Theatre

This is set to be a powerhouse partnership of choreographer Dana Gingras and her company Animals of Distinction with post-rock masters Fly Pan Am. Gingras’s monumental, another fusion of dance and music, was a hit at the 2016 PuSh Festival, and the return of this Montreal choreographer is highly anticipated. With stunning lighting design and stark scenography by United Visual Artists (UK) and Gingras’s high-energy movement fuelled by dramatic tension, contemporary dance lovers will want to make sure they make it to this one-night-only performance.


Best shows for those who like to get involved: The Fever and Monday Nights

January 29 – February 2, Annex; February 6 – 9, Anvil Centre

If you’re looking to get out of your seat and have a unique theatrical experience, these two interactive shows might do the trick. The Fever questions how we form bonds of trust with strangers and how we manage to work together as a community. It seems the audience will learn through how this process unfolds by enacting it and testing theories in real time. It’s a timely theme as the world seems to be divided as ever.

For athletic types, Monday Nights might be more your style. A group of five men who met every Monday night to play basketball share their stories while inviting the audience to join them on the court.


Best shows for those who like things quirky: High Water and Idealverein

February 1 – 5, The Nest; January 22 – 24, Western Front

Presented with the Vancouver International Children’s Festival, High Water takes us into an entirely new world contained in a fish tank. Robert Leveroos builds scenes and tells imaginative stories using everyday objects and clever manipulations of water, and the results sound like this might be a brilliant show about the power of creativity and imagination.

Idealverein, choreographed by Justine Chambers and Mike Bourscheid, involves six dancers enacting a sort of game that has unspoken rules. The dancers’ unique “costume-objects,” as Bourscheid refers to them, consist of large tan aprons, metal hardware, sausages, boiled eggs, lipstick, and fake hair — they are said to define the movements and drive the action. The concept of the show sounds like it will either be one of the strangest things you’ll see this year or one of the most oddly entertaining.


Best show for those who want to learn about the human condition: Kismet, Things Have Changed

February 4 – 8, Historic Theatre at The Cultch

Ten years ago, Emelia Symington Fedy, Daryl King, Anita Rochon, and Hazel Venzon travelled across Canada and asked 100 people “What do you believe in?” They turned the responses into a touring show, and now they are back with a new question for everyone surviving out of those 100 people: “How do you cope?” With projection, audio recordings, and a set in constant flux, Kismet presents the responses and what they learned along the way and over the past decade. It’s not often we get to take a step back and see ten years from such as distance. With this unique perspective, the artists will surely have some worthy wisdom and entertaining stories to share.


Best show for those interested in Indigenous stories: Skyborn: A Land Reclamation Odyssey

January 23 – February 1, Historic Theatre at The Cultch

Musqueam theatre artist Quelemia Sparrow’s Skyborn involves inter-indigenous sound and puppetry, Musqueam/Sto:lo visual storytelling and animation, ancestral knowledge, and an epic canoe journey to rescue her soul. Coupled with her natural stage presence, Sparrow’s imaginative reclamation of culture and Indigenous storytelling is set to be a profound experience both for her and the audience.


Best shows for those who want to learn more about the refugee experience: Anywhere But Here and Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story

February 4 – 8 & 11 – 15, Vancouver Playhouse; January 24 – 26 and 28 – 30, Frederic Wood Theatre

Presented with Electric Company Theatre, Carmen Aguirre’s Anywhere But Here is the story of a refugee family at the US-Mexico border as they travel from Canada to Chile in 1979. With magic realism, stunts, and rap tracks by Shad Kabango, this ambitious Latinx story sounds like it will offer new insight into not only the experiences of this family but their context and circumstances related to statelessness that apply more broadly.

Chaim and Chaya, Jewish refugees from Romania, meet in 1908 on a pier in Halifax. Hannah Moscovitch’s story follows them forward to their lives in Montreal and backward to their experience on the Continent. The narrator of this concert/drama fusion is Ben Caplan who is described in the Globe and Mail as “part rowdy carnival barker, part rabbi.” Through re-worked Eastern European music—a fusion of Yiddish Klezmer and modern folk, the story unfolds. It sounds like the rare show that is equal parts deeply moving and wildly humorous.


Best shows for those looking for “something different”: Cuckoo and Gardens Speak

February 3 – 5, Waterfront Theatre; January 28 – February 1, Roundhouse Community Arts Centre

South Korea’s Jaha Koo is surrounded by talking rice cookers in this personal narrative that includes plenty of political and historical references. As he sits with the reprogrammed appliances, he discusses things like the market crash of 1997 and the unemployment, depression and suicide among youth that followed. Dark subject matter meets dark humour in this unique show.

Gardens Speak is a heart wrenching piece by Tania El Khoury pays tribute to 10 people who have lost their lives in Syria. Ten audience members are led to a garden or graves where they will listen to the story of one of the individuals. Lying on the ground listening to the story of someone who lost their life due to a brutal regime is sure to get you thinking about the larger conflict in Syria and what we can do to prevent these acts.  


Best shows for those who enjoy social commentary: Free Admission and She, Mami Wata & The Pussy Witchhunt

January 31 – February 2, Scotiabank Dance Centre; January 28 – 31, Performance Works

Part bold stand-up comedy, part performance art, Ursula Martinez’s one woman show is both personal and political. Throughout her commentary, she constructs a brick wall at the front of the stage. Full of observations about the contradictions of modern life, bold statements, and a bit of nudity, Martinez pulls no punches and confronts the audience with her disarming presence.  

Similarly, d’bi young anitafrika’s solo show explores gender, sexuality, and divinity. Playing characters including a church pastor, a pole dancer, and a child in a schoolyard, d’bi ‘s narrative shifts through time and place. This bold artist tells the story of four friends in present-day Jamaica while DJ Softieshan’s beats and loops add to this queer, diasporic drama.


Best show for music lovers: Little Volcano

January 21 – 23, Annex; February 7, Western Front

Well-loved local musician Veda Hille gets personal in her new musical memoir. Sitting at the piano, she tells stories about love, nature, and her past using witty lyrics and original compositions while a theme of Bach runs through the piece. She’s a captivating performer and extremely talented musician.


Best show for those who like crowd-sourced content: The Democratic Set

January 21 – 23; 25, Roundhouse Community Arts Centre

An empty room with a camera is set up at the Roundhouse which anyone can visit and become part of this crowd-sourced movie. The room can be transformed however participants see fit as they contribute their 15-second video scene, captured in a single take as the camera moves from one side of the set to the other. Put all these clips together, and you get a film that will be screened to show the depth and breadth of both individualism and collaboration. Go be part of the film, or just check it out to see all the creative ways people use their 15 seconds of fame.

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