PuSh Festival forges ahead with partner presentations including ancient forest experience

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PuSh International Performing Arts Festival | January 28 – February 20, 2021 | Online and Performance Works

It’s been a challenging year for the PuSh Festival as it grapples with organizational and leadership changes in the midst of a pandemic. But as one of Vancouver’s diverse, interdisciplinary winter arts staples, the festival is forging ahead this year with a reduced program focused on partner presentations.

“In our discussions, we felt like we wanted to maintain that commitment to live performance as much as we could, knowing that at some point that may become impossible, so the approach has really been to be as flexible as possible for as long as possible,” says PuSh managing director Jason Dubois. “The other motivating factor has been to maintain our commitment to our partners we work with on an annual basis, and to the artists who were slated to be part of the 2021 program.”

The planning process this year has been quite different from past festivals — less curatorial and more practical, with the team looking at what might be possible and which artists were willing and able to present their work virtually — there were some artists meant to premiere work at PuSh who haven’t been able to gather to rehearse. While the festival originally planned two in-person offerings, COVID restrictions have claimed Théâtre la Seizième partnership Violette, a VR performance meant for one audience member at a time.

The PuSh Rally, a series of online talks and panel discussions, has also been cancelled but not due to the pandemic. The Rally, curated by Maiko Yamamoto, Marcus Youssef, and Dani Fecko, was meant to be a forum for the arts community to discuss how the festival could heal, rebuild, and move forward after some difficult staffing changes last year — but after receiving feedback from the community the organizers came to the conclusion that the Rally would hinder more than help.

The remaining in-person offering at this year’s festival is a new partnership for PuSh with the Sunshine Coast Arts Council, the sold out Sanctuary: The Dakota Bear Ancient Forest Experience February 3 - 7, by Ceasee Wyss, Damien Gillis, and Olivier Leroux. Wyss gave the keynote address at the 2020 PuSh Assembly industry series. “At that time,” says Dubois, “we made a commitment to work with Cease on something for 2021. Sanctuary came together in fall 2020, and she brought it forward as something that could be interesting for the PuSh audience and that could work in the current COVID context." Participants will be immersed in a 360-degree ancient forest experience using video projections on a geodesic dome. It aims to both delight the senses and compel viewers to protect our ancient forests.

A partnership with Music on Main on January 28 and 29, Graveyards and Gardens, is a collaboration between Vancouver dance artist Vanessa Goodman and American musician Caroline Shaw that will have them construct an original album live on screen, from two different countries, as they fuse dance and music and show the deep relationship between the two forms. Another fusion in the work is between nature and technology as the stage will be set with sound cables, recording equipment, and plants.

A few of this year’s online presentations offer free registration, including Njo Kong Kie’s I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron February 4 – 6. Kie blends human voice, piano, video imagery, and the poetry of Xu Lizhi to lament the plight of factory workers in China — from first-hand experience. The performance will be in in Mandarin, with English surtitles.

A partnership with Coastal Jazz includes two free online concerts: DJ Kookum with dancer Sierra Baker and rapper Missy D, and the Gordon Grdina jazz trio.

And for those looking to get outside and connect with artists and the city, check out PuSh Walks, a series of guided walks throuh different neighbourhoods in Vancouver. You can stroll through Chinatown with Ralph Escamillan and Kimberley Wong or explore Mountain View Cemetery with Vanessa Goodman. New walks will be added each week.

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