photos: Signature performers for the PuSh Festival this year, Las Cafeteras is a musical group hailing from L.A. Photo: Piero F. Giunti for PuSh Festival.

PuSh Festival kicks off 2015

The annual festival of local and international performance art lights up Vancouver.

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PuSh is constantly regarded as an event that “pushes” creative boundaries. It’s been just over a decade since the annual festival of local and international performance art got its start in Vancouver, a city that—just like the festival—is still growing into itself.

“The city has a sense of ownership in this festival,” explains Norman Armour, PuSh’s artistic director. “I think we remain who we began as in terms of our values and spirit. But we’ve grown in terms of our mission.” For the last 10 years, PuSh has been an ideal place to forge artistic partnerships, showcase groundbreaking local and international acts, and challenge audiences with innovative performances and events.

This year, the festival continues to push the creative envelope with an impressive 200 events in 20 days. The ambitious program can seem overwhelming, but for audience members and performers alike, taking in
the festival is also about taking risks.

“First off, I always say, go with your instincts, but at the same time go to something that may feel like a bit 
of a risk,” Armour tells prospective attendees. “PuSh festival is best when it’s considered an adventure.”

This year, festival highlights include Sequence 8, a contemporary circus performance by Quebec’s les 7 doigts de la main, international acts like Cineastas from Buenos Aires or Las Cafeteras (featured on the January cover) from Mexico and USA.

But local acts are also a must.

“Vancouver is, in many ways, a pretty exciting place to be and this festival is an arena for the arts, which in turn are great for wrestling with questions about the urban experience,” Armour says.

PuSh Festival runs from January 20 to February 8. Here are four notable performances by B.C. artists you won’t want to miss.

Legendary Vancouver author, speaker, and LGBTQ advocate Ivan Coyote, pictured here second from right, presents a musical performance featuring Coyote's signature blend of wit, quirk, and big-hearted joy. Photo: courtesy Ivan Coyote.

Tomboy Survival Guide
Vancouver’s Ivan Coyote has been working to combine words, live music, text and performance for 20 years. In 1996, Coyote co-founded Taste This, a four-person performance troupe that combined live music, storytelling and poetry to create a discussion about gender identity and sexuality.

Two years later, Taste This turned the stage show into a book called Boys Like Her, and in the years since
then, Coyote has authored eight short story collections and a novel. Originally from Whitehorse, they have toured extensively to share stories live, and Coyote is now one of Vancouver’s foremost contributors to the national conversation around gender identity and sexuality.
After the success of Gender Failure, a 2014 book based on the acclaimed 2012 show where Coyote and musician Rae Spoon explore their failed attempts at fitting into the gender binary, Coyote is back and ready to broaden the gender discussion through more storytelling.

“This project, for me, is a nostalgic guide for folks who are much younger who might identify with the word tomboy,” Coyote says.
Even though PuSh will host the world premier of this show, Coyote started working on this project in 2011. They wrote the majority of the text since June of this year, when rehearsals started.

“Most of the stuff that will be on stage at PuSh is all relatively new stuff, the text of which will end up in the book eventually,”
Coyote explains. Like Gender Failure, the Tomboy project includes a book by the same title, which will be published by Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press in 2016.

Tomboy show features four musicians, as well as a hymn that’s sure to become a classic.

“I guess if people love Gender Failure, than this is a continuation of that discussion,” Coyote says. “It’s part nostalgia and part instructional video on how to tie a tie.”

The Tomboy Survival Guide plays at Club PuSh (Performance Works, 1218 Cartwright Street, Granville Island), February 6
at 8pm and 10:30pm. Tickets $29.


B.C.-raised Anita Majumdar's Fish Eyes Triology is a trio of plays exploring how gender and race informs identity. Photo: Max Telzerow.

Fish Eyes Trilogy

“Hi, my name’s Meena. It’s short for Meenakshi. It means ‘fish eyes’.”

In the broadest terms, Fish Eyes is a trilogy about growing up. The first story is about Meena, a young girl who is struggling with feeling like an outsider and ditching her commitments for a crush. The second, called Boys With Cars, is about Naznin, a popular girl
in a relationship that makes her have second thoughts about what she wants.

Finally there’s the third story, Let Me Borrow That Top, where we meet Candice, Meena and Naznin’s nemesis. The first act was written 10 years ago, and the other two are more recent additions.
But all three are highly relatable.

“There are a few specific references to Bollywood and the Indian experience of hybrid identity in Canada, but the stories being told on stage are about feeling like an outsider, which isn’t specifically assigned to any one gender or race,” explains writer and performer Anita Majumdar, who plays all three characters.

Majumdar grew up in Port Moody,
where she spent a large portion of her adolescence experiencing the issues she brilliantly portrays in her trilogy. She describes her high school as a place “full
of immature and inappropriate sexual rhetoric, gender inequality and racial bias.”

It was later that she discovered this was a common experience among many people who grew up in small towns around Canada.
Even though they can be viewed separately, it’s highly recommended that you attend all three plays. And just like some wines, it seems the older Fish Eyes gets, the better it is. Majumdar, after all, performed Part One for the first time 10 years ago. And even though the dialogue is almost the same, she says the acting and intention have changed, making it a more honest and vulnerable performance.

“There’s something about growing with a play for so many years (...) that allows me relax and care less about being liked. And to take my ego out of it; I am simply the vessel to telling this story, not the other way around.”

Fish Eyes plays at the Cultch (1895 Venables Street), January 27-31. Part 1, 8pm (January 27 & 29), 5pm (January 31). Parts 2 and 3: 8:00PM (January 28, 30, 31). Tickets start at $19.

Phantasmagoria: Circus of Dreams
Ever wonder what it’s like to see a show created and performed by 23 different artists? Students from a variety of backgrounds at the Capilano Performing Arts Program are also in the midst of finding out.

“We’re still in the process of flushing the structure of the show out,” explains Cathy Wilmot, one of the students involved in this project. The group has been meeting since September to workshop the performance pieces.

“At the moment it’s a marriage between circus and dreams, hence the name,” adds Wilmot. “There’s clowning and projection and shadow play, composed music, singing, dancing. It’s sort of an amalgamation of our talents rolled into a show.”

The group went through a long process to come up with the name of the show; they actually chose it before choosing a theme.
“We came up with the name first and now we’re creating around the name,” explained Wilmot. The group did community engagement workshops where they had 200 children to draw pictures of their dreams and nightmares and tell them the stories behind them.

“It’s very different from showing up with a script and making that happen. But we do a lot of journaling,” she adds. “We’re turning our dreams into reality.”

Phantasmagoria: Circus of Dreams plays at the Roundhouse Community Centre (181 Roundhouse Mews), 8pm; January 29–30; 4pm & 8pm January 31. Tickets $25.

A performance based on the Herman Hesse novel of the same name, Steppenwolf encourages audiences to rethink and disrupt the everyday stuff of life we take for granted. Photo: courtesy of Alex Ferguson.

Produced by the new Vancouver-based production company Fight with a Stick, Steppenwolf is about the space we inhabit outside and within our minds. Some audience members will be familiar with the namesake Herman Hesse novel upon which it’s based, but this adaptation takes it to another level of introspection.

“In this show the audience is put through this spatial machine and
what they’re doing is sitting on the floor starring into a bank of mirrors. So you watch the show through the mirrors and it all happens behind you,” says Alex Ferguson, Steppenwolf’s performer, director and writer.

In Ferguson’s own words, it was a weird novel to adapt. There’s no clear narrative thread and the story focuses on the deconstruction of character.

“What we found is that we’re creating spaces for reflection, you’re watching it through a mirror and you see yourself the whole time as well as what’s behind you. But the mirror is also like looking into another world,” he adds.

But this show doesn’t remain exclusively in the visual world. The production team also focuses on the sound. The goal: activate people’s senses through sound and, in so doing, present a disruption in the way we’re used to seeing things, including our own city and way of life.

“When I read the [Hesse] book it resonated with me because I’m living somewhere between the middle class and living from paycheck to paycheck. Many people in our society feel the way the main character feels, isolated or like an outsider,” Ferguson says.

Even though the show looks to literally isolate viewers, in the end it’s all about the ride and deciding what you want to get out of it.
“Viewers should know this show might not be easy to digest, but it’ll definitely be stimulating.”

Steppenwolf plays at the Russian
 Hall (600 Campbell Avenue) at 8pm February 4–6; 4pm & 8pm February 7; and 2pm February 8. Tickets $36.

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