photos: Miss Understood. Photo by Raymond Shum

PuSh-ing us out of the box

PuSh Festival enters bold new territory

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Joyce Rosario graduated from theatre school, stepped into work in dance, and then found the perfect fit with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in 2013. What suited her was an affair featuring interdisciplinary, genrebending performances that can’t be stuffed in one box.

Rosario, associate curator of the annual festival that’s been lighting up the nights in January and February since 2003, thinks of PuSh as the ideal cure for the mid-winter doldrums. “It’s grey. It’s rainy. It kind of makes sense to have something to get you outside of [your home],” she says.

Rosario loves that the purchase of a multi-show PuSh pass often nudges fans of one artist, company or genre to check out a performance they may not venture to otherwise.

“The first time that I ever went to a Music on Main show was because I purchased a PuSh pass, as an audience member. I waited way too long to book any shows, and so I had to choose all of this stuff that was available,” she says with a laugh.

Now she’s a fan of Music on Main and proud PuSh will help this local concert series celebrate 10 years in 2016 with its presentation at the festival of An Evening with a Roomful of Teeth, an a cappella singing group that sounds more like a band than a choir.

Now that she’s on staff with PuSh, people always ask Rosario which shows they should attend. She recommends selecting something familiar, and then taking a risk. “If money’s an issue, check out some of the free stuff that we do because there’s quite a lot of it that you can take part in,” she says.

This year’s 12th annual festival features more than 150 performances and events from Jan. 19 to Feb. 7. PuSh presents groundbreaking works in theatre, dance, music, multimedia, and hybrid performance with artists and companies from countries including France, Denmark and Japan. There are free movies, industry networking events and professional workshops.

Club PuSh has moved from Granville Island to The Fox Cabaret on Main Street. This social hub of the festival features performances, both intimate and intense, selected with the help of the festival’s first Club PuSh curator-inresidence, playwright Jordan Tunnahill from Toronto.

“Norman [Armour, artistic and executive director of the PuSh Festival] calls it a pipeline to Toronto, having this aesthetic dialogue with Toronto,” Rosario says. “And, of course, Jordan is this super, uber wunderkind…It made sense to invite him into the fold at this juncture, to infuse the Club with some new ideas, some fresh perspective.”

Rosario feels clear on the shows that top of her to-see list this year.

The first is the festival opener, Inked and Murmur, with two pieces to be performed by award-winning British contemporary dancer Aakash Odedra. He is also trained in the Indian classical forms of kathak and bharata natyam.

“He’s such an amazing, amazing mover,” Rosario says. “Full stop.” She also hopes to hop over to the Scotiabank Dance Centre to take in Relative Collider, created by Liz Santoro and Pierre Godard. Santoro studied ballet at Boston Ballet School and neuroscience at Harvard. Godard, who trained as an engineer, has worked in theatre and has a Master’s degree in Natural Language Processing from the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris.

Rosario’s third pick is the much-anticipated post-rock dance performance monumental, “for so, so, so many reasons.”

Along with monumental, here are six PuSh picks. To buy tickets, visit or call 604-449-6000 to be directed to the relevant box office.

1. Miss Understood

“One of Vancouver’s unofficial poet laureates,” is how Armour described Antonette Rea at the PuSh Festival’s launch. Rea began writing poetry as a way of coping while earning an income as a sex worker and moving through drug addiction in the Downtown Eastside She’s been performing publicly since 2008 and is now poised to bare her soul. In an interdisciplinary performance, written with and directed by James Fagan Tait, Rea explores the pain of living as a middle-class husband and father, society’s oppression of queer identity, the dangers of sex work, and the misery of addiction. Audiences will see this trans woman triumph as a mesmerizing spoken word artist. Rea is rich with spirit and strength in this production by the frank theatre company, Vancouver’s professional queer theatre

Miss Understood plays at Performance Works (1218 Cartwright Street on Granville Island) at 8 pm January 27 to 30; 4 pm January 30; and 2 pm January 31, with a post-show talk, January 28. Tickets $31 until 5 pm on December 17, $36 thereafter.

Legendary Downtown Eastside poet Antonette Rea stars in a solo performance at the PuSh Festival. Photo: Raymond Shum.

2. Jack Charles V. the Crown

Jack Charles is one of Australia’s Stolen Generation. Born in 1943, he was an aboriginal child wrested from his family by the Australian government. Tormented by abuse and estrangement from his cultural roots, Charles became a criminal, drug addict, convict, and then an actor. With a mellow demeanor and deft hand, he takes audiences on a dark trip down memory lane in this performance accompanied by projections and a three-piece band. The theatre work, inspired by a documentary account of his life called Bastardy, Jack Charles V. the Crown ends with a speech to an offstage court, serving as both a plea and an accusation. Charles formed Australia’s first aboriginal theatre, Nindethana in 1972. He has performed in feature films, TV series and plays. Jack Charles V. the Crown is produced by ILBIJERRI Theatre Company, Australia’s leading and longest running aboriginal theatre company, which is creatively controlled by indigenous artists.

Jack Charles V. The Crown plays at the Fei & Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (149 West Hastings Street) at 8 pm January 21 to 22, with a post-show talk January 22. Tickets $31 before 5 pm on December 17, $36 after. Bastardy plays in PuSh’s free film series on January 20 at the Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema, SFU's Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at 5:30 pm.

Jack Charles v. The Crown explores Australia's stolen generation of Aboriginal children born in 1943 and wrested from their family by the Australian government. Photo: Bindi Cole.

3. monumental

“Buy early,” Armour told those who gathered at the PuSh launch when it came to monumental. For one night only, postrock legends Godspeed You! Black Emperor will provide live sonic accompaniment to The Holy Body Tattoo dance company while they explore the madness of urban life with both balletic and brutal movements. This production kick-starts a return to the world tour circuit after a 10-year hiatus for Holy Body Tattoo, a Vancouver-based contemporary dance company founded in 1993 by Noam Gagnon and Dana Gringas.

monumental plays at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (649 Cambie Street) at 8 pm on January 28. Tickets from $45.

4. Intimacy

Adriano Cortese of Australia’s Ranters Theatre felt chatty but lonely one night. Instead of calling a friend, he hit Melbourne’s streets and tried to talk to everyone he encountered. Cortese connected and collected an abundance of dramatic material as his new acquaintances shared personal details, anecdotes and life stories. Ranters Theatre used these encounters to craft a work of four seamlessly bridged scenes. The resulting production explores the nature of performance, both on- and offstage. It wrestles with how we’re always, in many ways, acting—even as we share our most intimate thoughts. Cortese established the Ranters Theatre artistic ensemble in 1994 with a commitment to creating original works that respond to the social and psychological circumstances of everyday life. Ranters Theatre’s award-nominated productions have toured the world, from Turkey to Portugal.

Intimacy plays at The Orpheum Annex at 8 pm January 20 to 23, with a postshow talk January 21. Tickets $31 before December 17 at 5 pm, $36 after.

5. Leftovers

Charlie Demers grew into a proud socialist in his teens in the 1990s, and half a lifetime later, the local funnyman is wondering why so little has changed. Demers, a star of CBC Radio’s The Debaters, a writer and stand-up comedian, is sure to entertain with his one-man show created with and directed by Marcus Youssef of Vancouver-based Neworld Theatre. As press bumph puts it: “In the best tradition of political comedy, Demers uses humour as a pointed weapon, cutting through decades of bullshit into the core of malaise, and the many questions it raises. Chief among them is one we’ve all asked: why are we so accepting of the world as it is?” If that doesn’t get you off your couch, what will?

Leftovers plays at the York Theatre (639 Commercial Drive) at 8 pm January 26 to 30, with a post-show talk, January 27. Tickets from $19.

6. An Evening With Harold Buddt

This composer who helped Brian Eno pioneer ambient music will share his soft and elongated style of piano playing at Club PuSh.

An Evening With Harold Budd happens at The Fox Cabaret (2321 Main Street) at 8 pm on January 23. Tickets are $27 until 5 pm on December 17, $32 thereafter.

7. L’immédiat

Circus comedy slapstick meets skillful choreography and set design in this piece by Camille Boitel’s Association Immédiat. Props and sets are integral to the action as performers wiggle, wriggle, vanish, and emerge among dilapidated furniture and constellations of lights. Boitel won the first edition of the Jeunes Talents Cirque award in Europe. In 2002, he founded the Association Immédiat.

L’immédiat plays at the Vancouver Playhouse (600 Hamilton Street) at 8 pm February 4 to 6, with a post-show talk February 5. Tickets start at $31 until 5 pm on Dec. 17, and then start at $36.

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