The 9th annual PuSh International Performing Arts Festival
By Angela Espinoza, Arts Editor
Kicking off yet another year of arts festivals in Vancouver is run number nine of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. Starting this week (Tuesday, January 15) and running until Sunday, February 3, this immense and brilliant festival offers us some of the most creative, moving, experimental, and downright awesome performances from around the world. Having written about this spectacular festival in previous years, this year we chose to give you a different feel for what to expect by interviewing the festival’s Executive Director, Norman Armour, on the festival’s background and what attendees can expect this year.
But first of course, Armour opened with an introduction:
“I’m one of the co-founders [of the PuSh Festival], so my involvement goes all the way back about 11 years. The festival was also co-founded by Katrina Dunn of Touchstone Theatre, and it was the two organizations, Touchstone Theatre and Rumble Productions, that got [it started] back in 2003 or so.
“We certainly wanted it to be multi-disciplinary—both Katrina and myself graduated from Simon Fraser University’s School for Contemporary Arts—and our training was certainly in theatre, but it was also in dance and music, film and visual art. We had started initially with just three theatre pieces, and then in the second year we added a dance work. We always had in our intention to have mostly multi-disciplinary to tap into different audiences, different organizations, curators… and even our own interests.”
The PuSh Festival, while being widely recognized for its content, is also known for the fact that it’s the official first arts festival of the year, every year in Vancouver. But with that said, January is also kind of a bummer month—the holidays have ended, everyone’s back at school and/or work, New Year’s resolutions are being failed… perhaps all that had something to do with the timing?
“The idea of doing it in January was, in some ways, to get rid of winter blues and offer something fairly soon after New Year’s. There are people starting to get out and about and looking for something interesting to do… but we also saw it as a situation where there wasn’t currently a festival.
“It was an opportunity to connect with certain organizations that might be launching their calendar year of presentations. There are things that may only exist during the festival, but some cases, like the Arts Club [Theatre Company], have a longer run and continue on afterwards; that’s the case with I, Malvolio, which will extend for a week after the festival. In some cases PuSh leads shows into longer runs, and in other cases it’s simply a great fan fair of starting the New Year.”
Along with the main line of performances, such as I, Malvolio, is the additional lineup set aside for Club PuSh, a “festival within a festival” as Armour describes it.
“Club PuSh will be entering fourth version this year, and it’s a co-presentation with Theatre Conspiracy, a great theatre company in [Vancouver]. It’s a platform for experimentation and works happening in a less formalized venue—more of a club setting, but a very focused setting. Think of it as if you were in the ‘40s in New York, and you stumbled into a jazz bar and you heard John Coltrane playing, and you just have this real focus and tension on this thing that was happening.
“It’s a place for commissioning work for things that really don’t fit the mould. It’s also a place to highlight the music scene here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a social hub for artists and the public to gather together, have a drink, and converse; a place for out of town visitors, presenters, and artists to sit down and hang out at. It tends to be a little bit cheaper as well, and when you pay for a ticket it’s for an 8 p.m. show, and if it’s the weekend it also gets you in later for following bands.”
Naturally, seeing as PuSh really does get a chance to call dibs on the first of the year’s best, we wanted to know what Armour’s big picks of the 2013 festival were.
“Ride the Cyclone is a runaway hit from Victoria, and it was a huge, huge audience success… it’s quite great. The other thing is King Lear from Taiwan, at The Centre—it’s going to be an extraordinary evening, these are master artists, exploring the questions and themes of their lines and Shakespeare’s King Lear himself… it’s been touring countless festivals around the world, including Edinburgh.
“There’s a number of dance works this year as well, and a big favourite of mine is Still Standing You from Belgium; two guys go at it, and it’s about friendship and the edges of friendship, it’s really a remarkable piece, and it runs for four nights—that’s in the last week of the festival. They can only do it two nights in a row because it’s so strenuous and demanding that they have to take a break. And since we were talking about Club, Northern Soul, 30 Cecil Street & A Western, three groups from England, are young hip theatre performance groups… it’s a really great night.”
Armour ended the interview sending out thanks to some of the festival’s co-workers and highlighting the opening show.
“We’re very proud of working with SFU Woodward’s downtown, and we have a great opening show this year from Seattle called A Crack In Everything. The show refers to the idea that there is a crack in everything in the world, and that’s where the light shines through. It’s a great, beautiful piece, and it is the first performance of the festival and will run for two nights.”
For information on shows, ticket prices, and the festival itself, visit http://pushfestival.ca/.