In 1957, Bill Reid - who would go on to become an iconic Northwest Coast artist - travelled to Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) with his anthropologist friend Wilson Duff to rescue fragile, waterlogged, beetle-infested totem poles from an abandoned village. These events have inspired Beyond Eden, a rock musical by Victoria-based playwright/composer Bruce Ruddell (who knew and collaborated with Reid during his life). Spirit of the West front man John Mann stars as the anthropologist and Tom Jackson ( North of 60) as the character based on Reid. Director Dennis Garnhum calls the show a "massive undertaking" - with Haida music and costumes, and a "wildly imaginative set" featuring towering poles: "Every day in rehearsal is an adventure."
This world premiere production is in previews at the Vancouver Playhouse beginning Jan. 16 and opens Jan. 21, running until Feb. 6. It then moves to Theatre Calgary, which is co-producing with the Playhouse.
Joni Mitchell's The Fiddle and the Drum This ballet blends the music and visual art of legendary Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell (whose video installations serve as the sets). It rails against war and humanity's impact on the environment - two long-time preoccupations of Mitchell's (who will be in Vancouver for opening night). This is an expanded production of the ballet, which had its world premiere in 2007 in Calgary, and features four additional Mitchell songs, illuminated by her latest artwork. Choreography is by Alberta Ballet's artistic director Jean Grand-Maître, who promises "even though it's a ballet that talks about the environment and war, it's very uplifting, because there's a lot of hope in it, and beauty."
Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Jan. 22 and Jan. 23, at 8 p.m.
Innovative German art collective Rimini Protokoll (Helgard Haug and Stefan Kaegi in this case) have designed an interactive theatrical experience that borrows heavily from the multi-player video game (and was in fact inspired by Vancouver's video-game industry). For this world premiere, 200 audience members will operate wireless joysticks connected to one giant screen to create a virtual, simulated city. Everyone begins as an anonymous avatar and interacts with a panel of onstage experts - an electronic artist, a game tester, a politician and traffic flag person. Each performance will create a different virtual civilization with its own lingo, behaviours and suburbs.
The Cultch, Jan. 29 to Feb. 6, at 7 p.m. (some matinees at 2 p.m.), with a preview Jan. 27.
Mahler Symphony No. 8: Symphony of a Thousand This work was first performed 100 years ago with an orchestra of 171 and a chorus of approximately 850 - thus the Symphony of a Thousand moniker. The work, in fact, is rarely performed by that many musicians. Indeed, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performance will feature only (only!) 430 or so performers onstage. They include 117 musicians, 305 choir members and 8 soloists - sopranos Measha Brueggergosman, Tracy Dahl and Turid Karlsen among them. Bramwell Tovey will conduct - and no, he won't be miming to pre-recorded music.
Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Jan. 30 and Feb. 1, at 8 p.m.
Anthony Braxton's Sonic Genome Project Legendary American composer and saxophonist Anthony Braxton teams up with more than 60 musicians - ranging from Braxton's ensemble, the 12+1tet, to local high-school students - for eight continuous hours of music, featuring compositions Braxton has written over his prolific, 40-year career, as well as musical improvisations. Ensembles will break apart into "cells" (this is a living thing, after all) and audiences can wander around and listen to the different sounds. While Braxton conducted a Sonic Genome recording project in 2003, this marks the world premiere of this ambitious musical experiment as a public performance. And - it's free.
Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre, Jan. 31, 12 noon until 8 p.m.
Robert Lepage: The Blue Dragon Renowned Quebec playwright, actor and director Robert Lepage's sequel to his 1985 play The Dragons' Trilogy has resonated with audiences and impressed critics (Globe theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck gave its National Arts Centre production 3½ stars last year). The play is a meditation on angst and aging enveloped in an East-West culture clash. Ex-pat Québécois Pierre Lamontagne (Lepage, resurrecting his Dragons' Trilogy protagonist) is now running an art gallery in Shanghai, where Xiao Ling (Tai Wei Foo), a young dancer and artist, also lives. Enter Lamontagne's former art-school classmate Claire (Marie Michaud), who has come to China to adopt a baby. Watch for a dramatic collision.
SFU Woodward's, Feb. 2 to Feb. 27, at 8 p.m. with some 2 p.m. matinees (performances Feb. 2 and 3 in French; the rest in English).
Vectorial Elevation Originally developed for the arrival of the new millennium in Mexico City, this public art project has since lit up the skies over Spain, Ireland and France. This will be its first Canadian appearance - a sort of homecoming for Montreal-based artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (a former Vancouverite). Beams of light will shoot out over English Bay, covering an area of 100,000 square metres. The designs will come from people around the world, who can log onto a website (vectorialvancouver.net) and determine how the lights will move. There has been some grumbling about light pollution, but Lozano-Hemmer promises the issue has been well studied and his lights will not disturb the neighbourhood, calling it "a very contemplative, silent piece."
Feb. 4 to Feb. 28.
Hal Willner's Neil Young Project
Imagine Lou Reed intoning a gravelly Heart of Gold; Ron Sexsmith crooning a heartfelt, all-Canadian Old Man. Visionary music producer and king of the tribute album ( Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man) and live tribute event (The Harry Smith Project) Hal Willner sets his sights on Neil Young. Reed and Sexsmith will be joined by Jason Collett and Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene, Joan As Police Woman, Julie Doiron and many others to pay tribute to this Canadian rock icon.
Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Feb. 18, at 8 p.m.
Hive 3 Twelve small theatre companies in one huge space create an evening of intimate, experimental entertainment featuring 12 different performance pieces for tiny audiences (sometimes as small as one or two members) in continuous rotation, with a central lounge for the audience to congregate and interact in. Participating companies include Boca del Lupo, Electric Company, Rumble Productions and Theatre Replacement . Judging by past Hive works, it will be so innovative, so dynamic, so much fun that you'll probably want to return for a second go-round.
The Centre for Digital Media, March 11 to March 20, 7 p.m. - "till late."
Nixon in China
Dubbed the first "CNN opera," Nixon in China has its Canadian premiere with what promises to be a spectacular new production. The opera recounts the historic 1972 trip to communist China of then U.S. president Richard Nixon (Robert Orth) and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger (Thomas Hammons), with choreography by Wen Wei Wang. Watch for spectacular sets, including a full-scale Air Force One - nose, front and wing - in the opening scene. Vancouver Opera has programmed a number of events around the opera, including talks by author Margaret MacMillan and former U.S. diplomat John Negroponte.
Queen Elizabeth Theatre, March 13 to 20 at 7:30 p.m.
The Cultural Olympiad runs from Jan. 22 to March 21.