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Cultural Olympiad in Vancouver connects artists to the world

January 19, 2010
Vancouver cultural olympiad emblem is unveiled.

Vancouver's official winter Olympics Ilanaaq emblem is unvelied. CC-licensed photo courtesy Flickr user 'kk'.

As I write The Canada Project – a series of prose poems about my life from Pune to New Westminster, and in between, I gather up the stories of not only Canadians but people from all over the world.   And what compels me most are stories of dis-location : events, people, places that get “disappeared, marginalized, smoothed-over” by dominant voices. First Confession: I didn’t expect to see these sorts of “artistic acts of intervention” sponsored by Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics.

But reading through the event listings, where better to connect self, art, and other people’s imagination than in and at a Cultural Olympiad? Beginning this week, visitors from around the globe can see, listen, and participate in a range of events, ticketed and free. And it’s the free part, and the range of innovation and experimental work that won me over from a decided disinterest in the usual hot and cold items of Big Spectacle Productions that usually associate with the Olympics.

If you are not that much up on curling, figure skating or hockey (second confession! Please don’t run me out of town and okay, I do have an opinion on this latest NHL v Burrows snafu), here’s just a few productions, installations, and plays that might intrigue and certainly seem to connect Canada to the world, particularly around themes of belonging, identity, voice and place.

First up, two ticketed events, both of which impress with their scope and the nature of their story, “what does it mean to appropriate, to touch another culture”? In the musical, “Beyond Eden”–set on Haida Gwaii in the 1950’s – famed artist, Bill Reid and a group of anthropologists sail off to remote Anthony Island. Their mission: to “save” what they saw as the “last remnants” of a dying culture. Their intent: to cut down ancient totem poles.

Local independent paper The Tyee features a fascinating, in-depth review by Heather Ramsay. The production is “self-billed” as a “musical spectacle,” with aboriginal and non-aboriginal actors. Its narrative touches on tension filled questions about Canada’s first nations and contact with the curatorial world.

Similar in theme, “The Edward Curtis Project,” a play and adjoining photographic exhibit, intervenes in another concept, relevant not just to Canada, but to all countries with indigenous populations, “The quest for the ‘Vanishing’ Indian.” On this blog, we sometimes write about colonialism and identity – these works make real, whole threads of discussion.

Other Cultural Olympiad events that caught my eye (and these are just a sampling – the website lists over 190 events):

“Ginger Goodwin Way”: (free!) – photographic exhibition – in which a mix of artists from Mexico/Amsterdam, Vancouver/Frankfurt and Berlin “take ownership of stories that are in danger of being lost or distorted,” centred around the miner and labour activist whose death sparked Canada’s first general strike.

“Poetics: a ballet brut” (not free) – theatre/dance – described as “do-it-yourself-theatre” – the photos show men contorting their bodies.  It’s from the National Theater of Oklahoma. Hmmm.

“Altered”: visual arts, digital/film/video  – (free!) – this mixed media installation features a Canadian/American and a Vietnamese-Canadian and explores the “cultural history of memorials.” The production will be displayed at the beautiful Mountain View Cemetery celebration centre – set on the rise of a hill with a gorgeous view of the city.

Syndicate of Public Speakers: Eight times an unknown quantity”: visual arts/literary arts – (free!) – a public lecture series created by Portland, USA novelist/publisher, Matthew Stadler.

If you are anywhere near Vancouver this spring, and willing to navigate the city despite Olympic security corridors and any phobias about crowds (third confession), the Cultural Olympiad might promise a fresh, new look at Canadian and world artists. Surprised? Planning to attend?  Not interested? Disdainful? I’m interested to hear from those of you who may be “culture crawlers” at the Olympiad and equally interested to hear from artists and readers who won’t be going.

p.s. I hope my inclusion of links from the official 2010 Cultural Olympiad doesn’t, er, constitute some kind of breach? That’s how deep the practices of ownership and proprietary interest  have run these past few years here in the host city. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. reneethewriter permalink
    January 21, 2010 10:26 am

    Dear Sandra, D’Wayne, Cor, and Sherry,

    Thanks for reading and commenting – good to get your questions, comments, and links!
    I don’t know the cost for the Olympiad and its productiions – nor of the breakdown between Federal, Provincial, Municipal and Vanoc splits re funding. Might be interesting to find out. Also the distribution and application processes might be of interest. Sherry, I’ll check out that review – Interesting to see “Beyond Eden” get the spotlight in the local media since this article was first posted. I hope to get to see The Edward Curtis Project, which to date, has rec’ved less attention?
    Sandra, thanks for all those additional listings! And finally, Cor, it pleases me no end that you are not up on Ron V Alex (the local sports radio guys are still talkin’…)

  2. January 20, 2010 5:03 pm

    I am interested to see how many of these “Olympiad” events are attended – people appear to be fleeing Vancouver in anticipation of security and transportation nightmares.

    In case you are interested, Rachel (oldest daughter, graduate of Cap U’s Acting programme) saw Beyond Eden a couple of nights ago: here’s a link to her review.

  3. corsullivan permalink*
    January 20, 2010 11:27 am

    Some of the events you mentioned sound interesting enough that I’m almost sorry to be on the other side of the Pacific, missing all the fun. If you’ve indeed committed a “breach” by linking to them, well, I hope the agents in the black helicopter are gentle. However, I’ve probably put myself equally out of step with Canadian norms of acceptable behaviour by remaining completely ignorant of the “latest NHL v. Burrows snafu” that you referred to. (And who is Burrows anyway? I’m obviously a hopeless case.) Er… I’ll see you in the gulag!

  4. D'Wayne Marsonis permalink
    January 20, 2010 10:05 am

    Hi Renee,
    Any idea how much the the Cultural Olympiad will cost the taxpayer?

  5. Sandra Chamberlain-Snider permalink
    January 19, 2010 6:01 pm

    It’s hard to pick, so much going on. There is Winteruption happening at Granville Island during the month of February with lots of “impromptu” performances going on for free. Also, the cultural Olympiad performances extend during the Paralympics as well. HIVE 3 will be happening at the Media Centre on Great Northern Way in March. And PUsh is happening now, though ticketed, lots to choose.

    My favourite (disclaimer: I sit on the board of Boca del Lupo) is Dance Marathon at the Roundhouse. It combines theatre with Dance Marathons of the 30’s. Recession + Endurance + Performance = Olympic Spectacle. It’s ticketed but reasonable compared to others and its right in the middle of the Live site in Yaletown.

    The diversity and volume of experimental and mixed forms of performance really entrench the reputation of Vancouver’s independent theatre industry. We are not just the Playhouse and Bard on the Beach.

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