Heart of the City Festival
When the Carnegie Community Centre and Vancouver Moving Theatre conceived the Heart of the City Festival in 2004, they were looking to build on the success of their 2003 co-production In the Heart of a City: the Downtown Eastside Community Play. The play, a large-scale production that involved area residents in all facets of the production, brought home the fact that there were many untapped resources right in their own neighbourhood that were just looking for a creative outlet.
Residents of Strathcona since the seventies, Terry Hunter and Savannah Walling of Vancouver Moving Theatre set out to produce a Festival that was for both the local community and the larger community, looking to create the kind of festival that they themselves would want to attend.
Hunter, who has described himself as “a kind of public servant living and working with community,” says, “Our dream was to create an inclusive, multi-disciplinary, bridge-building festival that gave voice to the Downtown Eastside and shone light on the rich talents and stories of the low income residents, cultures and neighbourhoods of our community.”
The work is presented in an open house format, in which the larger city is invited to visit the community and hear what it has to say. The Festival strives to create high impact events with strong production values that have a large impact in terms of their depth and scale, within the community and beyond. As Hunter says, “communities need allies and partners, and allies and partners from outside the local community are vital to ones success.”
Each year for the past ten years the Heart of the City Festival has built on the success and energy of the previous year’s festival. This year, as the Festival celebrates its tenth anniversary, there is no sign of slowing down. Associate Artistic producer Teresa Vandertuin, asked about this year’s festival, says, “We are working with many new partners and new faces, both artistic and organizational. When we start planning the Festival in January we have no idea how many changes will take place in the community over the next 10 months. Galleries close and new arts companies move into the neighbourhood. At this year’s Festival we’re offering up events with long-time artistic associates Brad Muirhead and the Carnegie Jazz Band, Dalannah Gail Bowen, and the various taiko groups that came out of this neighbourhood with new and original events. Projects that we didn’t have room for in last year’s Festival are in the forefront this year, for example The Only Animal’s outdoor multimedia project Out On A Limb and urban ink productions’ Women In Fish. Each year is unique and presents new and interesting challenges.”
Asked about keeping going year after year, Vandertuin laughs. “Instead of running out of things to say or programs and artists to present, we keep finding more and more and more! We can never show our audiences everything we’d like to – and that’s difficult, not having enough days in a week or hours in a day to share with audiences all the wonderful and exciting art that is being produced in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.”
The Festival has always celebrated the various communities and ethnicities that have historically called the neighbourhood home – and there have been many. This year, in celebration of its tenth anniversary, the Festival is presenting a special concert featuring the many offshoots of Katari Taiko, the pioneering taiko group that was formed in 1979 during the Powell Street Festival. Symbolic of the rebuilding of a community that had been dispersed across the country following World War Two, Katari Taiko blazed a trail that many other taiko groups have followed over the past 34 years. Taiko Roots: in the Heart of the City will take place Friday November 1st at the Vancouver Ballroom, 456 Prior Street. The concert features Katari Taiko, along with Uzume Taiko, LOUD, Sawagi Taiko, Chibi Taiko and Sansho Daiko, all groups that can trace their roots directly back to Canada’s first taiko group.
Says Hunter, “When Sansho Daiko invited us up to see their new rehearsal space in the Vancouver Ballroom I was blown away – it’s this beautiful room that seats 150 people in what looks like an industrial building and I said, we have to do a show here. Sansho offered to host the performance and when we started to ask the various taiko groups to get involved it all fell into place like it was meant to happen. Uzume Taiko, Canada’s first professional taiko group, will be doing a collaboration with Canada’s first (and only!) taiko/electric guitar duo LOUD. Katari Taiko and Sawagi Taiko, Canada’s first all-female taiko group will be doing some pieces together. Chibi Taiko, Canada’s first youth taiko group, will show us what happens when you’ve been playing taiko since you were barely tall enough to see over a drum. That’s a lot of firsts! And Sansho Daiko promise us that even though their show involves sax and violins, that it’s safe for all ages!”
For her part, Walling is excited about a new show, Bread and Salt, a multidisciplinary production that tells the story of the Ukrainian experience in Vancouver’s East End: “Sixty plus performers, twenty-four songs, six dances, and projected images; co-written with Beverly Dobrinsky inspired by stories from the hall’s community members past and present . . . plus excerpts from Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty (premiered at the hall in 1935) and from writings by Ivan Franko, Helen Potrebenko and Taras Shevchenko; a great team of artists led by James Fagan Tait. . . it takes a community.”
This 85th Anniversary tribute to the Ukrainian Hall weaves oral history with live theatre and music, haunting choral singing and the driving rhythms of Ukrainian dance. Bread and Salt features a multigenerational cast of professional and community actors, singers, dancers and musicians. There are two performances only: Friday evening November 8 (performance only) and a Sunday matinee November 10 (performance and Ukrainian dinner).
These two shows only scrape the surface of this wide-ranging festival. With over eighty events at over 25 locations, encompassing everything from jazz, theatre, flamenco, visual arts, film and dance to history walks and aboriginal programming, there is something for just about everyone.
For a full schedule visit www.heartofthecityfestival.com