The first visit by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra since 1976 and the world premiere of a work by choreographer Crystal Pite are among the featured acts in BC Scene, an Ottawa festival focused on British Columbia artists.

BC Scene, taking place in Ottawa-Gatineau from April 21 to May 3, is a multi-disciplinary arts festival with dance, theatre, music, film and visual arts from British Columbia.

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Vancouver pianist Avan Yu made his debut with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra at age 14. ((Elena Torcida))

Held every two years, the festival has previously focused on Quebec, Atlantic Canada and Alberta.

Almost 600 British Columbia artists are scheduled to come to Ottawa, and there are between 10 and 12 events each day of the festival in venues ranging from 150 people to 2,000.

The VSO, conducted by Bramwell Tovey, will perform works by Debussy and Stravinsky at the National Arts Centre. The concert also includes an appearance by virtuoso pianist Avan Yu, who made his debut with the VSO at age 14 and has played frequently with the orchestra.

The Vancouver artist, now 21, won the silver medal and the audience award at the Santander International Piano Competition in Spain last August.

"Getting symphony orchestras to travel across the country is not an easy feat these days, and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra is coming to us with their first visit since 1976," said Heather Moore, producer and executive director of BC Scene.

The chamber and classical performances included in the festival feature the work of 22 B.C. composers, Moore said.

World premieres

Among them are world premieres of pieces by Jocelyn Morlock and Douglas Smith, commissioned by the NAC Orchestra and CBC Radio.

Other musical highlights include:

  • Two concerts by Diana Krall.
  • B.C. Music Legends, which gathers seven of the province's artists, including Valdy and Leon Bibb.
  • Black Mountain, finalists for Polaris Prize.
  • Indie band Mother Mother.
  • Mei Han and Red Chamber.
  • Alex Cuba.
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Crystal Pite and Richard Siegal in Double Story with the Kidd Pivot dance company. Pite has created a new work for the Ottawa festival. ((Chris Randle/Canada Council for the Arts))

Pite, an award-winning Vancouver choreographer, brings her Kidd Pivot dance company to the NAC with a new work.

"We have great choreographers: We have both Crystal Pite and Wen Wei Wang with world premieres," Moore said.

Intimate venue

A group of B.C. artists will recreate the popular Dances for a Small Stage at a much smaller, more intimate Ottawa venue.

"Dances for a Small Stage is real phenomenon in Vancouver. It's an event that happens four times a year in a Legion hall in B.C., and you have to line up and each night hundreds of people are being turned away."

Moore has spent the last three years flying back and forth to British Columbia, consulting with observers of the B.C. arts scene to program the festival.

She said she found a lot of innovation in dance and theatre that works to get non-traditional audiences into seats.

"We've got two shows that are coming that are really wonderful examples of the kind of site-specific work that is really so alive in British Columbia," Moore said.

Immigrant experience

One is BioBoxes, a series of seven-minute performances that feature an actor speaking one-on-one to each audience member, sharing a true story of the immigrant experience. It is presented by Theatre Replacement.

The other is Assembly by Radix Theatre, a hilarious self-improvement seminar staged in a board room that has won two Jessie Richardson awards in Vancouver.

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Diana Krall will perform two concerts at the festival. ((Dave Martin/Canadian Press))

The larger stage is also represented, with a production of George Ryga's The Ecstasy of Rita Joe that is part of the NAC English theatre season.

The festival also extends into media and visual arts, with exhibits including: 

  • The transformation of the west façade of the Government Conference Centre into a Northwest Coast ceremonial house by aboriginal artist Marianne Nicolson.
  • An exhibit by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, pioneer of Haïda Manga, which mixes Haida narratives and graphic forms with Asian comic-book style known as Manga.
  • A screening by video artist Paul Wong of his recent portrait-oriented videos Set Fire, Chelsea Hotel and Perfect Day.

The festival launches with 11 Ottawa-Gatineau galleries throwing their doors open for a party.

"On opening night we're going to have a gallery crawl and opening party — there'll be 11 different exhibitions and 60 artists featured on the opening night," Moore said.

Artists involved in the earlier Alberta and Quebec festivals are still booking national and international performances as a result, Moore said, and it's hoped B.C.'s artists will fare as well.

"It's a public festival, but part of the purpose is to show off artists from British Columbia to the rest of the country," Moore said.

A full program is available online.