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Originally published January 23, 2010 at 7:03 PM | Page modified January 25, 2010 at 11:51 AM

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B.C. is home to another gold-standard exhibition: Cultural Olympiad

The Cultural Olympiad is a staggering 193 events and/or exhibits happening between now and March 21, mostly in Vancouver. On the lineup: Robert Lepage, Feist, National Ballet of Canada and Royal Winnipeg Ballet, "Nixon in China" and more.

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The 2010 Olympics may still be three weeks away (Feb. 12-28). But the 2010 Cultural Olympiad, an arts festival happening all over Vancouver, B.C., kicked off last Friday. And it runs until March 21.

It features literally scores of live theater, music and dance events, including shows at the newly built Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre in Gastown. > But the Cultural Olympiad is not the only center of arts activity in town. Local art galleries have some impressive exhibits lined up, with a few of them Olympics-related. And business continues as usual at music, comedy and theater venues where you can wind down and warm up after wintry outdoor activity.

Here are some highlights of what's on show:

Some high-profile arts organizations — including Vancouver Recital Society and BC Ballet — are simply going on hiatus during the Olympics festivities (BC Ballet, in part, because it's been in financial and leadership turmoil lately).

Others, such as Vancouver Opera, are presenting new productions under the "Cultural Olympiad" rubric (see "Nixon in China," p. H2).

What is the Cultural Olympiad?

It's a staggering 193 events and/or exhibits happening between now and March 21 — well beyond the end of the Games themselves. Arts lovers will want to browse through all the offerings on www.vancouver2010.com/cultural-festivals-and-events, where you can buy your tickets online. (Where phones are available, they're given below.)

Here's a small sampling of what's happening. All venues are in Vancouver unless otherwise stated.

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra: VSO will be accompanied by three choirs and eight soloists in the great choral work that is "Mahler Symphony No. 8: Symphony of a Thousand." Bramwell Tovey conducts. Jan. 30 and Feb. 1, $30-$95, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Hamilton Street at West Georgia (604-876-3434).

"The Blue Dragon / Le Dragon Bleu": The buzz couldn't be hotter for this new production by Robert Lepage, who is noted for his vivid, stylized stage visuals. This and "Spine" (see below) are the first productions at the newly opened Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre. In English and French. Feb. 2-27, $35-$80, Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre, Woodward's Building, 149 W. Hastings St. (604-873-3311).

"Fear of Flight": Talk about timely: This production by Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland is being described as "a music and movement spectacle that tracks 14 nervous passengers on a bumpy transcontinental flight." Feb. 9-14, $20-$35, Historic Theatre at The Cultch, 1895 Venables St. (604-251-1363).

"Dance Canada Dance: The National Ballet of Canada and Royal Winnipeg Ballet": A two-for-one dance event: The National Ballet of Canada performs choreographer Marie Chouinard's "24 Preludes by Chopin" and Royal Winnipeg Ballet presents Itzik Galili's "Hikarizatto," described as "hyperkinetic movement, accompanied by rhythmic drumming." Feb. 13-14, $35-$85, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Hamilton Street at West Georgia (800-842-5387).

We yah hani nah Coastal First Nations Dance Festival 2010: Something to complement the wealth of First Nations/Northwest Coast Art you'll find in Vancouver: The Dancers of Damelahamid (www.damelahamid.ca) presenting traditional Gitskan dance from Northwestern British Columbia. They'll be joined by other dance troupes, including New Zealand's Turanga Ararau (Maori dance). Feb. 4, $15-$25, Centennial Theatre, 2300 Lonsdale Ave., North Vancouver (604-984-4484) and Feb. 14, $8-$18, Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, 4584 Blackcomb Way, Whistler (866-441-7522).

Laurie Anderson: Anderson's new work, "Delusion," is described as "a series of short mystery plays" populated by "nuns, elves, golems, rotting forests, ghost ships, archaeologists, dead relatives and unmanned tankers." Feb. 16-21, $45-$55, Vancouver Playhouse, 600 Hamilton St. (604-873-3311).

Feist: The Canadian singer, formerly with Broken Social Scene, hit it big with her single "1234" and her album "The Reminder" in 2007. She also has a little Olympics history in her résumé. Turns out that when she was 12, she was an Opening Ceremony dancer at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. Opening for Feist is another one-named entertainer: pianist-comedian Gonzales presenting something he calls his "Piano Talk Show." Feb. 17, $37.50-$42.50, The Orpheum, Smithe Street at Seymour Street.

Kidd Pivot: These stars of the Vancouver contemporary dance scene are led by Crystal Pite, who is also an associate choreographer for Nederlands Dans Theatre — a high recommendation indeed. Feb. 26-27, $35-$65, Vancouver Playhouse, 600 Hamilton St. (information: 604-801-6225; tickets: 604-280-3311).

Quantum Bhangra with Harbhajan Mann: This "one-night bhangra blitz" features movie star-singer Harbhajan Mann, along with Shin, En Karma and Black Mahal, featuring Ustad Lal Singh Bhatti. Feb. 27, $38-$90, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Hamilton Street at West Georgia (604-280-4444).

Spine: This multimedia theater piece for the Internet Age concerns a man exploring "the intriguing possibility of reinventing his physical body through the use of technology and questionable experiments." March 10-20, $25-$35, Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU Woodward's, 149 West Hastings St. (604-873-3311).

"Nixon in China": John Adams' first opera, about Richard Nixon's diplomatic overtures to China in 1972, is getting its Canadian premiere in a Vancouver Opera production that stars Robert Orth as Nixon, Alan Woodrow as Mao Zedong and Tracy Dahl as Madame Mao. John DeMain, who conducted the world premiere of the opera in 1987, wields the baton this time, too. March 13-20, tickets from $29, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Hamilton St. at West Georgia St. (604-683-0222).

Black Grace: They wowed Seattle audiences in 2008. If you missed them then, here's another chance to catch this all-male, New Zealand-based troupe that blends Samoan tradition with modern technique. March 18-19, $35-$50, Vancouver Playhouse, 600 Hamilton St. (604-662-4966).

Other events

Along with the scores of Cultural Olympiad events, there are some arts presentations that are going it alone. Three worth noting:

"The Monkey King": A hit at the 2008 Beijing Games, this rock musical is based on the Chinese fable about a monk tracking down a sacred relic and features song, dance, martials arts and acrobatics. In Chinese, with English supertitles. Feb. 5-27, $20.50-$41.50, Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts, 777 Homer St. (604-280-4444 or www.cobetob.com/monkeykingthemusical).

"A Little Night Music — Mozart and Haydn": The latest offering in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra's "Bach & Beyond Series." Feb. 19-20, $16.64-$54.14, Chan Centre, 6264 Crescent Road (tickets: 604-280-3311; information: 604-822-2697; www.chancentre.com).

"Ivanov": Anton Chekhov's classic is presented in a new translation by Tom Stoppard by an amateur group that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary season. Through Feb. 14, $12-$16, Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery St. (604-224-8007 or www.unitedplayers.com).

Michael Upchurch,

Seattle Times arts writer

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