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Sunshine Coast performing arts festival delivers moving experiences

The Coastal Dance Festival, organized under the auspices of the Performing Arts Festival, ran at the Gibsons Heritage Playhouse on April 23 and 24.
A. Performing Arts Festival (1)
Dancers in the Variety Small Group Ages 10–12 category, perform Another Day of Sun during the Coastal Dance Festival.

Two days of electrifying choreography led the third week of the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Performing Arts, which also included adjudicated performances by vocalists, bands, instrumentalists, and spoken-word artists. 

The annual festival is in its 48th year. It has returned to running in-person recitals after the COVID-19 pandemic constricted live performances for two years. Young competitors in a variety of disciplines are vying for the opportunity to represent the Sunshine Coast at the provincial level in early June. 

The Coastal Dance Festival, organized under the auspices of the Performing Arts Festival, ran at the Gibsons Heritage Playhouse on April 23 and 24. It featured solo and ensemble numbers by dozens of young dancers. The competition included routines in nine categories: ballet, contemporary, lyrical, modern, acrobatics, jazz, hip hop, tap and variety. 

Adjudicators Lauren Overholt and Megan Green provided brief commentary and insights after each round of the performances. 

Green, originally from Fort St. John, is now a professional teacher and choreographer. Overholt, who has performed internationally, is a native of North Vancouver and is the owner and artistic director of the Seymour Dance school. 

The adjudicators praised the high quality of choreography and performance, emphasizing the artistic freedom that dancers enjoy once they master technical skills. 

On Sunday, Overholt reserved particular commendation for student choreographers Francesca Manson and Carly Kennedy. “Teachers in the room, watch out,” she said, to appreciative laughter from the crowd of some 60 spectators. “These student-choreographed pieces are as good as any I’ve seen this weekend.” 

Following a high-calibre ensemble rendition of We Both Reached For the Gun in the musical theatre-influenced Variety category, Overholt said, “When I lived in New York for eight weeks, I saw 16 shows on Broadway. What we just witnessed here could be on Broadway, no question about it.” 

Festival performances returned to St. Hilda’s Church in Sechelt on Tuesday. Conductor and educator Sandra Meister, a recipient of the Governor General’s Medal for Outstanding Service to Arts and Culture in Canada, adjudicated almost two dozen vocal numbers. 

Evening performances by choral ensembles—the Choralations Children’s Choir, the Sunshine Coast Youth Choir, the Suncoast Phoenix Community Choir, and A Cappella Strait—represented for many their first live performances since COVID shutdowns. 

Bands from Chatelech and Elphinstone Secondary Schools competed on Wednesday in the Chatelech auditorium. Woodwind and brass soloists performed at St. Hilda’s the following day; two alto saxophone duos rounded out the program as Tak Maeda provided adjudications. Maeda is a trumpeter and conductor who emigrated from Japan in 1990. He is the music director of three ensembles on Vancouver’s North Shore, in addition to the Suncoast Concert Band. 

Friday is dedicated to harp and spoken-word performances. Composer, orchestral harpist and educator Elizabeth Volpé Bligh will provide adjudications at St. Hilda’s. In the afternoon, Jessie Richardson Theatre Award nominee Luisa Jojic, a veteran actor and coach, will adjudicate dramatic performances at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre before leading a public workshop at 3 p.m. 

The Performing Arts Festival will conclude with a highlights concert at the Gibsons Heritage Playhouse on May 7.