Saturday, 13 August 2016

Folklorama Pavilion Reviews: Week One (Part Two)

This is part two of my 2016 Folklorama tour diary, in which I review the various pavilions I've visited during the two-week festival. You can check out part one, covering the week one Irish, Punjab, Serbian "Kolo", and Brazilian Pavilions here

Thursday, August 11th: Mexican, Chinese, Greek Pavilions

Our second day of Folklorama began with a visit to the Mexican Pavilion (375 York Avenue), consistently regarded as one of the best pavilions of the entire festival, and with good reason: not only did the pavilion organizers make a spacious ballroom in the RBC Convention Centre feel as intimate as a small gathering, they primarily featured international performers to create a truly world-class experience, and the dance numbers change from show to show and night to night.

The 6:45 pm show began with a performance by the U.S. group Mariachi Continental, whose trumpets, guitars, and violins immediately commanded the audience’s attention, soon joined by the lead singer of local band Mariachi Ghost. However, this was only a prelude to the phenomenal Ballet Folkl√≥rico Et Mazatleco del CETIS 127, which performed one showstopping number after another to the audience’s delight, culminating in a traditional wedding dance in which the bride was lifted into midair while standing on machete blades. Dazzling and unforgettable.

Afterwards, we headed further downtown to the Chinese Pavilion, housed on the second floor of the Dynasty Building, accessible by elevator and stairs. We were fortunate to attend the pavilion on the final night of shows by the Chengdu Art Theater ensemble based in Chengdu, located the provincial capital of the Sichuan province -- and which happens to be a sister city of Winnipeg. The performers immediately made a strong impression with their stunning costumes and focused yet lively showcase of musicians, dancers, and acrobats.

The Art Theater’s programme included a mesmerizing solo lute performance, jaw-dropping acrobatics I can only attempt to convey with words -- one young performer spun her entire body around her head, and I still can't figure out how she did it -- and a finale inspired by Sichuan opera in which two dancers rapidly changed masks to the amazement of the audience. The pavilion ambassadors and hosts were extremely friendly and welcoming and contributed to an outstanding experience overall.

Our final stop of the night was the Greek Pavilion at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church (2255 Grant Avenue). A part of Folklorama since its inception forty-seven years ago, the Greek Pavilion has become a veritable institution and frequent destination for many longtime festivalgoers.

This year's show felt somewhat scaled-back from those of Folkloramas past, focusing on local talent, including the Kefi Folk Dancers of Manitoba and local bouzouki and guitar players, and a cultural display celebrating athletics and the Olympic Games in the Hellenic Cultural Centre connected to the church.

Given the bustling energy of the dining hall downstairs, the opportunity to visit St. Demetrios itself was much appreciated, and the church's deacon was on hand to answer questions about St. Demetrios' striking interior. The show itself ended with the perennially crowd-pleasing Zorba dance, concluding our own tour of pavilions that night on a high note. 

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Folklorama Pavilion Reviews: Week One (Part One)

2016 marks the 47th year of Folklorama, Winnipeg’s annual multicultural festival and the largest of its kind in the world. This year, the festival boasts forty-eight pavilions showcasing a wide variety of cultures throughout the city, and I made it my goal to attend as many as possible, choosing not only pavilions I hadn’t visited or hadn’t visited in a while but regular favourites as well. 

Tuesday, August 9th: Irish, Punjab, Serbian “Kolo” Pavilions

We started off Folklorama by visiting the Irish Pavilion (Soul Sanctuary, 2050 Chevrier Blvd), and it was a great way to kick off the festival. The pavilion, which used to be located downtown, is now in a modern and air-conditioned venue near the intersection of Waverley and Scurfield Boulevard with ample parking space. 

The main hall, which is spacious and well-lit, is the ideal venue for the pavilion's extremely polished show that combines superb dancing -- including a showstopping tap dance-off partway through the show -- and infectious, energetic live music courtesy of the Irish band O’Hanlons Horsebox. Before the show began, we sampled a delicious Irish stew and soda bread that proved a meal in itself. 

Members of O'Hanlons Horsebox and I. 

The Irish Pavilion is very social media-savvy — audiences are encouraged to upload photos and videos of the show on social media, and it’s one of the few pavilions this week with an active Instagram account. (I posted videos and photos about my experience at the pavilion on Instagram and was followed by @irishpavilionmb not long after; they also commented on many of my photos.) The venue’s location in southwest Winnipeg may not have made it as immediately accessible as some pavilions downtown, but it was well worth the trip. Hopefully they’re in the same location next year. 

Next, we headed up into the city to visit the Punjab Pavilion (1770 King Edward St). Set in the Punjab Cultural Center for the third year in a row, the Punjab Pavilion is best known for its incredibly dynamic and ever-evolving stage show, which includes showstopping performances by the Winnipeg Bhangra Club (pictured below). The pavilion’s menu includes excellent butter chicken and flatbread as well as refreshing Kingfisher beer. As well, the in-depth cultural display located on the second floor boasts an impressive variety of exhibits and is staffed by knowledgable guides. 

The Winnipeg Bhangra Club in mid-air.

We capped off the night at the Serbian “Kolo" Pavilion, located at the St. James Civic Centre (2055 Ness Avenue). This pavilion features a lively and entertaining showcase of local dance talent courtesy of the Kolo Folk Dancers, who perform in traditional costumes. The pavilion’s delicious desserts are worth a visit alone, and the banter of the warm and personable hosts makes for an engaging atmosphere. 

Some of the desserts on offer.

Wednesday, August 10th: Brazilian Pavilion

On Tuesday, we caught the 9:45 show at the Brazilian Pavilion (Heather Curling Club, 120 Youville Street), which proved a welcome escape from the storm outside. The pavilion’s main attraction remains its stage show featuring Viva Brasil Canada, a group of local percussionists and capoeira performers; their energy, professionalism, and enthusiasm made for a terrific night. We were also impressed by the pavilion’s desserts catered by Deli Brazil, including its delicious mango and coconut ice cream and homemade churros, seen below:

This was a terrific start to the festival -- I saw three other pavilions the first week, which will be reviewed in the next part of this series.