Nadia Manzoor performs her one-woman show Burq Off! as part of the 2nd annual Monsoon Festival of Performing Arts.
Nadia Manzoor performs her one-woman show Burq Off! as part of the 2nd annual Monsoon Festival of Performing Arts.

While the monsoons of India can take their toll, they are also filled with celebration. It is this festive mood, among the destruction, in which the South Asian Arts Society presents the second annual Monsoon Festival of Performing Arts.

“The welcoming of this captivating and spiritual force dates back thousands of years in India,” say organizers in a media release.  “Vancouver is also known for its heavy rainfall. With the intersection of these two natural phenomena, albeit at different times of the year, the goal is to celebrate the monsoon here in the Lower Mainland by welcoming the storm.”

With the second edition of the festival originally planned for 2018, organizers found themselves in the enviable situation of being a year ahead of schedule.

“We didn’t know what the future might be like when we started, but community demand was so high and the funding was available to allow us to offer it a year earlier,” says festival co-creator Rohit Chokhani.

With the South Asian community one of the largest visible minority groups in the country, the Monsoon Festival was born out of a lack of representation in Vancouver’s arts community.

“There is not a single company with a South Asian mandate and we realized there was a lack of a platform for South Asian artists,” says Chokhani. “As the single largest visible minority in Canada we wanted to do something to address that.”

To showcase the diversity of artists in the community, Chokhani and co-creator Gurpreet Sian have programmed this year’s festival with both international and local acts, plus a series of industry-style workshops.

From New York comes Nadia Manzoor’s one-woman show, Burq Off!, an autobiographical coming-of-age comedy, it is the story of attempting to fit in two worlds.

“I saw Nadia’s show at the South Asian International Performing Arts Festival in New York and was touched by her story,” says Chokhani. “Any millennial growing up in Surrey will relate to her challenges of identity, where all of her friends are white and she is Pakistani.”

It is also a show Chokhani saw as having political underpinnings given the turmoil south of the border.

“All the talk about Islamophobia and xenophobia makes it very relevant to the South Asian community, and the community at large,” he says.

The second piece is a partnership with Nrityenakatha Dance Troupe in an adaptation of Indian poet Kalidasa’s first play. Malavika uses a combination of theatre and dance to tell the love story between King Agnimitra and a maid in the royal palace. It will be performed in Hindi with English surtitles.

“In South Asian culture these types of performances get blended. It isn’t just dance, but also theatre and elements of Hindi mythology,” says Chokhani.

In addition to the two mainstage shows, this year’s festival will also feature an industry series of development workshops, including dramaturgy, playwriting, directing, acting, dancing and music.

The series of ancillary events will prove to be useful as Chokhani and his team look to future years.

“We are already planning for next year,” he says. “We are looking to expand in 2018 and beyond to include more opportunities for emerging artists, as well as a long-term goal to add dance and music, and become more multi-disciplinary.”

The 2017 Monsoon Festival of Performing Arts takes place at various locations in the Lower Mainland including Vancouver’s York Theatre and the Surrey Arts Centre from August 6-13. Visit http://monsoonartsfest.ca for tickets and information.