The Cultch and Diwali Fest bring Nirbhaya and Sunya to Vancouver audiences
The Cultch and Diwali Fest bring Nirbhaya and Sunya to Vancouver audiences

Diwali Fest gets underway in November with thirteen days of workshops, cooking classes, and performances across the Lower Mainland. As part of this year’s annual Hindu festival of lights, The Cultch has partnered with festival organizers in presenting two very different shows, Nirbhaya and Sunya.

First up is Yaël Farber’s powerful Nirbhaya, inspired by the tragic gang-rape of 23-year old Jyoti Singh Pandey in India. An unspeakable act that reverberated around the world in 2012, Farber’s work goes well beyond that fateful Delhi bus.

“Unfortunately, violence against women exists in all corners of the world,” says Heather Redfern, executive director of The Cultch. “Nirbhaya is a play that tells the story of women who have suffered abuse in their own voices. By telling their personal stories, these women shatter the silence that surrounds abuse in the hopes that by talking about it, we are acknowledging its existence and can begin healing and making societal change.”

Beyond the specifics of the violent attack in India that was the impetus for Farber’s play, Redfern sees its themes resonating in Vancouver, and as a call to action.

“Because of systemic silence, many women across the province have gone missing over the years, yet these crimes have been ignored and in some cases, deliberately silenced,” she says. “I am bringing Nirbhaya to the York Theatre because I believe we are all responsible for breaking the silence. Seeing this play together is one action we can take to make change for girls and women in our neighbourhoods and around the world.”

“It is raising our hands in union and standing up for what is very much needed in our society, representing marginalized voices and standing in support with them,” adds Diwali Fest co-producer Rohit Chokhani

In a distinctly different piece, the second partnership comes with Sunya, a celebratory and spiritual journey that merges contemporary dance, Persian-inspired music, and interactive real time video.

Guided by Roger Sinha, an Indo-Armenian dancer and choreographer, and Kiya Tabassian, an Iranian-born gatherer of musical pearls, four dancers, three musicians, a sound designer, and a video artist break boundaries to create a truly unique experience.

“This is a true reflection of the cultural diversity of our city,” says Chokhani. “Music, dance, and fusion art forms have always been at the heart of our festival’s artistic programming. This is the true representation of the colour, flavours, and spice of Diwali.”

Sunya is a fusion of cultures, genres, and artist impulses,” adds Redfern. “The musicians and dancers riff off each other, creating an intense and dynamic physical and musical dialogue. The staging is beautiful, featuring vivid colours and patterns created with lights, movement, and sound. Sunya is a feast for all of the senses. It takes you to a place of great spirit.”

Nirbhaya plays the York Theatre (639 Commercial Dr) from November 3-14 and Sunya plays The Cultch’s Historic Theatre (1895 Venables St) from November 10-14. Visit for tickets and information.

The 12th annual Diwali Fest takes place at various locations around the Lower Mainland from November 3-15. Visit for more information.