The Chan Centre presents SamulNori featuring Kim Duk Soo

Imagine a party. You have two gongs of different sizes and two drums, one shaped like an hourglass and the other a barrel. Add a lot of energy and showmanship, sometimes a wind that’s a hybrid flute and recorder. What do you think it sounds like?

If it was my party, you’d call the police and I’d get arrested for disturbing the peace. With SamulNori, you get taken for an amazing ride.

The ensemble takes its name from samul nori, which literally comes from the Korean describing dancers playing the four percussion instruments. Taking its roots from folk music, it combines many of the animist and shamanistic traditions of village culture as well as the regional cultures that comprise Korea, resulting in a mishmash of music, dance and acrobatics that is simply breathtaking. Given that the music originally centered around prayers for good harvests, it follows that the instruments themselves represent various elements. Rain, wind and the clouds are represented in the ensemble, as well as the idea of yin and yang, of the harmony between the heavens and the earth.

Originally a four-man band, SamulNori has grown into a company of thirty artists and students led by Kim Duk Soo. Mr. Kim is a lifelong devotee of the craft otherwise known as a wandering artist, a part of Korea’s troupe of traditional performing arts. Over the past five decades, he has been one of Korea’s most influential figures, helping to bring samul nori back to the forefront of the nation’s cultural consciousness. At the same time, he has also helped SamulNori grow by touring around the world to impart knowledge of traditional Korean arts, collaborating with jazz, pop and classical performers. This has helped to increase the prominence of Korean culture around the world, and has also resulted in commercial success, evidenced by SamulNori having recorded fifteen records to date.

Saturday, they stepped into the Chan Centre. It was the first time at the Centre where I saw the artists literally introduce themselves, as they made their presence known outside the hall and walked through the seating area. Performing a binari, or a prayer song sung at the beginning of a stay at the village, they made their way to the stage where they prayed for a blessing to their audience and the ground. At least, I think that’s what it was – my Korean’s not up to snuff but I could make out “UBC” and “Chan Centre”, and the audience’s good-natured laughter and applause was another hint that what they were saying was something positive. Loud and warm, it felt very much like a greeting, with a large presence of gongs that made me think of lion dances and other joyous celebrations in Chinese culture.

From there, they stepped into an instrumental solo. Using only the changgo (the hourglass-shaped drum), four performers sat on the ground, using a great sense of syncopation and polyrhythm to give us an aural experience. Varying between slow and fast rhythms, light tapping to full out thrumming and banging, the sheer coordination and aerobic skill of the performers was on full display as they effortlessly moved through the patterns of three provinces in South Korea. This was then followed up with a garak, an incantation to the moon for protection. In this case, drums accented the slow, deliberate movements of two auspiciously dressed dancers, who looked to have donned shaman’s garbs in order to give this part of the performance more of a spiritual, naturalistic feel.

The performance was closed out by a pan gut, a play in which thunderous percussion solos was accented with dancing. This impressive display evoked both the gregarious nature of a farming festival and the organized, officious nature of a military march, evidenced by a very strong adherence to a regular beat. Wearing either hats with ribbons or feathers attached, the performers managed to not only beat out a solo but also to dance and perform acrobatics. They moved in time with the beat, their heads jerking in sync so that their headgear moved perfectly in rhythm with the music. Having a somewhat military feel as well as that of a random street party, this one performance drove the audience to their feet not one but six times, recognizing each drummer who beat and danced to his own solo.

SamulNori was more than merely interesting. They absorbed us, as we felt the troupe invite us into their experience, the crowd spontaneously starting to clap in sync at various instances. Led by Mr. Kim, we were riveted not just by the sound, but by the sheer enjoyment on their faces. Typically, when observing a classical performance, we expect the stoic, calm front that is the unspoken norm for Western music. However, these men (the whole SamulNori troup is male) were yelling and smiling as they proceeded through the thunderous rumble. Mr. Kim actually had his eyes closed as he gyrated to the music – his arms flowing sinuously, his whole body acting as a physical conduit for the sound, a rapturous expression with his mouth agape. I’ll never know if it was pure ecstasy or him just needing to take deep breaths while doing the upper body equivalent of tae bo, but through the four drummers on stage we could not only sense, but feel the wave of joy they were riding.

So, what was samul nori? To me, it was a noisy repartee, but the kind that makes up families, villages and community. It is that sense of togetherness which we all seek out, whether we know it or not, and when it beckons us, we respond.

A tip: if they come back to do an encore, just go. It’s absolutely worth doing. You’ll know what I’m talking about if it happens.

The following is an excerpt of Kim Duk Soo performing with SamulNori:

SamulNori’s Facebook page can be found at https://www.facebook.com/hanullim.samulnori (you may need to use a translator).

Macaron Madness, Round 4 – Faubourg

Round 4 of Macaron Madness is here! Apologies for the wait, but I promise it’ll be worth your while!

Faubourg Exterior

Today, we go to Faubourg, one of the many new bakeries that have recently taken root around Vancovuer. Subtitled Paris, I originally mistook it as a chain from the titular city, in the vein of Ladurée or Pierre Hermé, but this is apparently not the case. Ladurée actually served as the inspiration for owner Franck Point, who started up his line of stores in 2011. Having expanded from one to three locations in the Lower Mainland over the last three years, he quite clearly has found a following, and success, in the Pacific Northwest.

Arriving in Vancouevr with French techniques from the Institut National de la Boulangerie-Pâtisserie, Point had to retool his approach slightly upon landing. He realized early on that the gluten content of flour from this continent tended to be higher than that in France, resulting in pastries that would have more cohesion, and if baked for long enough more of a hard, crunchy shell, quite at odds with many of the light flourishes that Parisians are known for in their confections. Working with his bakers in Vancouver for a few months prior to opening the first Faubourg, he brought them to a level of familiarity with our inputs that is fleeting even for homegrown artisans. It shows in the results – freshly baked baguettes have that lightness in the interior crumb (the sort interior of the loaf). Croissants have that harmony matching the thin, flaky layers of dough with the luscious texture of butter. These products, and others, have that distinct balance of substance and air that makes French pastry world-renowned.

Faubourg’s macarons start at $1.79 per individual, but there are progressive discounts as you go further, be it $16 for 9, $31 for 18, and so forth. You might wonder about whether such large numbers are needed, but as you can see, the selection is simply huge!

That's a lotta macarons! The unmarked flavor is lychee rose.

That’s a lot of macarons! The unmarked flavor is lychee rose.

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Macaron Madness, Round 3 – Kitchening & Co. and Urban Tea Merchant

Onto round 3 of macaron madness!

So far, we’ve only been looking at macarons from top chocolatiers in Vancouver, but these pastries are not just sold in small artisanal establishments. Indeed, we’ll be looking at larger bakery chains that have also set up shop, as well as other places you wouldn’t expect to find the colorful mouthfuls.

So then, let’s go on to a grocery store, and a tea merchant!

Mmm... macarons...

Mmm… macarons…

The bakery aisle at Whole Foods is always replete with delicious, beautiful desserts, but I was fairly surprised to see macarons on display. Then again, Whole Foods is the supermarket where fancy items abound, and one can spend their paycheque on, among other things, cold-pressed olive oil (the author remains silent on what he may have bought there before). Continue reading

Macaron Madness, Round 2 – Thomas Haas

So, today BeyondYVR will be reviewing macarons again! First was Thierry, and now we’re on to another of Vancouver’s iconic chocolatiers, Thomas Haas.

Thomas Haas Storefront

First opening in 2000, the shop was the culinary vision of its titular chef, who wanted to finally start up independently and promote his own vision of sweets. Thomas, who comes from a family line of pastry chefs from the Black Forest in Germany, has been named one of the top ten pastry chefs in North America by Chocolatier and Pastry Art and Design magazines, and won first prize at the Valhrona National (North American) Pastry Team Championships in all available categories.

After having been a culinary globetrotter for the better part of two decades, Thomas, whose experience includes tenures at Michelin starred restaurants including Daniel in New York, decided to settle in Vancouver. Along with his wife Lisa he set up his chocolatier, and, as is the norm for Thomas’s trajectory, success followed: in 2010 Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates and Patisseries was named as one of the top 10 chocolatiers in North America by the publication Pastry Arts and Design.

Thomas Haas Counter Continue reading

Macaron Madness, Round 1 – Thierry

March is here! So that means that at BeyondYVR, instead of March Madness we’ll have macaron madness!

Macarons

In recent years, the macaron has become a very popular confection. Its roots are shrouded in mystery, as some have traced it to the time Catherine de Medici spent in France but the Larousse Gastronomique, an encyclopedia concerning French cooking, claims it was invented in 791 in a convent. Regardless, macarons remained in relative obscurity, an aristocratic treat, until they recently became embraced by the masses. Continue reading

Tasty, Healthy, Colorful Food at Siddhartha’s Indian Kitchen

(Our thanks to Alice Zhou, of GraciousHost.ca, for arranging this visit to Siddhartha’s Indian Kitchen, and providing us with these photos.)

Image

Last weekend, it was snowing in Vancouver, perfect for the close of the Olympics! Blanketing the city lightly in white, it’s also become quite chilly over the past few days, so why not go out and have some spicy, tangy Indian food to warm the body?

See: Gallery of Siddhartha’s food Continue reading

The 2014 Chutzpah! Festival presents Hirsch (February 26, 2014)

John Hirsch is a monolith in Canadian theatre. A co-founder of the Manitoba Theatre Centre, he started an establishment that would be a standard-bearer for many regional theatres across North America. Additionally, he was a reputed director, notably serving as the head of television drama with CBC and also as the artistic director for the Stratford festival. However, for all his accomplishments, much like everything cultural that stays in Canada, not many people, including Canadians, have actually heard of him before.

Until recently. Hirsch, which debuted at the 2012 Stratford Festival, is a one-man biographical show which helps to shed light on the character that helped to shape Canadian drama. Performed by Alon Nashman, Hirsch is a collection of vignettes of the life of the title subject. Dramatic, witty, and always active, Nashman brings you into his universe, where he acts both as storyteller and dramatic actor, spinning a tale which recaptures the greatness and humanity of a man who was at turns honored, feared and reviled in acting circles.

(Hirsch, promo video)


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Kombucha vs. Mezcal tasting evening, at O5 Rare Tea Bar (February 23, 2014)

The world of drinks and mixology always has a new surprise up its sleeve; after all, cocktails are just mixtures of various ingredients, one of which has to include alcohol. By now, we should not be surprised when some seemingly random combination that sounds like an incomplete shopping list for folk remedies is passed off as a genius potent potable.

But kombucha and mezcal? One’s a fermented black tea that’s supposed to be an ancient cure-all elixir, the new hipster food to take its rightful place with, ironically enough, bacon and crème brulee beignets. The other is the bastard cousin of tequila, the basement grappa to the Bordeaux of agave. Aside from words that you’d only dream of playing in a game of Scrabble, how could they possibly fit together in the same evening?

O5 Rare Tea Bar

O5 Rare Tea Bar

Very well, actually, as O5 Rare Tea Bar showed us on Sunday evening. O5 routinely puts on interesting events – from various sushi nights or Japanese cultural events to chocolate appreciation to movie nights. Done in their lounge, they have teas on hand to offer to guests, which is perfect to get people to loosen up, relax and just have fun for the night.

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Lauri Lyster presents The Drummer Girl

A scene from The Drummer Girl

In all world cultures, the one common musical element between them is a beat; a rhythm; a drum. From the djembe of Africa to the heavy bass of techno music, we are all familiar with percussion and its effect on our groovy well-being. How many of us non-drummers have looked on during a solo with admiration, envy, and awe at the utter release of creative energy before us, wondering how we, too, could look so graceful while having all of our limbs flail in various directions at various times?

In The Drummer Girl, Lauri Lyster, a percussionist whose interests have ranged from classical to New Age music, takes the stage to give us an insight into her world. While we don’t get the chops of Dave Grohl overnight, we learn about Lauri’s personal experiences, from the professional sphere of the drummer-for-hire and the many gigs she has done, to being a mother and woman who brings that same passion for music into the rest of her life. Combining her incredible musical talent with an innate storytelling ability, Lauri takes us on a journey through her childhood to the present, weaving a trail of humorous mischief throughout.

Through the course of two and a half hours, we learn many different things about Lauri: how her father predicted she was destined to be a drummer, how music has shaped her life and found her love, how she finds a meaningful rhythm even in traffic jams and perhaps most importantly, how a self-proclaimed obsessive-compulsive keeper of the beat does Zumba. Lauri never fails to interact with the audience, keeping the atmosphere light, relaxed and festive. Indeed, it is a celebration of Lauri’s life, and she brings us along for the party, making the theatre feel like a casual club, or even a gathering in her backyard.

With the aid of her band (including her husband and gleeful co-conspirator in many of her exploits, Simon Stribling), Lauri incorporates a number of songs through the show, ranging from self-composed Celtic rock to soulful jazz standards to an incredibly entertaining one-man performance of baby toys strewn about the floor. The whole band is incredibly talented – it seemed like everyone in the ensemble plays at least four different instruments – but what was palpable was the sense of camaraderie everyone shared. It gave the show a very special kind of feeling, like we were not only seeing a performance of professionals but a gathering of good friends.

Being a music nerd, I appreciated the amount of musical detail Lauri brought to the show. Talking about how rhythm and melody have governed her life resonate with me, as did her comedic recap of a night’s work for a triangle player at the opera. However, Lauri makes sure to make those jokes accessible to even those who believe themselves tone deaf, and the whole audience was kept somewhere between smiling lightly and in stitches.

The Drummer Girl is part monologue, part concert, part random impromptu gig. Indeed, it feels like you get a brief sampler of Lauri’s personal philosophy, from her passion for women’s and girl’s rights, to her personal feeling for various types of music, to various vignettes about why one should not date male drummers. With these little bites, you are swept up in her chaotic fun, and what shines through is Lauri’s cheer for her calling in life. You can feel the smile in her playing, just as readily and as clearly as when she winds up her next anecdote. As she winds up to play the next drum roll, you’re right there with her, cheering her through her next crazy endeavor.

And, hopefully, hearing about it in the next show she does.

The Drummer Girl is on at the Firehall Arts Centre until February 22. Details can be found at http://firehallartscentre.ca/onstage/the-drummer-girl/.

Dine Out Vancouver – Review of SoL Sun Belt Cookery (January 30, 2014)

BeyondYVR does Dine Out once again! In celebration of our webmistress’s birthday, we went out to SoL Sun Belt Cookery to partake in some Moroccan food. What can be as good as hot, spicy, saucy treats on a wet, windy and freezing Thursday evening?

(for a description of Dine Out Vancouver, refer to the first paragraphs in another of our posts, at http://ow.ly/tax65)

We’re both familiar with the seawall but have never stopped into SoL before. The food is the work of Abdel Elatouabi, who has cooked for the Crown Prince of Morocco as well as ran Le Marrakech in Vancouver. Situated on the north side of Denman, one gets a beautiful view of Coal Harbour while basking in the soft lighting and clean, comfortable furnishings of the restaurant.

SoL Sun Belt Cookery

SoL Sun Belt Cookery

As both of us were present for tonight’s meal, we each took three different courses from the Dine Out menu. Thus, enjoy our two-for-one review of this restaurant!

First came the appetizers, of which we had:

Vegetarian antipasto featuring hummus, falafel and grilled eggplant – the standard mezzes one seeks from a Middle Eastern establishment. Having that Moroccan twist, all three were mildly spiced, with a good texture. The complimentary flavors worked well together, and this dish definitely met our expectations.

Antipasto - (L-R) hummus, falafel, flatbread, grilled eggplant

Antipasto – (L-R) hummus, falafel, flatbread, grilled eggplant

Grilled house merguez sausage – with a crispy exterior and tender meat, the sausage was well-prepared and matched with the lightly marinated vegetables that topped them. That being said, the meat was a little too indiscernible amongst the textures, the harissa being a little overpowering on the dish. In this case, the harissa was finely ground but as a result a touch dusty, and in this case a little less may have perhaps been more. Presentation-wise, the arrangement on the plate left space which felt empty and gave an incomplete impression.

Grilled house merguez sausage with flatbread

Grilled house merguez sausage with flatbread

The mains we chose were:

Grilled mackerel with Moroccan spice and potato latkes – seasoned with chermoula, a citrus and cumin based marinade, the fillet served was surprisingly large. Perfectl done, the texture was flaky but not dry; oily with that savoury mackerel aroma, with the citrus from the chermoula and tomato-based sauce on the side helping to balance out the potential heaviness of the meat. However, the latkes were not particularly memorable accompaniments – instead of the tender, slightly crunchy texture where one can feel the separate slivers of potatoes in the mouth, these nuggets were compacted and deep-fried, making them individual pockets of flavor that did not interact with the rest of the dish.

In a sense, it seemed like having an amazing piece of fish with a McDonald’s hashbrown on the side. A well-prepared, not too heavy hashbrown, but a hashbrown nonetheless.

Grilled mackerel with potato latke

Grilled mackerel with potato latke

Duck leg confit – served with wild mushroom risotto cake, fennel orange salad, and cranberry citrus sauce, the duck was intensely flavorful, causing us to succumb to the temptation (and social faux pas) of picking up the bones to gnaw at them. The orange in the fennel did not stand out, but the fennel had a milder flavor which worked well with the duck. Cranberry citrus sauce is a general favorite of ours, and this variation was one we could have happily eaten a bowlful of. However, there was only a discreet swirl, like a coulis, which, while we cursed the paucity of, have to admit they did the right thing from a presentation point of view.

Duck Confit with fennel, orange and cranberry sauce

Duck confit with fennel, orange and cranberry sauce

So far, so good! And, after a lovely time chatting, dessert came, which were:

Moroccan beignets with dark chocolate and roasted almonds – truthfully, chocolate or almond flavors did not really come to play in this dish. Though the base garnish underneath must have had these ingredients from the coloring, the beignets were rather thick and quite chewy, giving the dish a very dense feel whose flavor seemed to be monopolized by the icing sugar that felt caked on as a result. By contrast, had the beignets been light and fluffy like those in New Orleans, the expansive mouthfeel from the pastry may have helped to space out the sweet sugar flavor, allowing the other components to shine through.

Moroccan beignets, dark chocolate and powdered almonds

Moroccan beignets, dark chocolate and powdered almonds

Apple and chocolate tart, with cinnamon sorbet – again, we were quite disappointed with this dish. The apple was fine, although a bit unsubstantial, and the chocolate was an interesting contrast. The ice cream just did not feel quite right – the tart being room temperature when served, the contrast the chef may have intended did not come out as vividly. Cream would have been preferred in this case. The cinnamon sorbet also failed to contribute anything to the dish – it was a watery, slushy sugar syrup, without much of a cinnamon flavor, and we did not continue past the first spoonful.

Apple and chocolate tart, cinnamon sorbet

Apple and chocolate tart, cinnamon sorbet

Service was very polite, very relaxed and let us sit back and enjoy a leisurely three-hour meal. However, there were interminable gaps between setting out the next dish, and instead of presenting us with the bill we had to inquire after twenty minutes of sitting around, talking. It’s a fine line with these establishments and their discretion was appreciated, but having your guests wait a half hour between each dish is a bit excessive.

One of SoL’s mottos is to feed your soul. With the first two dishes, it seemed like that they would completely satisfy that objective, but dessert seemed like an afterthought when compared to how tasty and varied the substantive parts of our dinners were. Presentation and service seem to be refined, however, and at $28 per meal, we had a very reasonable meal that was, overall, a nice experience.

SoL Sun Belt Cookery can be found at http://www.solsunbelt.com/.

Details on Dine Out Vancouver can be found at http://www.dineoutvancouver.com/.