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Montreal-based choreographer Sylvain Émard auditioned non-professional dancers from across Vancouver and rehearsed them for weeks  in advance of Le Grand Continental, a free public performance.Robert Torres

Every January, the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival injects some light into Vancouver's winter dreariness with nearly three weeks of bold, innovative programming – theatre, dance, music and more. Once again this year's festival is packed with wall-to-wall must-sees. Here's a look at five can't-miss shows:

Bullet Catch

Scottish playwright/director/actor/magician Rob Drummond has been touring the world with Bullet Catch, in which he plays William Wonder: magician, raconteur, daredevil. Wonder recounts the story of William Henderson, who died on stage trying to perform the bullet catch trick in 1914. With an audience volunteer, Wonder sets out to illustrate the story by attempting the death-defying stunt himself – a climax so excruciating he gives audience members a chance to leave, and often some do. (Arts Club Theatre Company, Revue Stage; opens Jan. 21 (now in previews) until Feb. 7, various times)

It's going to get worse and worse and worse, my friend

Beyond boasting the best title ever, this is a performance that will have audiences worshipping at the altar of dance. Belgian dancer and choreographer Lisbeth Gruwez moves to the words of disgraced televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and a soundscape by her composer/musician partner Maarten Van Cauwenberghe. Fire and brimstone (metaphorically) engulf the stage in what becomes a choreographed catastrophe. Hallelujah. (Scotiabank Dance Centre, Jan 22-24 at 8 p.m.)

Le Grand Continental

Amateurs! Montreal-based choreographer Sylvain Émard auditioned non-professional dancers from across Vancouver and rehearsed them for weeks in advance of this free public performance. Next weekend, rain or shine, 75 of them will perform a mass, multigenre piece. "There's something really beautiful about how simple gestures become magnified when so many people are doing them," PuSh's Roxanne Duncan says. "There's a pure kind of child-like joy that comes out of it." (Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza, Jan. 24-25 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.).

Iva Bittova

Avant-garde violinist and vocalist Iva Bittova wows with her emotional, energetic, genre-defying improvised performances. The former Czech movie star, whom co-presenter David Pay (with Vancouver's Music on Main) calls a "beautiful amazing crazy visceral musician," manipulates her voice and violin to extraordinary effect, leaving audiences stunned and amazed. (The Fox Cabaret, Feb. 2-3 at 8 p.m.; 19 years and older)


PuSh favourite Mariano Pensotti (Sometimes I Think, I Can See You; El Pasado Es Un Animal Grotesco; La Marea) is back with this cinema-meets-theatre work exploring the old life-versus-art question – in a bold new way. The work concerns four filmmakers and the four works they create. The eight stories are revealed on a two-level set – the lower floor showing us the filmmakers' lives, while their fictions play out upstairs. (Fei & Milton Wong Experimental Theatre, Simon Fraser University's Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, Feb. 5-7, 8 p.m.)

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