SLIDE SHOW: Young artists roar at Lions festival

Competitions are underway for the 69th annual Chilliwack Lions Club Music and Dance Festival. Join the audience for just $4 per session.

Alyssa Swales

Alyssa Swales

Chilliwack Lions Music & Dance Festival 2016

If you want entertainment, now’s a great time to get it.

The Chilliwack Lions Club 69th annual Music and Dance Festival is on now.

A total of 4,825 dancers and musicians (aged five to 30) from across the Lower Mainland are here to compete in the festival that’s over a month in duration.

Thirteen expert adjudicators have travelled from all over the country to evaluate, critique, and ultimately to foster excellence in these young performers.

An average of 150 volunteers put in upwards of 4,000 hours to ensure that the success of the festival that draws in so many.

Dance competitions run at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre from Feb. 6 until Feb. 27. Disciplines include classical, contemporary ballet, tap, jazz, acro, and hip-hop.

Music competitions begin Feb. 29, continuing until March 9. Competitors in voice, guitar, strings, woodwind, brass, percussion and piano will perform at the Cultural Centre, while choral and band competitions take place at G.W. Graham.

“This is the highlight of the year for some of the performers,” said Festival Registrar Laurie Hirschman. Some of whom take part for the love of it, others are building a career, but all are becoming advocates for the arts, Hirschman continued.

The junior modern and contemporary solo session on Feb. 10 was filled with emotive movement and music, power and prowess, and incredible skill.

One by one, 25 performers graced the Rotary Hall Studio Theatre as family, friends, and community members looked on.

Their footsteps crept and legs leapt from one side of the stage to the other. Pointed toes stretched toward the walls before every soft landing.

Some chose boisterous, intense themes to complement their pursed lips and furrowed brows. Others timed their pirouettes to elegant melodies. A few still poised their jumps to crescendos of drama in spoken-word pieces.

“Listen to and watch what they’re doing at this age. It’s incredible,” Hirschman enthused. “These young people are doing such astounding work.”

As each performer exited the stage, their heavy breaths were greeted with whispered support from fellow competitors, who wait in patient suspense for the judges’ decisions.

Modern adjudicator Raena Waddell brings expertise from a 15-year career as a dancer, choreographer, and movement instructor in Edmonton. She commended all of the work by these young dancers and reiterated the technical and creative judging criteria prior to revealing the eagerly anticipated results.

In the Solo Contemporary age 11 division, Ava Partalis took first place. And it was Savannah Stovern-Moloci who took the same prize in the age 12 division.

But there are plenty of competitions and awards still to come, and the value of this family-friendly entertainment can’t be beat.

It’s only $4 per session, which run most mornings, afternoons or evenings, or $10 per session for a family. Purchase a season’s pass for $18 which allows entry into all competitions.

“Often, the bigger the audience – the better the performance,” Hirschman explained. “[The performers] feel and feed off the energy in the room.”

The best of the best are nominated to take part in the honour performances at the Cultural Centre. The Dance Honour performance is March 6 at 1:30 p.m., and the Music Honour Performance is set for April 2 at 7 p.m. Tickets for honours shows are $10 each.

Plan your attendance and keep track of your favourite performers by purchasing a festival program book for $8.

Twenty of the most talented will be selected to compete at a provincial level in Fort St. John (May 31 to June 4) and winners will proceed to the national competition in Edmonton (Aug. 11 to 13.)

Funds raised support the ongoing operation of the festival and the awe-inspiring performers who participate.