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Best of the Fests

Ottawa is the place to be when festival season rolls around. From performing arts to cultural celebrations — and everything in between — here are just a few of our top picks. By Misa Kobayashi.

Bachman & Turner

April 26 to May 8
The fifth installment in a series of biannual national festivals brings this eclectic, multi-disciplinary arts fest to the capital. Prairie Scene features 500 established and emerging artists from Saskatchewan and Manitoba who will present 80 different music, theatre, dance, art, literary, film, and culinary events. That’s a lot of talent in one place! Just a few names you can expect: rock and rollers Bachman & Turner, violinist James Ehnes, and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. At various venues around town, tickets vary by event (some events free). For more information see www.prairiescene.ca.

Major's Hill Park during the Canadian Tulip Festival. Photo credit: OTCA.

May 6 to 23
Enjoy the stunning landscape, decorated with millions of tulips, in honour of this annual festival. In 2011, the theme is “Kaleidoscope — a celebration of spring awakening through colour, culture, and community.” This year, the event will be divided into two sections: “Floral Week” will centre around Commissioners Park where the dazzling flowers will be on view, while “Festival Week” (starting May 13), will offer entertainment, activities, and attractions at Major’s Hill Park. Exciting new events taking place include a whimsical tea party and showings of classic films for “Movies in the Park.” Other highlights include the FUNtasia kids’ zone and the International Food Emporium. Best of all, most of the activities and events are free! For a full schedule see www.tulipfestival.ca.

Ottawa Race Weekend along the Rideau Canal.

May 28 and 29
Ever year, Canada’s fastest-growing road race draws local, national, and international participants (plus plenty of cheering fans). More than 38,000 people took part in the marathon, half-marathon, 10K, 5K, and 2K family run/walk last year, and this year promises to be even more exciting with new routes for the longer races. The course changes will provide both urban and rural scenery, and will take runners through the areas of Chinatown and Little Italy, as well as along the historic Rideau Canal. If you’re not racing this year, grab a spot on the sidelines to watch the action unfold. For course and event information see www.runottawa.ca.

A show called "At Nightfall."

June 1 to 5
Enter this fantastical world where award-winning artists from around the globe delight and entertain children and adults alike. With five days of performing arts on the bill, plus family activities before and after the shows, this is truly a one-of-a-kind event. This year’s performances include a topsy-turvy animal world in ZooZoo, a team of dancers from Scotland in We Dance, wee groove, a forest of mysterious dancing people in At Nightfall, and plenty more. LeBreton Flats Park and the Canadian War Museum. Single tickets $11.50-$13.60; three-show pack: $29. For full schedule see www.ottawachildrensfestival.ca.

Bif Naked.

June 10 to 12
It’s a celebration of Canadian arts in the funky Westboro neighbourhood. Music, literature, spoken word, media arts, visual arts, dance, theatre, and more are on offer. The theme for this year is “Westfest Gets Naked,” in honour of the Saturday night performance by alt-rocker Bif Naked. The rest of the three-day lineup is equally exciting, beginning with the opening night “Qaagic.” This Inuit word refers to a community gathering with music and dancing, which is exactly what’s in store. Other events to look forward to include street performances and kid-friendly activities taking place throughout the festival, as well as “Ottawa Night” on Sunday evening, with a focus on local talent. Richmond Road. Admission is free. For full schedule see www.westfest.ca.

The 605 Collective. Photo credit: Yannick Grandmont.

June 15 to 18
Those who represent the next generation of Canadian contemporary dance will take the stage at this year’s event. From the Caribbean-influenced choreography of Kevin Ormsby, to the physicality of new dance company The 605 Collective, this year’s roster is full of dynamic, creative, and incredibly entertaining performances. Check out an array of styles that include hip-hop, fusion, and contemporary, all from dancers hailing from across Canada. National Arts Centre Studio. Tickets: $25-$35 per show. For full schedule see www.canadadance.ca.

Elvis Costello.

June 23 to July 3
This summer festival is one of Ottawa’s top music events, drawing scores of jazz fans from near and far for a jam-packed line-up. Top performers to grace the main stage in 2011 include k.d. lang, Pink Martini, Elvis Costello, Robert Plant & the Band of Joy, Return to Forever IV, and Béla Fleck. The ever-popular late night jam sessions will also return this year, providing fans with more intimate, and sometimes impromptu, performances by the house band and guest musicians. Confederation Park and other indoor and outdoor venues. For full schedule and ticket info see www.ottawajazzfestival.com.

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