Montreal has many secrets – rendez-vous locations, after-hours parties – but let me tell you a secret about winter in Montreal: it’s really not that bad. Oh, there was a time when winter in Montreal meant a certain amount of suffering, but these days, well, we have the technology to not only stay warm but to stay highly entertained. January alone features weekends of outdoor dance parties, the opening of an ice hotel (and bar), family fun in the snow, new contemporary art, wild theatre, dance and live music to warm the soul…
(snow globe party) Igloofest is arguably the party of the winter – or parties plural, since the electronic music and dancing extravaganza happens over three weekends. Igloofest brings together thousands of people in one place (the Quay of the Old Port over the weekends of January 12–14, 19–21 and 26–28 – yes, Thursday is part of the weekend now), featuring some of the best in electronic music (like Diplo!). Put on your best parka or dig up that one-piece neon ski suit from the ‘80s and get ready to get down with crowds of Montrealers, young, old and in between. Being outside in winter shouldn’t be this fun, but it is, and I thank Igloofest for it.
(snow city) There’s something fabulous about returning to the luxurious confines of a hotel room after a wintry day wandering a wonderful city. Montreal takes that indulgence a step further with this city’s first Snow Village, located on the shores of the St-Laurent river at Parc Jean-Drapeau. The Snow Village combines an igloo-like hotel with a restaurant, bar, conference centre, maze, ice slide and, for the marriage-minded and God-alert, a chapel. Whatever you go for a drink or for a night, Snow Village Canada seems to be nothing short of a one-of-a-kind Canadian experience.
(arty warm up) Art galleries around town open their doors again in January with new exhibitions – check out galleries on every floor of the Belgo Building (372 Ste-Catherine W.), including Galerie Push, Galerie Pangée, Pierre François Ouellette, SAS, Skol and several other prominent, top-knotch galleries. Meanwhile, over at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the fun and fabulous and free (yes, free) Big Bang exhibition continues until January 22 – with a room of floor-to-ceiling graffiti art by En Masse collective, a video installation from Denys Arcand and Adad Hannah, photos and furniture inspired by Group of Seven artists, a wall of plush toys and much more.
(park hopping) For extreme and not-so-extreme outdoor winter activity just a hop, skip and a jump away from town (not to mention accessible via the metro), Parc Jean-Drapeau is the place to be this January. Not only is the park home to the new Snow Village Canada, but the Fête des Neiges winter festival offers fun for the whole family, with a tube slide, zip-line, hockey and skating along the river during the weekends of January 21–22, 28–29 and February 4-5. For more outdoor fun, January 7 marks the last night of the Telus Fire on Ice events at the Quays of the Old Port, featuring a fire works show with a Little Mermaid Theme (true!), fire dancing shows starting at 7:10 and 7:40 p.m. and a fab outdoor skating rink.
(take a chance on) Musical lovers and disco divas unite for Broadway hit Mamma Mia!, January 3–8 at Place des Arts. Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ musical, performed around the world for years and still going strong, sets the songs of ‘70s Swedish pop band ABBA to a tale of family, friendship and love on an idyllic Greek island. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll sing along.
(strange stage) Walk on the wilder side of theatre at the 15th annual Wildside Festival, January 3–14 at Centaur Theatre in Old Montreal. The notorious fest features independent, affordably priced shows that push the boundaries of traditional theatre: see Montreal theatre star Kirsten Rasmussen’s motivational-speaker-inspired Blink Blink Blink, the bilingual comedy Bifurcate Me, award-winning Countries Shaped Like Stars, A Thousand Paper Cranes and more. Elsewhere in indie theatre, Guy Sprung directs Infinithéâtre’s Ars Poetica, a story of publishing, poetry and cell phones, January 17 to February 12, at Bain St-Michel (5300 St-Dominique).
(dancetastic January) Montreal dance promotion organization Danse Danse does an amazing job this month with sure-to-satisfy shows: internationally acclaimed dancer and choreographer Akram Khan’s Gnosis, January 24 – 25, and his Vertical Road, January 26 – 28, both at Place des Arts; and always-engaging Montreal choreographer and dancer José Navas’ Personae, January 11–28 at Cinquième Salle. Dancer-choreographers Martin Messier and Caroline Laurin-Beaucage bring evocative new creation Soak, presented at the 2011 Festival Transameriques, to the Monument National, January 26–29. And for something even more different, Ted Tafel’s Janvier takes us to an old railway building where memories and dreams intertwine in dance, at 661 Rose-de-Lima, January 13–15 and 20–22, 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
(whole hog) I’m not going to say that I totally understand this event, but I can say that mega-spectacle Show Harley looks awesome. Not only does Alice Cooper perform (!), along with other rock acts, but fifty custom Harley-Davidson motorcycles rev their engines and generally look cool while a sound and light show goes on in the background. Fans can get up close and personal with the bikes and talk shop with professionals and fellow fans. VIP access to Show Harley includes a back-stage preview starting at 3 p.m. on January 28, while the main show goes down at 8:30 p.m.
(get in the game) I hardly ever talk about hockey in this column, but that’s not because I don’t like it. I mean, as a Montrealer I have to at least watch five Habs games (minimum) a season or I get kicked out of town, and as a person who likes to hang out with friends and drink beer, hockey offers ample opportunity. Tickets for January games at the Bell Centre can still be had (nosebleeds or otherwise), or if the sports bar scene is more your speed, there are plenty of places to partake of our national, competitive winter pastime.
(pop sounds) Pop Montreal may happen in the fall, but the music fest’s programming wends its way throughout the year: on January 6, Pop Montreal presents La Route Chante: A Community Show for Lhasa, much-loved Montreal singer who passed away in early January 2010. The show features the amazing Montreal talents of Plants & Animals, Arthur H, Patrick Watson, Katie Moore, Ariane Moffatt, The Barr Brothers, Socalled and many more who played with Lhasa over the years – at the Rialto Theatre (5723 Parc), 8 p.m. On January 14, keep the Igloofest party rocking at the official after party (starting at 10 p.m.) at SAT with Rich Aucoin (love him!), Lunice, DJ Mini and Francis Oak – yaay! On January 18, indie rockers Real Estate come to La Sala Rossa, on January 19, Swedish metal band Ghost are joined by Blood Ceremony and Ancient Vvisdom at Theatre Corona, and on January 23, krautrock-inspired British band Fujiya & Miyagi play La Sala Rossa. Machine Head , Suicide Silence and more bring the metal to Metropolis on January 28. And British singer Charlie Winston, who won fans at Osheaga in 2010, woos the crowd again on January 28 at the Corona Theatre.