Saturday, August 8, 2015


On the Monday night of the long weekend, one of the joys of a Toronto summer opened in Withrow Park.

Each summer, for one brief, beautiful week, artistic director, Sylvie Bouchard, and a diverse array of invited performers and choreographers make dance magic happen in Toronto's Withrow Park.

The event has a kind of cheerful anarchy about it.  A genial Brad Brackenridge, in a festive blue tail coat and top hat, MC's the proceedings, introducing us to the performers at the beginning of each act, and blowing a vuvuzela to lead the audience from site to site.

DUSK DANCES takes place in five different areas within the park. Audiences experience an array of delightful dances by following Brackenridge from place to place. You can't get lost.  If the horn isn't enough for you, standard bearing assistants illuminate the pathways between the dances with fairy lights atop tall poles.

The pieces on offer showcase dance influenced by many performance styles, and world cultures, reflecting the diversity of Toronto's current dance scene. This is contemporary dance at its freshest, and unstuffiest.

Monday evening began with the renowned flameco dancer, Esmeralda Enrique performing a beautiful solo she created especially for this year's festival. RECURDOS has gorgeous live accompaniment by vocalist, Tamar Ilana, and guitarist, Michael Kavanaugh.  Powerful, elegant, and passionate, it was a beautiful beginning.

We moved from the flamenco stage, over to a nearby open field, beneath leafy trees, where choreographer Lua Shayenne and her four dancers: Miranda Liverpool, Kassi Scott, Natasha Phanor and Shireen Ali rained down physicality and energy in MURMURE de FEMME.  The piece is, according to the program notes, "an ode to the spirit of femininity in relation to Mother Earth."  Shayenne created an African contemporary dance for the park, driven by the beats of drummers, Derek Thorne and Yakadi Macru. They're an impressively dynamic crew with some jaw-dropping moves.

Next up was BELLA, a revival of Danny Grossman and Judy Jarvis's ode to Puccini, and the lovers in Marc Chagall's paintings. BELLA makes considerable demands of the dancers, both physically and technically, and Meredith Thompson and Michael Caldwell more than rose to the challenges presented. They were beautiful together, dancing on, and around Mary Kerr's Chagall-inspired painted pony.  It was a lyrical romantic duet to swoon for.

Then we were led further afield, to a clearing ornamented with strands of green and yellow fairy lights, where contemporary dance stalwarts, Sylvie Bouchard and Marie-Josee Chartier performed a charming and very funny duet, PHOTURIS VERSICOLOR. The piece is about two fire-fly femme fatale sisters reunited after separation at birth.  The droll and whimsical costumes by Cheryl Lalonde, and a guest "Photinus" appearance by Michael Caldwell really iced the cake. The little ones in the audience loved it!

The last dance of the night, DISCONCERTANTE is set on a group of five esteemed veterans of Canada's contemporary dance scene:  Karen Kaeja, Claudia Moore, Linnea Swan, Graham Mckelvie and Ron Stewart.  Choreographer Tedd Robinson poses a relational question, "When is it that we understand what is happening to us?" Robinson and company create a sophisticated and moving reflection on relationships, love, and mortality, with a lush underscore of Chopin.

Dusk Dances is a family-friendly, affordable, contemporary dance event.  If you've never seen a contemporary dance performance, this is a great introduction to the art form. If you love dance, this is certain to be one of the highlights of your summer. If you arrive early( 6:45 pm) dance master, Miko Sobreira is there with Guaracha y Son providing free salsa lessons.  Newbies are more than welcome.

By the way, I had an outdoor theatre producer tell me this summer,  if everyone who came to see a performance gave them $5, they would have no deficit.  Skip a latte this week, and support your local arts community.

DUSK DANCES continues in WITHROW PARK, beginning with free salsa lessons at 6:45 pm nightly, and at 1:45 pm on matinee days ( Thursday, and Sunday August 9th) . Performances begin at 2:30 PM (Thursday and Sunday) and 7:30 PM nightly, August 3rd to 9th.

WITHROW PARK is located one block SOUTH of the Danforth, between Logan and Carlaw, near Chester Subway Station. Admission is by donation.  

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