Toronto is a wonderful city in so many ways. One of the things I enjoy the most about living here is the veritable feast of free and pay-what-you-can outdoor performances all over the city during the summer months.
This week, one of my favourite pay-what-you-can public performances, DUSK DANCES is on in Withrow Park, in Toronto's Danforth area.
For the past 22 years, Sylvie Bouchard and company have presented a well-curated program of contemporary dance in the park. This year, the mixed program of work features artists from both Quebec and Ontario, with plenty for both dance-newbies and seasoned dance-goers to appreciate and enjoy.
Dance in a broad range of styles is presented in an approachable and family-friendly manner. Hostess Allegra Charleston (the clown alter-ego of choreographer and dancer, Susie Burpee) is the mistress of ceremonies for this year's program of five works at five different sites within the park. Audiences are aided by volunteers in decamping, and moving from stage to stage to take in the work. The choreographers in turn, have made inventive uses of their respective playing areas.
We arrived just as the pre-show Nia class given by Martha Randall was winding up. With live accompaniment by the band DOUBLE-TOOTH , the movement session energized the crowd, as did the delightfully silly antics of the enthusiastic hostess.
The first piece of the night had the audience seated at the base of a small hillock for HEYKLORO, an urban dance created by Gadfly choreographers, Apolonia Velasquez and Ofilio Sinbadinho, and vigorously performed by the impressive crew of Raoul Wilke, Lauren Lyn, Daniel Gomez, and Celine Richard-Robichon. The sharp, angular movements and confident, pulsing physicality of the dancing was driven by a street music mix by Dr Draw and Sinbadinho. The black costumes and dark googles were in perfect keeping with the edgy street vibe.
Next up was La Otra Orilla, with a duet both choreographed and performed by Myriam Allard and Hedi Graja.The piece was a flamenco-buffoon mash-up, danced on a long, narrow, wooden platform: a perfect surface for the elegant percussive footwork. Here, the bata de cola, the traditional ruched flamenco skirt was massive and sculptural: long enough to form a ruffled cocoon over a entire dancer's body. This wearable sculpture had strong visual impact and became a third character in the piece.
Next, was Susie Burpee's utterly wonderful duet THIS IS HOW WE LOVE. Audience members were invited to reply to the question, "What does love feel like?" The shouted-out responses covered a gamut of human emotions, which two self-appointed "love experts", also from the audience, wrote onto the backs of cards. The performers then created the dance by randomly selecting cards from baskets, and and interpreting the recorded emotions to a score by Satie. As in life, the two performers were seldom feeling anything like the same thing at the same time. Brendan Wyatt and Sylvie Bouchard were lovely in this: silly, tender, beautiful and brave. It was performed in front of a flower garden beneath a giant tree: a perfect idyll for a summer romance.
Michael Caldwell's WAVES was beautifully danced by Mairead Filgate, Molly Johnson, and Meredith Thompson. Kyle Brender's saxophone followed the dancers as they executed an elaborate interplay of forms, shapes, sounds, and colour. Caldwell's notes state that the work was influenced by radical movements in film-making and visual art. It was the most cerebral offering on the program, but there was much to enjoy in its fluidity and restraint.
The last piece of the night took place on a concrete ball hockey pad, inside, on top of, and around a car. AUTO-FICTION by Montreal-based Human Playground is a half-hour series of visceral, propulsive, and athletic duets and trios exploring extremes in human relations and emotions. The stadium lighting and aggressive score by David Drury underlined the intensity of the physical work. David Albert-Toth, Jessica Serli and Simon-Xavier Lefebvre were outstanding.
The dance deserved a kind of concentrated attention it was difficult to offer in this environment, at least from my vantage point. I was standing near the back, on one side, and while my sight-line was good, I was constantly being jostled by restless little ones running in, out of, and through the crowd, and being shushed and admonished by their parents. Try get a spot where you can give AUTO FICTION the focus it merits. It's as rewarding as it is demanding.
If you can, do treat yourself to this eclectic and highly entertaining program of contemporary dance. DUSK DANCES always gives warm summer memories to cherish long after the show is over.
DUSK DANCES continues at Withrow Park (Pape subway Station) in Toronto this weekend until Sunday August 7th at 7:00 PM, with a 2:00 PM matinee on the 7th. Bring your own chairs, cushions, or blankets to sit on. The company relies on pay-what-you-can-donations, which can be made on-site, to volunteers, or by texting 3033, then DDTO10 or DDTO20 to make a donation.