Everyday Oppressions (The Cheshire Unicorn) 2015 Toronto Fringe Review

Photo of Everyday Oppressions by The Cheshire Unicorn

In the closing monologue of Everyday Oppressions, a work of dance-theatre by The Cheshire Unicorn on stage at the Toronto Fringe Festival, audience members are invited to acknowledge their privilege. Let me do that now: I’m a straight white man in my early thirties. I am not routinely subjected to the type of everyday oppressions that are the subject of this performance.

Everyday Oppressions is about the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that society rejects some of its members for being different. In particular, the show focuses on sexual identity and self-expression. For example, the performers are all in casual drag, and though it’s hard to imagine how anyone could fail to appreciate a man in a slinky dress, the show reminds us that this is a choice for which a great deal of bravery is still required.

Despite the closer, Everyday Oppressions mostly communicates through dance, not speech-making. The choreography is inspired by Pina Bausch, and if you know her work or have seen Wim Wenders’s movie, this should be a draw. Bausch distils familiar human dynamics to their emotional essence and folds them into scenarios that are deeply poignant and instantly accessible.

While Everyday Oppressions lacks Bausch’s focus and control, choreographer Melissa Major uses that approach of symbolic storytelling to create many wonderful and arresting moments. Like Bausch, Major also makes excellent use of props, such as an apple, a comb, and a long piece of rope, not to mention a pair of pasties.

The eight dancers in Everyday Oppressions come from diverse movement backgrounds, from martial arts to ballet. While these differences mean that they are not all equally confident in every sequence, Major draws out each performer’s uniqueness by turns, creating many lovely surprises. The youthful David Klein is particularly expressive and interesting to watch.

Although organized from fragments, Everyday Oppressions follows a clear path along the theme of discrimination. The blunt moralizing of the final speech—in which an 11-year-old girl offers tribute to the signers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—comes as a shock, therefore. I find explanation to be far less effective than suggestion, certainly in dance.

That bit of heavy-handedness aside, Everyday Oppressions has a lot of poignancy and charm, and it’s exciting to see Major channel her inspiration from Bausch. Hopefully she’ll continue to develop this work further.


  • Everyday Oppressions is playing until July 11 at the Factory Theatre Mainspace. (125 Bathurst St.)
  • Tickets are $12 in advance, $10 at the door. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), from the festival box office down Honest Ed’s Alley (581 Bloor West), or from the venue box office starting one hour before the performance. Venue sales are cash-only.
  • Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. Set your watch to CBC time, and arrive a few minutes early to avoid disappointment.

Remaining Showtimes

July 03 at 05:15 PM
July 05 at 03:00 PM
July 07 at 04:45 PM
July 09 at 09:15 PM
July 10 at 07:30 PM
July 11 at 04:00 PM

Photo of “Everyday Oppressions Hangs Out” provided by the company.