Site-specific dance show brings performance to Toronto’s front porches
Site-specific shows don’t get more specific than the front porches of your friends and neighbours. That’s the idea behind Porch View Dances, a series of short contemporary dance works developed by Karen and Allen Kaeja of Kaeja d’Dance: it enlists community members and their porches and front lawns, the public-facing aspect of their living spaces.
These brave neighbourhood volunteers perform choreography by professional dance artists. Now in its fourth year, the award-winning show has branched out to Ottawa, Kitchener, and Moncton. It’s very approachable, being run by donation, and takes the audience on a charming walking tour through Seaton Village, a cosy neighbourhood just steps from busy Bathurst and Bloor.
Allen Kaeja, our ringmaster in countenance and dress, welcomed us and led us between dance pieces, concocting a story of a kidnapped fiancé that eventually paid out in adorable dividends.
The first piece, “A Little Grass Sonata,” choreographed by Michael Caldwell and Louis Laberge-Côte, used a lawn as a stage, turning the unusual into a more traditional type of performance space.
The women, Diana d’Amelio, Sonia Kho and Elizabeth Mitchell, wearing flowing dresses of varying hues, alternated between formations that suggested Greek goddesses posing on ancient urns to more frenzied, jerky motions that brought to mind visceral body horror. Each got a turn in the spotlight, though the piece really came alive when they connected with and played off each other.
The recording of Tanya Tagaq Gillis’ ragged, staccato throat singing was contrasted with the calmer, legato Beethoven, to which repeated, ritualized movements and outsized facial contortions were staged.
Audience members were encouraged to take pictures and use social media. Some people did take pictures, but I was impressed that nobody seemed distracted by their phones. Everyone was too engaged in what was happening.
It would be interesting to find out how much of the audience is local, but it was very much a family affair, with large groups, lots of children, and even some dogs joining in on the journey. Most of the children seemed fascinated, and even danced in the streets as we moved from destination to destination, a small storm in the usual life of the neighbourhood.
Throughout the evening, “The Wedding Brigade,” a large number of women in white, floated past us in a striking visual. The women were simultaneously warm and eerie, ethereal and corporeal; fully in control, they took over the space. Five brides later clambered over the rocks and grass of Vermont Square Park in “Village Paradise,” cheekily lifting their dresses to create a wave of white fabric to the strains of the Tatjana Cornij’s live accordion music.
My favourite piece was “Teeter Taughter,” a father-daughter dance. Young Maya struck a fine balance between competing desires for rebellion and connection. The balance was both metaphoric (in the give and take between the performers) and literal: if the first piece used a more traditionally flat performance space, this piece made great use of the runway-like series of steps and railing descending from the porch. It did lose a little of its emotional impact due to the father of the duo, Greg, being sidelined due to a bike accident, but Kaeja, who choreographed the piece with his wife Karen, stepped in to gracefully fill his shoes.
The final porch piece, “Peqinorda,” was a delightful family showcase for Lori and Leslie Endes and their two daughters, Amarai and Azreal, cheoregraphed by Ofilio Sinbadinho and Apolonia Velaszquez. The sweetness of the piece was balanced by the music (including a couple of jarring cuts) and the angular motions as the dancers played games with each other and appeared to animate and control each others’ movements.
There is a certain amount of privilege inherent in the ability to own a space with a porch in Toronto, particularly in this neighbourhood (though at least one of the porches appears to have been donated). Questions of diversity seem implicitly acknowledged, however, as the creators democratize the experience by ending the event in a public park, where everyone is encouraged to dance to the final piece, “Flock Landing,” and most did. It’s quite moving to see audience and performers move as one.
Porch View Dances is a great example of what we need more of in Toronto: community art that encourages a journey, engagement, participation and discovery. Near the end of the evening, a child must have wondered about the meaning of the dances, because I heard a parent say, wisely, “They can be anything you want them to be.” Our neighbourhoods can be anything we want them to be. Porch View Dances is a beautiful beginning.
- Porch View Dances begins at 84 London Street and plays from August 19-22nd at 7pm, and August 23rd at 4pm.
- Tickets are Pay What You Can.
- Warnings: The show is entirely outdoors, and features walking, long periods of standing, and optional but encouraged audience participation.
Photo of Amarai, Leslie and Lori Endes by Shana Hillman