I Was Born White (Knot Rivals Company) 2014 Toronto Fringe Review


Fresh from a residency at the Fringe Creation LabI Was Born White is an autobiographical, multimedia dance performance by Melisse Watson about their own interracial adoption, realized on stage at the Robert Gill Theatre by Knot Rivals Company. This Toronto Fringe Festival performance is a charged, focused, and deep work of modern dance that traces personhood, placelessness, and racial politics where they most deeply reside: home, body, our very DNA.


File this dance under autobiographical, confessional; the audience arrives into a theatre filled with the sound of Melisse’s birth mother’s voice. Through several interviews we hear not only Melisse’s story (of being born to a white mother who was unaware of the paternity of a child whose skin color darkened post-adoption by a white family), but also the stories of the various figures involved in the birth, as well as compelling narratives by immigrants and people of indigenous ancestry who also find themselves disconnected from their roots.

While these voices round out an interesting story and speak truth to the depth of a person’s need to know home, it is the poetry interspersed in the soundtrack that cuts deepest. Here Melisse’s voice sounds purest, the anxiety and yearning most intensely focused. “My mother is a glass house in the flesh / And I was the first stone she ever threw / at herself” begins a cycle of poetry that finishes with the conclusion “I’ll find the ground eventually, and sleep / on this remembered road built inside of me.”

Here, I will admit that I am not usually a dance enthusiast: I attend for artistic growth. And I wonder, with such an excellent grasp of language, why make dance? Because it’s about bodies, that’s why, and so is the entire concept of the work. The young (age and experience-wise) We Are Knot Rivals company uses various cultural and visible mixes to tell us stories abstractly, and then go deeper into the body, examining the mix of bodies that join and divide society.

Utilizing a nicely-specific vocabulary of shapes, imaginative rhythm (with live percussion), and studied floor-patterns, the cast (Sale Almirante, Hannah Dees, Corrie Sakaluk, Benjamin Aaron Jaarsma, Chaliz La Madrid, Melisse Watson, Rio Runakanta, Amai Kuda, and Y) experiments with traditional Western modern and social dances, then moves into African dance and other styles, continuously carving out its own way of being. This is exactly the point on Melisse’s journey to find a personal harvest from the family tree they were adopted into.

You don’t have to like dance to feel something when you see this show. If you enjoy poetry, prepare to be moved, and come just to listen to it. If you are or care about people of mixed heritage, or people who have been adopted, this work will take you to depths, it must be noted, that only those truly honest of artists can take you (thank you, Melisse and Company). This is not entertainment, for it tends deep places, but honors them with good artistry.



I Was Born White plays at the Robert Gill Theatre. (214 College St)

show times

July 02 at 08:45 PM
July 05 at 04:00 PM
July 06 at 12:00 PM
July 08 at 10:45 PM
July 10 at 07:30 PM
July 11 at 11:30 PM
July 12 at 05:15 PM

Show length: 45min.

Genre(s): Dance, Physical Theatre

Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only. Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West). Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.

LATECOMERS ARE NEVER ADMITTED TO FRINGE SHOWS. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.

Photo provided by Knot Rivals Company