Review: Porch View Dances (Kaeja d’Dance)

Roses in the Rough

Toronto families perform choreographed routines outside their homes in Porch View Dances

If there’s one thing that strangers do really well, it’s breaking your heart.

Life is weird and sometimes beautiful, but it’s easy to forget all that. It just seems normal. Then some person you don’t know will step out their front door and do something so utterly terrifying it boggles the mind — namely, perform a dance — and all of a sudden you start secretly crying because people are so exquisitely themselves. Admittedly, that sort of thing doesn’t happen very often, but it is happening right now in the Annex, as Kaeja d’Dance pairs families with professional choreographers to create collaborative dance-works in front of their own homes.

Porch View Dances takes audiences on a tour of four such dances throughout Seaton Village neighbourhood, along with one roving contact-dance piece and a participatory performance in Vermont Square Park.

Karen Kaeja, co-artistic director of Kaeja d’Dance along with partner-in-life-and-art Allen Kaeja, concocted the public dance event while looking out her window and daydreaming. Whatever she saw then in her mind, it has grown into an arresting urban revelation, where people emerge from their homes and dance for their neighbours, dance enthusiasts, community types, and plenty of passers-by. The evening started with about 50 or 60 and easily doubled by the end.

Porch View Dances grows out of the Annex and feels very rooted in that part of town. On the day of the opening, the sky over Toronto had arranged itself exclusively in dark greys and pale blues, like a volatile and alluring stranger. There was a buzz; it was exciting.

I felt a rush of Karen Kaeja’s daydream when the first performance started and a family of dancers was suddenly streaming from their home. It’s thrilling to watch regular people perform in their own little context, supported only by a single spotlight, a soundtrack, and the fact that we’re all watching them.

The Carrady-Rose family created their movement, titled Roses in the Rough, with choreographer Louis Laberge-Cote. It seemed to show how disparate emotional frequencies can harmonize without losing their integrity (or in other words, that strange miracle when families get along).

Karen and Allen Kaeja are interested in the quality of realness. The tagline for Porch View Dances is “Real people, in real time, in real spaces.” The pursuit of reality shows through in the choreographies: each dance unrolls some texture from the actual lives of the performers. The statements are simple: “This is who we are. This is what we’re like.”

The realness of Porch View Dances also reveals itself in the audience, about a tenth of which are dogs, who sometimes bark (not always approvingly, unfortunately). The other real-world contingent is neighbours, taking in the dances from their own porches. Their presence created an atmosphere of conversation between the houses, of which we the audience were merely intruders.

Most of the dances include at least a few of the archetypical gestures, those things people naturally do when they start talking with their bodies: scooping up the world at their feet, rolling it into something small and important, pressing it into their chest, releasing it again. These are the ageless sacred expressions — an extension of the breath, or how you might move if you were dancing with the smoke from a fire.

The best dance by far is Sheer, choreographed by Allen Kaeja. (Notably, renowned Toronto theatre-creator Judith Thompson performs in the piece, along with other members of her intimate circle.) The third stop in the tour, it’s the funniest and also the most compelling portrayal of life as we know it: full of chores and routines and dark, complicated desires.

The program concludes with a large participatory dance called Flock Landing that was originally choreographed by Karen Kaeja back in 2007. Four dancers dressed in white and positioned at the four cardinal points around the outside lead the crowd in a gentle series of movements, allowing everyone to follow the movement as it turned 360 degrees.

I could have watched that dance for hours and all the miscellaneous dancers drifting in and out of the group. It was mesmerizing and reassuring: the stiff, the silly, the serious, the gentle, they were all there, waving their arms and hopping with peaceful expressions.


  • Porch View Dances is running July 16-20, starting at 92 London Street.
  • Performances begin at 7pm Wed-Sat and 4pm on Sunday.
  • Attendance is PWYC.

Photo of Roses in the Rough (Louis Laberge-Cote) by Diana Renelli.