Petroleum: A Triptych paints a damning portrait of society through dance. Playing as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival at the Streetcar Crowsnest Mainspace, this is not your granddaughter’s feel-good dance recital.
The framing device for the show takes the form of a group therapy session, led by a dubiously-friendly robot. Each dancer shares their neuroses and tries, with varying degrees of success, to overcome what’s ailing them. The core concept at play is the relationship between social injustice and its effect on the human psyche, and how our fear, anger, and even narcissism can keep us from taking action.
Though this piece is a dance, it is also a drama, and a cerebral one at that. While there is some dialogue to contextualize the dance, it is flippant and darkly comedic in nature, creating flavour without overshadowing the physicality of the show.
Strong design elements helped lift this performance, such as the use of plastic bags and recycled materials onstage, complimented by performers in utilitarian grey shirts with stick-on name tags. The image created was that of isolated and unknown people feeling the effects of a chaotic and cruel world.
Performers also conveyed an intense emotional connection to the piece, infusing the choreography with character-based quirks and eschewing precision in favour of telling a more personal story. Body language and subtle facial expressions evoked a tragic tale. Because of the cast’s chemistry and overall commitment as actors, the performance felt all the more genuine and accessible.
On the other hand, there were some places where I had difficulty understanding the purpose of some ‘scenes’ or what was being conveyed. For example, we are taken to the darkest parts of these artists minds from the very beginning. The show opens with the robot therapist providing scathing commentary on whether our attempts at activism are truly effective. Following this, the first dance number features three performers smiling brightly, only to succumb to what looks eerily like the effects of a full-body anxiety attack in slow motion. After this was a set piece that revolved around prayer and interpersonal conflict, but I couldn’t discern as tangible a theme from it. While these were brief and scant confusions, I do wish I had a better idea of how some of the pieces fit into the show that we saw.
There was a strong thesis in this performance, and it can be appreciated by non-dance-enthusiasts, but I believe it needed a stronger conclusion. By the end of the show, I felt the same way as I did going in. I didn’t feel the catharsis or sense of challenge I was hoping for, considering how boldly it opened. This show might not change the world, but it does invite us to think while enjoying an honest creation by a diverse group of dedicated artists.
- Petroleum: A Triptych plays at the Streetcar Crowsnest Mainspace. (345 Carlaw Ave.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (275 Bathurst St.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warnings: mature language; sexual content; audience participation.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- The Toronto Fringe Festival is scent-free: please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or other strongly-scented products.
- Wednesday July 3rd, 6:30 pm
- Friday July 5th, 3:45 pm
- Sunday July 7th, 1:00 pm
- Monday July 8th, 7:45 pm
- Wednesday July 10th, 3:45 pm
- Thursday July 11th, 9:00 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 1:00 pm
Image provided by the company