Venus & Adonis (Theatre Oculus) 2021 Toronto Fringe Review

Photo of Venus & Adonis from the 2021 Toronto Fringe Festival

Venus & Adonis, produced by Theatre Oculus, is playing on-demand at the 2021 Toronto Fringe Festival. Based on the Shakespeare poem of the same title, the dance work runs 25-minutes. Venus, the goddess of love, attempts to seduce Adonis. Her love is unrequited, as in the original story he would rather go hunting. The company asks: What happens when the goddess of love is scorned in her own realm?

The piece opens with the sounds of birds chirping and the sight of white dresses flowing in a light summer breeze. The cast of 12 dancers moves to a recorded poem by Kelsi James. Depictions of love and desire are shown in a montage of solo shots of whimsical improvised contemporary movement set against the beautiful outdoor backdrop.

This is before a dancer, Sadie Cahill, drops to the ground landing in a dance studio bedazzled in glam-pop-inspired colourful costuming and lights. The movement changes from improvised flowy solo material to a more contemporary fusion of choreographed, synchronized movement and gesture sequences (and many leg extensions) to electronic music. The music, movement, and videography lead you seamlessly through different moods of the piece. Through the relatable trials and tribulations of love.

Drew Berry offers smooth videography to this high-quality production. The music, composed by Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski, is beautiful, as whimsical sounds and choral voices transition to and from electro-pop fluidly. The costuming (designer not listed) is excellently suited to each section. Rohan Dhupar and Sarah DiIorio’s choreography is a fun take on an old story.

What is unique about this piece is the ways in which the dancers melt into the scenery. One section brings forward four dancers amongst a field of taller grass. They stand in a circle in a large open field and move in a slow gesture sequence. Their hands caress their mouths and heads before dropping down to the ground and giving into the earth. 

The newly formed company, Theatre Oculus, aims to modernize classic theatre pieces and recontextualize them outside of their Eurocentric origins with diversity in casting. They hope to continue working this piece into a full-length dance theatre production. I hope they do. I am interested to see where it goes.

Although, in the future, I would love to see more investment in its characters. Also, more program notes to explain how they are choosing to play with the story.

There are only a few dance works in this year’s Digital Fringe Festival. This one will fill some appetites for those missing dance in a theatre. The dancers’ powerful gazes into the camera – with a specific shoutout to performer Michael Derworiz – is less possible to produce in a theatre space. It adds an intimate ambiance to the digital work.

Venus and Adonis is a great addition to this year’s digital festival and will make you want to go outside and dance amongst the trees.


  • Venus & Adonis is playing on-demand at the Virtual 2021 Toronto Fringe Festival.
  • Purchase a $5 Membership to access the On-Demand programming on the Fringe website, then Pay What You Can to each show as you go with a suggested price of $13 per show.
  • Memberships can be purchased here.  View the virtual on-demand show listings here.
  • Accessibility notes:
    • On-Demand shows: videos are closed captioned, transcripts are available for all audio content, documents are screen-reader friendly, and all digital images are provided with alternative text descriptions. These access supplements have been generated by the company and reviewed by the Festival. They may vary slightly from company to company.
    • Fringe Primetime presentations will feature Auto-Transcribed Captioning.
  • Content warnings: Parental Guidance, Sexual Content, Abrupt Cues and Mature Language

Photo of (from left to right) Lyndsey Britten, Eilish Shin-Culhane, Emily Butler, Maria Riano, Jasmine Huang, Hailey Lewis, Gabrielle Lowe by Drew Berry