Street dance has become big business. The virtuosic moves and joyous energy that the original b-boys of New York and Los Angeles brought to street corners, empty parking lots and impromptu clubs of the seventies spawned a genuine movement movement. Today, breaking, popping, locking, krumping, waacking and voguing are front and centre in pop concerts, street culture festivals, television advertising and popular shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance?” – and on an enormous international competitive battle circuit.
Gadfly is a new Toronto-based company founded by a couple of Montreal expats – Apolonia Velasquez and Ofilio Portillo. Both have a ton of commercial and competitive experience and last year they assembled a talented group of colleagues – all of who can dance circles around you and I. Like any one-year-old, the group is testing, trying, occasionally falling flat but mostly absorbed with conquering the big world in which they’ve been newly unleashed. Watchable, energetic and full of ideas, Gadfly nonetheless has a ways to go in the concert dance arena.
Their marketing byline reads: “When Theatre meets Street Dancing, where Artistry meets Entertainment”. I say: ‘About frickin’ time!” The concept of including entertainment for concert dance audiences is sometimes given short shrift. Gadfly dancers are thrilling to watch and the music they perform to – mostly sampled obscurities from the world of hip hop – is infectious. Lacking in the many snippets of group and solo choreography is a sustaining depth; performance trajectories that assume a reasonable attention span on the part of the viewer. Everything ends too soon and too abruptly. Starting with the opening sequence.
Velasquez appears in a stark circle of light, begins to move (she’s a powerful and compelling mover), and then walks off-stage just as I was starting to get excited about what was to come. There is a weird pause with the stage empty and then the rest of the performers start to enter in different configurations and groupings. As an introduction to the company it’s effective, but the choreography could be way more revealing of individual styles and personalities before ending the section in a freeze frame with all hands on deck. This framework repeats at the end of the show and if ever there was an opportunity to make explicit the group’s mandate about diversity and unity, this is it.
There were glimpses throughout the hour-long show of what could be. A group piece for the men of the company was more developed than some of the other snippets on offer and had the potential to go even further. Some distracting lighting changes and a few awkward transitions could be easily fixed to even further highlight the unique blend of hip hop dance styles and theatricality of the individual performers.
Happily each of those performers gets a moment in the spotlight. Some deserve much more. Ofilio Portillo’s solo is way too short – he has a really relaxed and charming presence and technique, and I don’t necessarily want to have to tune in to this season’s “So You Think You Can Dance Canada” (he’s a semi-finalist) to see it. Mathieu Walker was another standout soloist for me. His b-boy and R&B jazzy moves shone with a clean charisma and tremendous power. But again, way too short. I found myself wondering if this kind of athleticism simply can’t be sustained.
The women are great too. I love watching Velasquez and the saucy dynamo Addy Chan. And Emily Law – who traverses the realms of contemporary dance (she performed recently with Kaha:wi Dance Theatre) and house (she’s a locker, a waacker and a founding member of the house crew Warehouse Jacks) with seeming ease – is a fascinating performer.
I could go on about the strengths of each Gadfly member for pages; there’s simply not enough room here. But I really hope that they continue to work together, honing a collective coherence and further developing an awesome range of talents. If they can take the time and have the faith in their own talents to edit/expand their work more rigorously, the future looks bright for Gadfly.