PVD: Discovery Walk takes place July 8-10 and 15-17 in Seaton Village in Toronto.
The closeness is striking. Three dancers in white huddle close on a patch of dirt on the front lawn. The audience gathers tightly on the sidewalk just steps away. The dancers sway as the music hums through the street, their eyes closed as if to centre themselves before the performance.
Porch View Dances: Discovery Walk is an interactive guided dance tour in which dance is performed through Seaton Village in downtown Toronto, turning residences into stages.
The first piece, named Ara Shushit or Flower Bodies, began with the dancers rooted in dirt. Soil flowed through fingers, hands reached to the sky emulating a flower blooming in the sunlight. The dancers were playful, emotive and mischievous.
They moved together, caressing each other softly and with care. The porch became their stage, one dancer peering through the stair rail in a moment of play, reminiscent of hide-and-seek.
Flashes of anguish pierced through the music. Wordless shouts from the dancers punctuated with claps and stomps brought moments of strength. One dancer, Abena, created moments of quiet grief with just their expression, and with the audience situated so close, the emotions felt raw and intimate.
At its heart, PVD: Discovery Walk embraces community and questions the idea of both audience and performer. Self-labelled as “Real people performing in real spaces,” the experience places the audience on a fence, straddling the line between observer and participant. It brings professional choreographers together with members of the community who have any level of dance experience and wish to participate and tell their stories.
This year saw the 11th annual return of the event, with a still modified format. While last year’s event was virtual, this year was hybrid. Along with the live aspect, Porch View Dances presented dance videos prompted by QR codes at specific locations – usually where they were filmed – as well as a glimpse of augmented reality (AR) technology. Drag queen Mary Moonshine lead the tour and brought smart quips and jokes as well as moments of sincere appreciation for the event.
These digital parts did their best to encourage immersion, bringing the audience to the site of the original dance and incorporating audience applause after the videos ended. But with the audio flowing from phones at different start times, and claps to imagined performers, these videos felt muted compared to the closeness of the first performance.
Audience members could, however, interact with the performance itself. First at the AR checkpoint, where one audience member stepped in front of phones to dance next to a virtual Karen Kaeja, seen only through screens. And next, at the final stop, for the Flock Landing. As the group arrived at Vermont Square Park, professional dancers led the way, and audience members were encouraged to join in the centre to follow along. The moves were simple but embraced the whole body, slow reaches, bends and twists. There was no judgment, no expectation of ability, just collective movement.
A testament to the safe space created throughout the evening, nearly the whole group joined in without a second thought. The movements were invigorating in the breezy evening air and capped the night with another example of the benefits of building community.
The question seemed to linger in the air: can a live performance exist without its performers present? Bookended with such strong live events and such moving audience inclusion, the question was answered. While digital innovation can be an effective stand in, live performance remains at its best in person, where the emotions are effervescent and the energy can sway between audience and performer.
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