Befitting a show dedicated to Gene Kelly, I walked in the pouring rain to the Al Green Theatre in Toronto to see Anatomy of a Dancer by Breakaway Entertainment and choreographed by Adam Martino. Usually, a thunderstorm would be a wet enough blanket to stop audience members from attending a show, let alone a 10:30pm start time, but the opening night was nicely attended. Maybe I wasn’t the only one who thought it romantic.
The dancers are the reason to sit soaking wet in an air-conditioned theatre. Ashley Harju, Alayna Kellett, Jacqueline Dos Santos, Matthew Eldracher, Micah Enzlin, Rohan Dhupar, Sam Black and Stéphanie Visconti are technical, stylish dancers and vivacious performers. Their energy was unwavering throughout the high-cardio, fifty-five-minute show, during which we were treated to big jumps, impressive turns and even a few backflips.
We saw all the favourite classic steps: the Charleston, Singin’ in the Rain tap and a sweet duet ending with a hat-hidden kiss and a popped, high-heeled foot. Although the choreography was at times repetitive (except for an all-too-short duet involving a kazoo), Martino’s talent and passion for Broadway jazz is clear.
But I question: is it possible to make a feminist mid-twentieth-century show?
The story, with narration by singers Madison Hayes-Crook and Robbie Fenton, follows the career of Kelly and features the four male dancers exquisitely, but for me it felt like the female dancers were still accessories. The humour is given to the men; the big finishes are given to the men; and the women are there to emphasize the men’s success.
I’ve had this conversation many times, and the excuses “The story is about a man” and “But that’s how it was back then” always come up. I think the creativity in telling old stories lies in how we tell them. Sure, the story is about a man and that’s how it was back then, but can we pay tribute to the past in the context of now? Harju, Kellett, Dos Santos and Visconti’s powerful virtuosity appears limitless. When you have eight of some of the strongest jazz dancers in one studio, it seems like the possibility of unleashing each dancer’s potential is up for grabs.
When I ask myself why Kelly is important, my answer is that he played a part in making dance accessible to film audiences. Usually, we don’t pay tribute to choreographers who didn’t change the industry in some way, so what would it look like if we honoured these changemakers by continuing to move the industry forward? A powerful big finish from a woman, that doesn’t include posing with a man, may be a good first step.
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