Short&Sweet: Toronto Edition was presented on July 8 at The Great Hall in Toronto.
The concept is brilliant.
In Short&Sweet, more than two dozen local artists perform whatever they want; the stage at the opulent Great Hall in Toronto’s West End is their blank canvas. The caveat: they only have 3 minutes.
The result is an explosive evening of experimentation and creation, showcasing live performance at its most daring.
It feels wrong to label the one-night event on July 8 as a “dance showcase,” even though it was presented by Toronto Dance Theatre. The smorgasbord of performances extend far beyond the genre, from contemporary dance and choreographed movement to short theatrical vignettes and spoken word poetry. Others simply defy categorization.
Some of the performances feel more traditional than others, solidly rooted in identifiable dance styles. Artistic duo CM² (Chantelle Mostacho and Caden MacKinnon) infused their high-powered, three-minute presentation with contact improvisation, waacking, and other street dance styles. Their two bodies propulsively drive into one another with rhythmic precision — their arms and legs bend and extend, creating cubic shapes with their limbs and the negative space around them.
Another highlight: Flamenco dancer Lia Granger, who provided a rousing, foot-stomping performance in the second half of the evening. The rat-a-tat rhythms from her flamenco heels stamping against the bare wooden stage reverberated off the high ceiling of the Great Hall. The juxtaposition of her frenetic steps with the graceful movement of her arms was enrapturing.
Yet as much as I enjoyed those dances, I found myself more drawn towards the out-of-the-box creations.
Like that of Kaelin Isserlin, whose wholly original movement piece with a technicolour parachute cast a hypnotic spell over the hall. Isserlin twirled the sprawling parachute around their body, the rainbow of colours blurring to create new ones. In one moment, the parachute was pulled taut against Isserlin’s face — their visage making a clear imprint on the elastic nylon sheet.
Or that of Nova Bhattacharya, an award-winning artist and the founding artistic director of Nova Dance. Instead of a dance, she used her three minutes to present a piercingly poignant spoken word poem. Opening herself up, with nothing more than a mic and a stand separating her and the audience, she spoke about what “risk” means to her, as a daughter of immigrants. Risk, as she shared in one example, is going to school with a South Asian name.
It was while watching Bhattacharya’s performance that I came to realize the stroke of genius of this event. It is because of this low-stakes environment, created by Toronto Dance Theatre, that these artists took risks and dared to explore something different.
It’s a win-win for audiences and performers alike. For the artists, the evening offered a space to try something new. And for audiences, it was a buffet of offerings. Where else could you watch a flamenco performance alongside a spoken word poem, a contemporary duet and a parachute dance?
As with any event of this nature, there were performances that simply didn’t work. A schtick involving peeling and throwing corn into the audience was a hoot for some, but left me scratching my head. And another performance involving what sounded like rhythmic breathing into a mic for 3 minutes straight, left me — and I suspect others, too — a little queasy. (As someone who had asthma growing up, that performance brought back too many unpleasant memories.)
Yet, after each performance — good or bad — the audience still responded with a rousing ovation. It was a truly appreciative audience, who created a safe space for sharing art.
Which brings me to my major qualm. The decadent Great Hall — with its club-style lighting, proscenium stage and pair of ornate chandeliers — feels like the wrong venue to host such a community event.
Placing a showcase that features the diverse artists and styles of the city today, in an antiquated venue from the nineteenth century, feels like nn odd anachronism.
An outdoor venue, or somewhere in-the-round, would be a more welcoming site for such an event.
Perhaps that’s something to consider for the future. Though this is Toronto’s first Short&Sweet, here’s to hoping it isn’t the last.