After the warmth and coziness bestowed upon us by the holidays, Toronto lapses into the middle stretch of winter when days are bitterly cold and the nights and sun seem to disappear far too soon. It’s that time of year when everyone hunkers down and grits their teeth until spring bulbs poke their heads through the thawing earth. Lethargy, however, was not an issue for Toronto’s performing arts scene, which broke up the winter doldrums at Next Stage Theatre Festival (NSTF), a Toronto Fringe event.
This year was the festival’s ninth and featured fan favourites from the summer’s lottery event. The only dance highlight was Urban Myth, brainchild of York University grad Deanne Kearney, who is also a dance teacher with Toronto B-Girl Movement.
The gregarious Amadeus “Primal” Marquez hosted the final performance of Urban Myth. It turned out to be his mother’s birthday and because she was in the audience, he opted to have a little fun with the crowd at our expense. Encouraging us to shout “Happy birthday, Mama Prime” and to imitate “pew-pew” gun noises, he muttered with a grin each time, “See, Mom? I told you I could make them do it.”
Unlike other dance shows that run uninterrupted from start to finish, Primal introduced each vignette, giving the audience background information and what to expect, before the dancers took to the stage. Superheroes, coordinated by Kearney, opened the show with Primal instructing the audience that the louder and more raucous they were, the more the dancers would feed off that energy and raise the excitement of the show.
And they did. Primal (playing the part of Batman dancing in the krump style) was joined by Caroline “Lady C” Fraser (The Flash, dancing in the locking style), Anthony “Illz” Put (Superman, breakdancing), Caitlin “Caddy” Superville (Wonder Woman, waacking) and Raoul “Jin” Wilke (Green Lantern, house) as each one took turns freestyling and showing off their respective skills. It was a short little intro that set the stage for an hour of high energy, varied dance moves and incredible athleticism that continued to wow.
Following the opening was The WaaQuettes Present: The Tale of the Golden Necklace choreographed by Caddy with six dancers — Alix Kell, Annie Wang, Jennalee Desjardins, Katherine Ye, Mickey Nguyen and Viola Wang. The piece was a fairy tale set to a soundtrack with the likes of The Temptations, The Flying Lizards and more blood-pumping music. It was intense, enigmatic and mysterious, and no one dancer stood out above any other. Each member of the WaaQuettes has different strengths that converge into one enthralling result, whether it’s Annie and Viola playing the parts of the rich losing the golden necklace that the innocent finds, or three members of the troupe outfitted in catsuits slithering around the stage in surgically precise timing. It’s like looking at a Picasso painting where so many different elements can stand on their own, but come together to form a unit that’s bold, colourful and full of various shapes.
The third vignette countered the previous piece and its arcing narrative. Hide and Seek was abstract and freewheeling and featured a solo performance choreographed and danced by bboy Illz. His moves were slinky and low to the ground, making good side-to-side use of the stage, but not from back to front. Illz started and ended his routine by lying on the stage curled up with a pillow, but in the time between, he put on a dazzling performance of lightning-fast footwork interspersed with slow-motion slides reminiscent of Neo from The Matrix.
Halfway through the show the audience was anchored back into Urban Myth’s theme of superheroes, superlatives and the supernatural with Heroes choreographed by Mariano “Glizzi” Abarca. A quartet known as Footnotes Elite made one of the biggest and strongest impressions of the night, as each dancer displayed an impressive sense of group timing and dedication to the overarching theme of heroes living ordinary lives, without ever sacrificing their own individuality. The dancers’ moves ranged from sultry and smooth to crisp and high-flyin’, with an almost psychic sense of timing and anticipation.
A risk in following such a strong performance is not being able to keep the creativity at the same high level, but Apocalypse, choreographed and danced by Raoul Wilke, shattered that possibility, especially with his addition of Toronto’s Moon Runners crew. Each of the four dancers displayed a unique personality, whether it was dancing with fingers and only sitting in a chair, showing off incredibly bendy and rubbery ankles or maneuvering a set of arms that were so flexible they seemed to have been stripped of bones. To top it all off, Wilke underscored the performance with a moving narrative about the end of the earth.
One of the many strengths of Urban Myth is Kearney’s ability to sequence each vignette like a batting lineup: each performer or group was at the same high level, but their performances showed off their unique strengths. Lady C’s A Siren Sound was another example of this. Her performance to Prince’s The Ballad of Dorothy Parker was strong enough to stand on its own but also contained threads of Urban Myth that made it feel like a chapter from the same book. Dressed in a semi-sheer, black one-piece pantsuit and a straw boater hat, Lady C displayed moves that were natural, like a spontaneous performance in a club, instead of rehearsed and choreographed for the stage.
The show wrapped with Primal’s choreographic contribution, Good People/Bad Things, which was a story about domestic abuse. To explain the details and intricacies would both take up too much space and draw attention away from the overall aesthetic as there were several interwoven storylines, but it was a strong performance that put an exclamation mark on Urban Myth. One of the eeriest parts of the piece was the figure of Death creeping around, physically unseen by the characters, which injected a sense of foreboding and an imminent demise to each person’s story. It also showed off Primal’s talents in emceeing, choreographing, dancing and storytelling. He’s a multi-talented performer Toronto should keep their eyes on.
So while the wind may have been whipping around grey clouds and snow flurries outside, inside the Factory Theatre it was sizzling hot and a very welcome respite from the season that always seems to overstay its welcome.