Toronto Fringe Festival

I can’t believe that I’m still up.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  Actually, I do know what I was thinking: back home, before we left, I said to Daniel, “We’re going to Toronto for two years. We have to make the most of it.  If I get home from work and there’s a chance to go out and experience something, we should go.  None of this staying home on a Saturday night because we’re tired.”  I’d better not get run down and sick.  I have 7 days straight of noon – 22:30 shifts starting tomorrow.

Tonight I saw a Toronto Fringe Festival performance, at the Randolph Theatre, which is on Bathurst Street.  I booked my ticket through my new membership at  The ticket pickup instructions were strict: arrive between 22:30 and 22:45 at the front door only.  Latecomers will not be admitted.

Not wanting to risk being late I left home at 21:30.  As expected in a city where trains run frequently I got a train within a minute and it was only about 5 stops West, then 2 blocks walk South.  I arrived at 22:00 for a 23:00 show.  The dancers weren’t even in the building, as the previous Fringe show was still showing.  They gave me my ticket and I asked where to get coffee.  On the corner of Bathurst and Bloor the coffee shop that they’d directed me to, Greenbean, had just shut.  Luckily the rash of Starbucks and 2nd Cup doesn’t stop at University Ave and continues West, like secondary syphilis along extremities.  I ordered an espresso double macchiato.  You have to say “espresso” or else you get drip brown water drinks.

In the coffee shop a not-too-dishevelled woman walked in and asked the barista to borrow a broom, to sweep something up by the trash cans.  “I should sweep it up,” she said.  I didn’t make eye contact.  The barista acknowledged her request then continued with what he was doing.  The woman started talking to me anyway, “I’m a good witch but I don’t carry a broom with me.”  My shoulders slumped a little.  It was late, I was tired, I had to stay awake to watch a contemporary dance performance in a fringe festival (you just know it will be abstract and difficult to engage with), and now I had a witch wanting to make conversation.  The witch explained, “My name is Paulwitch, so I call myself a witch…” I struggled to follow her but smiled wanly.  “Looks like I’m not getting a broom!” she declared.  I inwardly groaned.  Had I made eye contact with a local regular that they knew to ignore?

As I was out to experience Toronto, and the world, I gave in to curiosity and joined her conversation.  “You should consider teleporting,” I responded to her soliloquy about why she didn’t like brooms because she didn’t like flying as the aeroplanes could just fall out of the sky… no insurance can help you if you’re dead!” All reasonable negative outcomes, I agreed, but surely equally applicable to crossing a road, if not more so, given statistics?

Thankfully the double-cup I was handed that is apparently what a double short macchiato in Toronto (it was piled up with foam to the brim) let me high-tail it out the front door and down the road.  I took my chances with the oddly dressed waiting on the steps to the theatre.

As with any Fringe Festival the same venue was being used for about ten shows a day, and the last show was going to start late.  I asked where the toilets (they call them “washrooms” here, which is odd because I needed to empty my bladder into a toilet, not wash myself) were, and when I came back outside there was now a queue to go inside.

The girl in front turned around and asked if I’d heard what the “usher” (she looked like the stage manager to me) had said about, “Go to the toilet now!” I pointed to where I’d just gone to the toilet – in the complete opposite direction to the front of house and she ran off.

A man queued up behind me, and a few more people behind him.

I must be giving off a “talk to me, I’m friendly” vibe tonight because he started to talk to me to.  “What brings you here?”

I’m a literal person.  Maybe my thought processes are sometimes concrete.  What did he mean to ask such an obvious question?  I didn’t understand.  I struggled to reply, “A dance show?”  Is that the correct answer.  I’m here to see the performance.  I don’t hang around refurbished churches at 23:00 to line up in queues while I could be happily asleep in my own king sized bed. Maybe he was trying to be friendly.  He did sound Canadian.  I didn’t want to appear to be the rude foreigner (it is so hard being the foreigner, I’m constantly on edge editing my behaviour, hoping it’s not rude; it must be what it’s like to be English).

Unfortunately, and the same goes elsewhere, if you reply to the first question there is inevitably a second, and a third.  My body language was not welcoming.  I was still facing forwards with my arms folded.  I politely gave succinct responses to his questions.  I wasn’t interested in his name-dropping every single show he’d seen in the venue.  They mean nothing to me.  I was not in awe of hearing about the last dance work using spoken word and movement, together in the one piece.  I’ve done that.  In Perth I got sick of that.  I worked in a dance company where we were learning to be actors, which was fun, but sometimes I just wanted to move and not talk.  I felt like debating the merits for appreciating pure movement, or abstract movement.  I trained in classical Indian dance, where there are three styles of dance performance recognised, one pure movement, the other expressive or something and, well it’s been years since I danced.

I tried to run off when we got our tickets torn.  “Well, enjoy the show!” he cried out to me. He ended up the row in front of me, and had found a new friend to talk to.  One who felt like talking back.  I was in the mood to talk early this evening, which I did.  My talking energy reserves had run out.  I just wanted to passively observe performers on stage.  That, and when it got boring daydream.

The first work used a lot of pre-recorded text, reciting a narrative.  The accents were odd.  The story was disjointed.  The motivations and conflicts discordant.  At the same time a dancer was flailing about on stage, repeating the same phrases and looking energetically out into the 4th wall.  5 other dancers surrounded him, watching him.  I get irked by the presence of bodies on stage that aren’t involved and don’t need to be, or are half-arsed involved like, we are just standing in neutral and gazing at him like it means something.  Well, if it part of the show be present and be part of the show.  If you are going to use your eyes, use them!  In the Southern Indian classical dance style that I trained in, Bharathanathyam, there are a million eye movements.  All important.  Eye exercises are to be done.  Gaze is not a passive hollow thing that randomly engages other performers or the audience.

The first work came and went.  As did my interest in watching it.

The second work had readily discernible themes: human encounters, how they interact blah blah blah.  You could tell because of the generic movement devices they kept repeating.  All look at her.  All look at him.  You initiate her leg to move by pushing her hip.  They are movement-making tasks you use in workshops.  But if you’re going to use them in a work, it would be nice if the choreographed outcome flowed.  It’s like watching people act at fighting.  I’ll swing my fist towards your face, but decelerate so I don’t hurt you.  At some time that doesn’t match the flow of energy I’ll move my head backwards, because that is the reaction to the force.

One performer gave me the shits.  She was meant to be doing partner work.  The movements were meant to be male dancer holding back the female. He stared at her, she stared stage right.  Where is the motivation in that?  Either look at the restraining hand or pull against the restraint while looking where you try to move your body to.  She made what could’ve worked as choreography look like mime.  Maybe that was the point.

There was a short statured woman who, like Claudia, has enormous stage presence.  Not excessive energy but beautiful alignment, invites being seen, gaze acknowledging what she sees.  It was as if she had listened to the choreographer’s instructions.  I watched her the most.  I wished I owned a company so I could yell out, “Hey I’m giving YOU a job because you’re doing it better!”

The program irritated me too.  It was full of wanky statements.  “Brings together 10 of Toronto’s finest dancers…” What only the finest?  Why can’t I see the fat ones too?  Or the not so coordinated.  The dancers I’m watching aren’t very fine.  One of them was chatting and having  a cigarette half an hour ago in front of the theatre when he could have been warming up, or practising, which would have helped.

As the choreography evolves, subtle links are established and reveal reality for what it is: a fragile surface over a chaotic underworld that holds no permanent answers.

Something can exist over time and continue to exist or change over time.  I wouldn’t define evolution as something that hasn’t changed much over time.  Evolution surely requires the end to be different to the beginning?

I always find dogmatic statements in program write-ups like “reaveal X for what it really is: blah” to be a little jarring.  What if I don’t agree that “X really is blah”?  In my experience, and observation, and beliefs and expectation X should just be X.  Why should X be more complicated?

And why does everything end up having a “fragile surface” beneath which there is chaos?

Skin is not a fragile surface.  It’s tough.  Try threading a pigtail catheter into a tract that hasn’t been dilated enough.  Beneath skin isn’t another fragile surface covering chaos.  It’s different tough tissues that function quite well, all squashed together.

Maybe I’m just hanging out for the dance work that says, “We thought we’d explore reality.  Our expectations of reality.  How we react when those expectations are not met.  Does everybody share a common reality?  Or can we coexist in different realities?   What happens when discordant realities collide? By the end of our dance-making process we came to the conclusion that reality is a wholly subjective experience, unique to each person.  If we were to experience everybody’s reality simultaneously we think it would be rather boring.  Like watching a room slowly get covered in dust.  So that you, the audience, don’t start tearing the fabric of the chairs in frustration watching our work we made up some pleasantly dynamic phrases of movement to which we matched some synergistic sound and paid both a lighting and costume designer to provide good lights and costumes so you don’t have to spend ten minutes wondering why the dancers look like they are in rags, even though they’re meant to be characters that shouldn’t be dressed in rags. And why is that male dancer wearing jeans?  They are so annoying to dance in.

I think I day dreamed when the short woman was hidden behind the man in front of me’s head.  I felt like turning into Ruth Osborne and start yelling out my notes, “Look up!  I could get people off the street to do this better!”

So many broken wrist arm positions.  It looks like you’ve got a Colle’s fracture and your placing your arm to get plastered.  Is that the intention?  If not, why not continue the line from the shoulder, along the brachium, over and around the elbow, forearm, and through the wrist to the fingers?  I kept seeing the arm position that stereotypic little girls make while tip-toeing through a garden.

I’m glad that I went.

I both miss dancing and was glad that I wasn’t on stage at 23:00 to a straggly audience somewhere West of Spadina.

Walking briskly back to the subway station with a few other audience members behind I heard one suggest that he preferred the first work because he could, “… understand it better.”  It’s contemporary dance!  It needs no narrative.  The second work, if matured a bit more, would have been a beautiful exploration in movement of the ideas about human interaction, brief encounters, and then some tenuous link to apparently reality being chaos covered by a thin layer of fabric or mist or something.  I bet the entire audience would have been captivated if, instead of having dancers lying on the floor, breathing, they pulled a few off stage (they’re called WINGS), a spot lot on the one person doing what demonstrated the choreographer’s idea, a few moments of unison to reinforce the imagery and because it just looks so nice (the show was constant attention division between left and right stage pairs of people doing different things, at once).

Both works ran half-way along the track but slowed down and didn’t finish for me.

I’ve no idea what stage they are at though.  It’s Fringe.  Did they start last month?  Was there a remount from another work?

I should’ve read a program.


4 thoughts on “Toronto Fringe Festival

Add yours

  1. I can tell you’re worked up because you used “your” instead of “you’re”.

    By the way, I am not stalking your blog, I have been at home sick all week so not much else to do.

    1. Hmm if people other than family and myself are going to read this I’d better proof-read them!

      Hope you aren’t too unwell.

      I have no idea how to spell any more. Two weeks of using Dragon dictation software makes me appreciate anything that comes up on the screen that looks remotely like the idea of what I thought in my head. I’m even happy with nonsense phrases too.

  2. I didn’t know that you trained in classical Indian dance!

    Thanks for some interesting comments on the dance. I am not very familiar with the language.

    I would love to see you do choreography for a modern dance piece about the layers of skin in the body.

    I am home sick too, with bronchitis.

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