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Dancing Damsels Inc.

A multicultural organization for arts promotions & women empowerment

TIDF 2016- REVIEW

“ More, more please! Do it again!” 

The Toronto International Dance Festival has grown from humble beginnings to become a repeating and memorable feature of the Toronto’s annual Arts Scene. Due to the energy and vision of its Managing Director, Mary Ashok, all this has happened within three years of the organization’s inception. This year’s December evening of celebatory dance, presented a medley of affirmative multicultural examples, was infused with life-affirming energy. My husband, not normally much of an arts fan, expressed his reaction with a few simple words: “ More, more please! Do it again!” Each of the 15 distinct examples that came to the stage worked with the others to provide an amazing multicultural smorgesboard that was outstanding for its professional choreography and technical execution. But more importantly, each presentation was bouyed by a spirit of joy and uplift. Taken together, all fifteen of these geographically wide-ranging and culturally diverse dance performances seemed to fuse as one to make a unifying statement: “Dance is the hidden language of the human soul.”

This amazing TDIF show presented dance as a universal poetic urge through which culturally specific forms of rhythm and movement can be yoked together. Each form expresses a specific pride in local heritage, while at the same time conveying a universal yearing that there be understanding and respect shown for each unique expression within that vast variety. The dancer is an artist, a craftsperson whose message reaches all who care to watch. All the rhythmns and movements of dance share a common voice which cries out: We are diverse and yet we are one! There are a near-infinate number of ways ways the human body form can be linked to diverse beats, jumps, and twists, plus specific styles of adorment. Yet, in this Harbour Front show, all these bodies seemed to speak as one. At this important event dancers from around the world joined to convey a message begging for harmony but also for individual admiration. What better way to spread hope in the face of the dark politics of division that is defining our time?

1) Rise of the Phoenix, by the Chinese Collective Arts Association

This was a very suitable opening piece, full of beauty and of intricate, well executed manoeuvres. The Phoenix dance conveyed the sense of a beautiful bird rising from the ashes, while the colours of the costumes created a stunning effect that was further emphasized by the dancers’ swirling scarves. The Phoenix and Dragon together symbolize the perfect harmony of yin and yang, just as the many bodies in this dance seemed almost weightless. The eight females and sole male dancer left the audience with a new hope: perhaps still more joy lay ahead?

Here is a survey of the program’s many jewels, the the order of their appearance:

2) Kalbelia, A Cobra Gipsy Dance from Rajasthan, by the Obskurah Dance Company

This was a solo performance by Ariane Terveld who danced in a folk style native to the Kalvella nomads who live in the western Rajasthani desert. She wore a gipsy outfit and repeatedly twirled to raise the folds of her very voluminous skirt. The background music was reminiscent of the woodwind sounds used by Indian snake charmers. It was a real treat to see this positive assertion of pride in what is clearly a local folk tradition. Ariane’s dance was unique, energetic and riveting for those of us in the audience.

3) Gatibilas, An Odissi Dance, by the Mrudanga Dance Academy

This third event consisted of a beautiful solo performance by Enkasi Sinha whose theme was animal personalities. Enkasi presented a unique dance designed to express the idea of a horse, then a lion, next a swan, then a cuckoo, and finally a peacock. Her dance was executed in the Odissi style, a two thousand year old tradition associated with the region now known as the Indian state of Orissa. Enkasi’s moves were graceful and classically informed, while her original theme encouraged the audience to engage with her and enjoy discovering the precise moments when one animal morphed into the next.

4) A Contemporary Afghan and Indo Central Asian Dance, by Ensemble Topaz

This lovely folk dance was presented by three women wearing very colourful dirndl skirts, an outfit that were nicely complemented by their airy, flowing scarves. Their movements flowed one into another using a gentle and feminine style that reminded one, at once, of whirling dervish traditions and of lovely peasant women from the Central Asian steppes. It would seem that the cultural roots of this dance form stem from the culture of several peoples whose homes lay along the famous trade routes that once crossed nearby, serving to link India with Europe for many millennia. The dancers were accompanied by a live saxophone player and the music had light Arab-Muslim overtones.

5) Raban Dance, by Roosara Dance

This dance style hails from the Kandy area of Sri Lanka. It is performed at the New Year ceremony and is famous for the use of the Raban or one sided hand drum made from a Jack tree plus the skin of a goat. It is a folk instrument and its rhythms are called Raban Sural. These drums are played mainly at festivals and are associated with songs sung by women. There were two parts to this performance; first a group of 11 young females (plus one boy?) followed by a second group of ten older women accompanied by a solo lead male whose dance skills were stunning. Theis dance troupe’s multiple poses were striking and colourful, making a unique contribution to the larger show.

6) Kathak Duet, by Panwar Music and Dance

This absolutely thrilling duet was performed by Vaishali Panwar and Hemant Panwar. I found it to be one of the most enthralling of all the events in the program. Native to northern India, Kathak is one of the six classical Indian dance forms. This couple’s rendition of the style was beautifully choreographed and flawlessly executed. Always in perfect sync, their story portrayed a core inter-dependence between the sun and the stars. The whole was original, poetic and complied of endless graceful moves. Bravo to this magnificent and original duo team!

7) Turiya, by Anandham Dance Theatre

This piece stood out as unique, different and ultra-modern. It was danced by one solo performer dressed in a black, skirted leotard: Brandy Leary. Self-choreographed and themed, Brandy’s movements presented a striking combo of yoga, a Kerala-based Kalaripayat tradition of martial art training, plus a few Western dance school conventions. Called a “poetry in motion” this piece focused on the celebration the human body form and its almost endless posture possibilities. This was certainly the most “far out” of the fifteen dance presentations seen, grounding that cornucopia of styles and expressive themes by finding a place at it’s most individualistic, modern end. Turiya refers to the fourth and highest possible state of human consciousness, perhaps intended to articulate the inner mental state understood to accompany this stark, yet intricately-moving-and contorted body-dance theme.

8) Egyptian Belly Dance, by Belly Up & Ala Nar Ensemble

This very lively, even raucous performance brought the first half of the larger show to a close. All five dancers were highly skilled. Their ethnic diversity, furthermore, as well as differences their body types made for an interesting and entertaining troupe combo. Santa Claus, a connective thread that wove together these many performances, “watched” these belly dancers and announced that he had been greatly enlivened and energized by them! It is no wonder. These five women were really fun. They danced with vigour and also with panache.

9) FESTACC Dance of the Gods, by Ijo Vudu Dance International

This performance opened the second part of the evening and it proved to be as equally lively as the Belly Dancing that had just preceded the intermission. There were several live drums on stage and 7 drummers, 3 of which also danced. The terrific rhythms and perfect sync of the players was amazing enough. But the dancers managed to top even this with their dazzling movements and gestures. Their act was fresh and exciting. It energized everyone. This “Voice of the Drums” was one of my favourite events of the evening!

10) Oorja, by Regatta Kala Kendra

Oorja is a Hindi word for energy and this troupe certainly had that! The presentation began with the reveal of a Kathakali-type character from behind a cloth curtain, a standard stage technique. Then the act developed to display many joyful Kuchipudi-style leaps performed by two amazing males. These highly energized men were complemented by two females in white. Their counterbalancing moves interwove highly controlled Bharatanatyam-style poses with the graceful twirls and sways of Mohiniyattam. Together these five dancers exuded a lively sense of ethereal celebration. Announced by a little girl from Madurai, the overall scene had a distinct Malayali feel, but blended in several other distinct dance traditions to create a very unique whole.

11) VYBE Dance Company – The Wedding, by Jasmin Cheung

This lovely and light-hearted piece portrayed a young couple in love punctuated by the bride’s traditional flower toss to other hopeful women attending her wedding. The piece included a variety of new urban dance styles like Hip Hop, Waacking, Popping and Locking. These were combined with skillful choreography to portray a rollercoaster of emotions. These nine young female dancers were full of spirit, making the energy of their performance highly infectious. This was a light and poetic piece that nicely complemented the wild emotion and complex moves just witnessed in the Oorja performance that preceded it. As a modern Chinese piece it fit nicely into the larger show and contributing a very contemporary, creative touch to the ensemble of presentations included on the program. All the support dancers wore tights topped with loose blouse-shirts. Only the bride was presented in a dress.

12) Long sleeve Dance, by KCPA – Chinese Performing Arts

This dance piece had the feel of the Beijing Opera. Fluid and entrancing, this story piece was inspired by the famous "Farewell My Concubine," an ancient Chinese war and love story of King of Chu and his concubine Yu. The background music used Beijing Opera drums plus a Jinghu (a Chinese bowed string instrument). The fifteen colourful dancers, all dressed in red, combined a formal operatic feel with a very modern expression of female freedom. The later was largely created by the many clever uses of their long scarf-like sleeves. The photo shows one particularly stunning effect, a moment where these dancers created spontaneous flames.

13) Ecuadorian Cultural Dance, by Huairapungo Ecuadorian Ethnocultural Group of Ontario

This was the only South American piece in the show and it was nicely presented. The five dancers, two men and three women, were all dressed in a (somewhat staged) yet obviously traditional, highland Ecuadorian style. The wide circular brims of those five moving white hats stood out. These were complemented by the performers’ colourful woollen ponchos (a reminder of the fact that many of these Andes- mountain dwellers are farmers who graze sheep for a living). This was clearly a peasant-style dance piece. It’s very modest choreography helped preserve the peasant feel of an unusually simple, even humble, yet very welcome folk performance.

14) Mayurbhanj Chhau – Indian Warrior Dance, by Madhusmitha Gharai and the Dancing Damsels

Presented near the end of the show, this stunning statement of women as classical Indian warriors was a breath taker! Six women wielding swords and shields danced about the stage in this piece full both of vigour and of grace. Their swords seemed symbolic. These dangerous implements were actually swung about with significant caution, even with gentleness. The idea here, it seemed, was the centrality of female power. Linked to the core philosophy of the Dancing Damsels’ group identity, these performers demonstrated their mission: be a female who exhibits a combo-blend of courage, conviction, skill and great resilience when faced with the challenge of a disagreeable opposing force.

15) Deck The Halls – Jazz, by Momentum Dance Toronto

The concluding dance troupe of the evening’s show was a lively presentation by seven women wearing short white skirts and ankle warmers. Though their dress suggested ballet, the music and the dance style reflected a jazz tradition. Adding to this melange was the music of Deck the Halls, a Christmas carol favourite. As the name of this troupe conveys, their dance had plenty of momentum along with cupfuls of joy and good cheer. Lovely to watch and uplifting in spirit this presentation provided a fitting conclusion to a very, very delightful evening. As all that had gone before, this dance troupe presented a modern/ traditional blend of thoughts and styles. It was a classical and yet creative performance that was delivered with zest and with grace....all woven into one. What a fine end piece it was!

16) The Coda – Santa Clause, by Elliot Rosenburg

There was a unique binding thread that helped to weave all of the above performances together: it was the story of Santa Clause. Santa did not just appear at the end of the night but was present throughout. Seen at the beginning as a depressed elderly man in old gym clothes, Santa gradually livened up as the show progressed. Importantly, he was encouraged in this by two of his reindeer-like helpers. These much younger men repeatedly try to get Santa to exercise and move about. The larger idea was that each successive dance act helped infuse Santa with new energy, gradually building up his positive outlook. Leaving the torn gym clothes behind the grand old Clause appeared repeatedly between a variety of the dance acts. With each stage entry he wore one more piece of his classic outfit. First Santa donned his boots, then added his red pants, then a matching jacket and belt and finally, near the end, he added his signature tuque. Santa’s comments were also revealing. He was a metaphor for a positive new role for dance in a proud multicultural society as well as for the joy of Christmas. He was all this rolled into one. Notably, Santa gradually gained energy, agility and good cheer as the night wore on. The audience was easily made to understand, through him, that the performances being watched, as Santa traveled in an instant around the world, was the magic responsible for this re-energizing feat called for by a tired and cynical world. Congratulations Santa! You are a true symbol of generosity and of multicultural 

understanding. Keep it up! You will be surely be needed again and again in the years to come!


Review by Dr.Brenda Beck, December 20, 2016