While the recently renamed Toronto International Dance Festival was leaner and better programmed than its predecessor (the fringe Festival of Independent Dance Artists), it still has a way to go if it wants to be an annual must for Toronto dance lovers.
Of the half-dozen shows we caught, the most satisfying was the gala opener, a rare program of works by Montreal's Margie Gillis.
Gillis is like an emotional lightning rod. She uses her body as expressively as anyone around, becoming in one piece a haunted woman who wants to leave a chair, in another an exotic, playful prehistoric beast flapping her feet together like flippers.
In Bloom, performed to the great closing monologue from James Joyce's Ulysses, Gillis traversed the stage in a simple housedress, capturing all the complex colours and moods of womanhood. She's not afraid to be earthy, vulnerable or proudly erotic.
She uses her long hair to great effect, whether it's tied up in a big braided rope (perhaps to suggest confinement) or free and flowing like another expressive limb. The close of the first act was stunning, as Gillis kept writhing, ecstatically grunting, even after the lights went down.
Her final piece, Butoh-like in its simplicity, was a visceral work about a mysterious voyage. Balancing on and weaving around several suitcases, Gillis became a reluctant, nervous passenger on the journey of life. This was dance theatre that spoke to anyone.
The same couldn't be said of a lot of what we saw. Of three mixed programs, it seems we missed the best, which everyone agrees was the third. In the first program, D.A. Hoskins 's work stood out, all hip post-ironic swagger, full of cute retro touches and inventive moves that nicely showcased the terrific dancers. In the second program, a piece by Montreal's MOTUS O Dance Theatre was full of fun imagery and witty gags but wasn't exactly dance.
Some big disappointments came from acts expected to draw a younger dance audience. Breakbone DanceCo 's work about technology and conformity showed off repetitive, banal moves, with video work that actually distracted you from the bodies onstage.
The two acts in the Urban Matinees program, meanwhile, were way underqualified to be on a ticketed program. The Larchaud Project attempted to mix breakdancing and contemporary dance, but the moves weren't well executed and the attempt at narrative was facile. What's On Tap , meanwhile, resembled a high school talent show. Its tapping performers never established individual personae and looked ridiculous doing a sequence to reggae tunes. (They're all white.)
Even a surefire program called the T.O. Trio , which gathered Claudia Moore , Marie Josée Chartier and Peggy Baker , felt unsatisfying. All three pieces have been shown to local audiences before, and of the three, only Baker's - a mysterious dance inspired by a story about the baby Krishna - had any real substance. Moore attempted to say something about Macbeth, and Chartier was stuck in her "let's make strange noises to seem profound" stage.