Residents of Toronto’s Seaton Village community get involved with Porch View Dances.
PORCH VIEW DANCES choreography by Karen Kaeja, Allen Kaeja, Michael Caldwell, Nova Bhattacharya and Maxine Heppner. A site-specific show starting at 84 London. Opens July 19 and runs to July 22, Thursday-Saturday 7 pm, Saturday and Sunday 2 pm. Pwyc. See listing.
JANE/FINCH ULPI PROJECT choreography by Robert Abubo, Lua Shayenne, Troy Feldman, Andrea Nann and Mariano.Oakwood Community Centre (350 Grandravine), August 25-26. Free. Both presented by Kaeja d’Dance. kaeja.org. See listing.
Ever since Jane Jacobs pointed it out, one of Toronto's proudest features has been our neighbourhoods. Two of them - Seaton Village and Jane/Finch - are integral to new contemporary dance project Urban Landscape Performance Initiatives (ULPI). Conceived by husband-and-wife team Karen and Allen Kaeja, the project teams professional choreographers and residents of both neighbourhoods to create and present new work in their own back (and front) yards - literally.
"Our basic interest was to access the stories that happen behind closed doors," says Karen Kaeja, who lives in Seaton Village with her family. "What would these stories look like if they were turned into movement and poured down the front stairs and into the yard for all to see?"
After soundings, town halls and community workshops, not to mention many hours of creation and rehearsal time, the 35 non-dancing residents of Seaton Village and 120 Jane/Finch participants are set to reveal themselves to their neighbours and the world at large.
"You can really see the appetite for physicality, animation and connection," Kaeja says shortly after her first viewing of the finished dances. "It's really beautiful - far beyond what I imagined."
Alongside both Kaejas, the choreographers working in Seaton Village on Porch View Dances are Nova Bhattacharya, Maxine Heppner and Michael Caldwell. Here, in leafy and modestly middle-class environs, the audience is invited to tour from house to house (entertainingly led by performers Tina Fushell and Diana Rose) to watch each dance unfold. The evening concludes with a "flock landing" communal performance at nearby Vermont Square.
The much less evocatively titled Jane/Finch ULPI Project takes place August 25 and 26 on the grounds of the Oakwood Community Centre at that neighbourhood's heart.
Here, the participating choreographers, the methodology and the general vibe of the project are all "completely different," Allen Kaeja points out. The Kaejas initially worked with 14 local organizations to source their untrained talent pool, and while there's a focus on youth, one piece features elderly performers working with choreographer Andrea Nann.
Also involved are Afrodance expert Lua Shayenne, bboy and musical talent Troy Feldman (currently part of the cast of War Horse) and local hip-hop star Mariano.
Both Porch View Dances and ULPI Jane/Finch spring from the Kaejas' recent work on integrating audiences into performances and exploring movement with untrained dancers. Though making dances with "real people" can be challenging, both choreographers readily comment on the special qualities non-dancers bring to the table.
"It's about authentic energy and life force," says Karen, who talks about the six-year-old in her piece sleepwalking through rehearsal after a day spent at soccer camp.
"All the members of the cast were supporting him, moving toward the energy of what he needs on the day. There is this constant rebalancing. It's a beautiful inconsistency."
Allen notes the "unbelievable originality and unpredictability" he's able to tap from his untrained cast members, a mother and son combo.
"There's no artifice, no performance value - they're just alive inside the movement. I believe the honesty and clarity of the performers will have a profound impact on the audience."
So impactful that they might be inspired to join in themselves during the flock landing finales. This dance project could give a whole new meaning to the term "neighbourhood watch."