Susie Burpee's clown alter ego Allegra Charleston hosts this year's Dusk Dances.
Dusk Dances has been making dance accessible in city parks every summer since 2004. The possibility of wind, thunderstorms and heat waves notwithstanding, the latest edition touches down in leafy Withrow Park for seven nights from Monday (August 1), with matinees on August 4 and 7. Host and contributing choreographer Susie Burpee explains why Dusk Dances' al fresco outings always draw huge crowds. duskdances.ca.
1. The audience is a mix of families, neighbourhood kids and dance buffs, and the programming's just as eclectic
In addition to a pre-show Nia class, Gadfly represents for street dance and hip-hop; Montreal duo La Otra Orilla offer an alternative take on flamenco; and Michael Caldwell and Burpee present contemporary pieces. Then there's Auto-Fiction from Montreal-based Milan Gervais, which uses a car as a prop for three dancers to explore links between nature and urban sprawl.
2. It's interactive, so don't be shy
Before each performance of Burpee's This is How We Love, audience members are asked the question "How does love make you feel?" Responses then determine some aspects of Sylvie Bouchard and Brendan Wyatt's performance. "I love the collision of chance and craft", says Burpee, who revised the 2012 work specifically for the park. "It's how I've found a way to work with other people that's really satisfying and that feels real. This is more than a structured improv; everything is set. But the interpretation can really change from night to night."
3. The MC will guide (and entertain) you at each point
This year's host, Allegra Charleston (one of Burpee's clown alter egos), is a bit of a wild card. "She's very spirited, and I've had to clean her up a bit for DD", says Burpee, who has trained in buffon and other clown styles and often works with character, persona and costume. "Her British accent swings wildly from region to region - she sounds like Adele and Jamie Oliver rolled into one. But I was most curious what it would be like to have this intercessor persona, someone who was aware of the arts but was really in that space between performer and civilian mode."
More than in comedy, Burpee is interested in the undeniable truth of those moments when theatre meets the real world. "I keep returning to buffon and clown because it's almost like reaching for a higher plane. Those galvanizing moments with the audience, when everyone understands that something amazing and real is happening, are something you can't really get anywhere else. It's a little addictive."
4. Expect the unexpected
How do performers deal with the notorious volatility of the setting - the unpredictable crowds, the weather, the uneven terrain? "As an artist, there's something really great about being accountable to the environment you're in," says Burpee. "We've had to make some shifts to make things work in the park. It's interesting to take dance out of its four-walled container and see what happens when you lose the architecture and the controlled surroundings. There are great opportunities that are gained, like how you place colour against the foliage, the wind and all the beautiful, magical things that happen. But, yeah, it's always a bit nerve-racking."
5. There will be dogs and children
We know that children and dogs are always going upstage everyone, and they are everywhere in the park. The question, says Burpee, is, "Can you be smart enough and a great enough artist to work with that?"
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