STYGMATA created and performed by Gadfly as part of Dance Ontario’s 20th Anniversary Dance Weekend at the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). January 18 to 20, various times, Stygmata performances January 19 at 3 pm, January 20 at 2:45 pm. $10. harbourfrontcentre.com, danceontario.ca. 416-973-4000.
Seems like just yesterday that street dance was the gatecrashing bully at the concert dance party.
But things have changed rapidly in the past decade, and gritty street styles - from popping to krumping to waacking - are now welcome on the mainstage. What's more, these vocabularies of erstwhile discontent are impacting contemporary dance choreography.
Ofilio Portillo and Apolonia Velasquez, co-directors of Toronto urban dance collective Gadfly, have been part of that transition. A new commission for Dance Ontario's popular Dance Weekend showcase at Harbourfront means they're encroaching on what might seem the antithesis of street dance: classical ballet.
"Actually, they have many similarities," Velasquez points out. "Both have established foundations and technique. Both require a lot of power."
The difference between ballet and urban dance lies largely in presentation.
"Ballet is all about being perfect and appearing effortless," says Velasquez, who trained in ballet before tendonitis forced her to quit the form. "Whereas street dance most often appears to be about brute strength."
One is considered high art, the other more pop culture. But that doesn't necessarily mean they won't go together.
"What if we don't accept the labels and distinctions?" says Velasquez. "Let's just behave as if they're not even there."
Portillo, her partner on and offstage, says for all the rigour of ballet training, the standard classical rep fails to fully exploit the potential of the form. He thinks Gadfly can do better, go farther, challenge the dancers to the full extent of their training, and he cites artists like Crystal Pite and Wayne McGregor who are also pushing the ballet envelope.
Gadfly is excited by the possibilities of mashing up house footwork with pointe shoes, pas de bourées with closed hands and aggressive elbows.
Stygmata explores ideas of the societal norm and the challenges of true individuality, learning to live with what makes you different. Portillo and Velasquez cast five classically trained women for the 15-minute dance, not just because of their technique but also for their willingness to experiment.
"We create the movement by moving the way we do," says Velasquez. "And then we ask them to do it on pointe." She laughs: "Some of it is just impossible."
This year's Dance Weekend showcase includes a commission by choreographer Benjamin Landsberg and brief performances by local heroes Arte Flamenco, Collective of Black Artists (COBA), Ballet Jörgen, Louis Laberge Côté and AKA Dance, among many others.
The event's sampler format is all about mixing and matching new sensations, which suits the inquisitive Gadfly folks perfectly. They compare the world of dance to the world of martial arts, where each specific form comes with its own particular history, philosophy and priorities.
"You have to do your research and be responsible and pay due respect, but good choreographers should be able to get their ideas across no matter the form," says Portillo. "We're just curious ADD dance kids."