Cheerleaders, salsa dancing, ballerinas, booty-shaking—the U of T Festival of Dance had it all. The 20th annual festival kicked off last Friday and stretched out into Saturday, providing audiences with hours of diverse dance troupes.
This year’s theme, according to festival director Deborah Lim, was “Trip Around the World”. The inspiration for this came from the fact that Toronto would be hosting the Pan Am and Parapan American games this summer.
The first night sold out within minutes; the line to get in went past the Hart House Theatre doors. Once seated, the energy in the audience took over the room—chanting, applause, and hollering welcomed the dancers to the stage.
The night kicked off with Hart House Classes performing “Living it up in the City”, which featured music by Bruno Mars, Chris Brown, and Ed Sheeran. Because they were a gigantic class of dancers, they were very uncoordinated and many of them got lost in the crowd of dancers on the stage. However, given that several of them had never danced before, it was nice to see them move as well as they could with the dancers who had performed before.
After them was SMC Troubadours performing a piece from Fiddler on the Roof, “L’Chaim”. They were the only theatrical performance of the night and they were terrific. The entire ensemble was wonderful and Shak Haq did a great job with choreography.
Following them was Celtic Dance Centre, my favourite of the evening. Nataliya Laptyeva was first and danced to “Three Sea Captains” by Michael Fitzpatrick. She was simply enchanting; she had flawless footwork and was so graceful. She was a delight to watch.
Next was another knockout group of the evening, Dragonfly Student Troupe. They performed a belly-dancing piece and were incredible. They all flowed together very well and nailed the choreography. With eight dancers, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle, but they were all wonderful.
Following them was the UTM Dance Team. At ArtsFest I was underwhelmed when they performed their routine to Ed Sheeran’s “All of the Stars”. But with a larger stage they were pretty amazing. Once given more room to breathe on stage, these ladies really came to life. They moved as one, were graceful, and had none of their earlier problems.
After them was Clara Steinhagen from the Celtic Dance Centre. She was one of my favourite performances of the two days. Her dance “Warrior” was fierce and extremely well done. I couldn’t even understand some of her moves; the way she was bending her feet during her performance was incredible.
Following her was the Arabesque Academy, who were simply enchanting. They danced a sensual, Egyptian-themed dance filled with body-rolling and hip-shaking you’d usually only ever get from Shakira.
The UTM Dance Team returned to dance to “Nirvana” by Sam Smith. Their performance was on par with their last one.
The Celtic Dance Centre returned, this time uniting both girls for a duet. They were flawless together; they performed moves side by side but would also dance their own choreography at parts.
The U of T Medical Dance Team, a new dance team on campus, was next. A small group took to the stage for “Med Mix Dance” with an uncoordinated, relatively lacklustre routine, but it was unclear whether or not these students had ever had any training before. If they were inexperienced dancers, it would be more understandable.
Next was one of the crowd-pleasers. JP Nunez and Fiona Su came out and danced to “Hiphip Chinchin” for their salsa performance. These two were knockouts. They reminded me of the kinds of dancers on So You Think You Can Dance who, before they even finish their routine, have all three judges handing them tickets to Vegas. The audience, myself included, loved them.
Leading into intermission was Culture Shock Toronto with “Roles”, a routine about going against stereotypical gender roles. They moved with great energy and were pretty in tune with one another. I also really appreciated the message they chose to get across.
Coming back from the break, the audience saw Hart House Classes return with another mediocre performance that consisted of far too many dancers on stage. However, I will say that this routine was better than their last one and they moved better as a group.
UTM Dance Team followed them with a performance set to four Beyoncé songs. They seemed to lose their fire a bit and I expected much more powerful moves to go with the songs they chose.
Next was U of T Urban Dance Revolution, which I was excited to see because we hadn’t gotten too many urban dancers on stage yet. As a group they were pretty in sync but they weren’t as strong as some others.
Celtic Dance Centre returned with Laptyeva giving another astonishing performance, “Firedance”. SMC Troubadours also returned with another musical number. However, I enjoyed this one a bit more, even though this one had much more acting, which was wonderful, than dancing. Dragonfly Student Troupe also returned with another wonderful performance.
UT Unity and Fo’Real Dance came together next for “No Smoking in the Champagne Room”, and were terrific as an ensemble. They told a great story and the audience could really see the theatrics merge with their dancing. The two groups merging obviously brought a large number of dancers on stage at once, but they played on each other’s strengths and had no trouble working with one another.
Celtic Dance Centre returned with their last performance of the night, with Steinhagen returning to dance “Queen of the Fairies”, which was just as sublime as their previous ones.
Independent came back out with two dancers and their routine “This is for You, Colville” which referred to the artist Alex Colville. Their dance was more on the interpretive side and was a bit strange to watch but as a duo they moved well.
Next was GeoMetriX Dance, who presented “Disconnected”, a story about how many of us today are plugged into our phones and missing out on live experiences. They were fantastic as a group and their choreography wasn’t too complicated throughout, which allowed all of them to flow as one.
A solo member from UTM Dance Team, Alexandra Ieraci, returned with “Love Lockdown” and I’m glad her performance was the last one from the team because she was amazing. I didn’t want them to have ended with the Beyoncé one. Ieraci was an exquisite dancer and a great second-last performance of the evening.
Hart House Classes wrapped things up with “Class and Sass”, which, once again, remained on par with their last ones.
The second night, especially the first half, was not entertaining a full house and was filled with pretty disappointing performances.
Opening was UTM Dance Club with an underwhelming performance, “Stand Up”. They lacked enthusiasm and were pretty uncoordinated throughout the entirety of their performance.
But following was one of the better performances of the night from Independent called “Sisters”. Duyga Basmaci and Zoe Reynolds were beautiful together, moving gracefully and in sync. Their attire was also wonderful—both wore kimonos but Basmaci’s had these ribbon-like sashes that came out from under her sleeves and she used them in her dance.
Independent returned with three new dancers. However, these girls weren’t as good as the others. They were not in sync and since there were only three of them up there, it was easy to see that one was constantly ahead of the other in their routine.
However, following them were the Arabesque Earthshakers, whom I loved. Five women took to the stage to perform a wonderful routine equipped with body-rolling and hip-shaking. They had on outfits that were similar to belly-dancers’, so when they shook their hips, the audience could hear the jingling and it really added to their performance.
Next was the Chimera Project’s Company B with “Alien Lake”, a spin on Swan Lake. As ballerinas they were exquisite; they moved so well together for such a large group and were definitely the most coordinated of the two nights having to work with so many dancers. They were elegant and professional and it was a treat to watch them.
Following them was 219 Dance and Entertainment with one of the worst performances of the evening. Three couples took to the stage for a Latin routine. They started strong with the strongest dancers being in the front. However, as the routine progressed, they switched partners and this is where everything went wrong. At one point two of the dancers knocked into one another…
Next was the UTM Dance Club with the same routine they performed at Style and Profyle, “Dear Future Husband”. Their routine was just as uncomfortable as it was last week.
To put the night back on track, Raqs Macabre came out with probably the most impressive performance of the evening. Two women with veils of gold coins came out and danced with swords. I seriously doubt they could see through those veils so the fact that they moved so well together made them all the more impressive. They proceeded to place the swords on their heads and executed several complex moves without losing balance or without their props falling. They got the audience back into an excited, cheerful mood.
Ballet Espressivo was next. The second night of the festival was full of ballet, which was missing from Friday, and I couldn’t have been happier about it. They were graceful, elegant, and each one was a great dancer. As one, they were exquisite and I would have gone to a show of theirs if I heard of one.
The UTM Dance Team came out with a solo performer, Mariam Sanchez. She was marvellous and very impressive. Her moves consisted of several different styles of dance ranging from contemporary to ballet and she nailed them all.
Next was U of T Dance Club with a Bollywood routine. Two dancers took to the stage and though they were equally good dancers, the one on the left didn’t know how to use the scarf when the time called for it and almost dropped it at one point. Neither was very in sync with the other and were more built for a solo performance.
Following them was one of the best performances of the night from Skule Night, which consisted of engineering students at U of T. They gave a theatrical number originally performed by Neil Patrick Harris at the 2012 Tony Awards, “What If Life Were More Like Theatre”, but this group changed “life” to “skule”. They were hilarious and convincing and gave such a great burst of energy before intermission.
Coming back from break, the audience was greeted with another high-energy routine from the U of T Pom Team. Now when I hear “cheerleading”, I immediately think of a coordinated group of energetic ladies wowing a crowd with their moves, and these guys didn’t disappoint. They were full of life and got the crowd going (as is their job) and really proved why they were the provincial champions.
UTM Dance Team came back for another performance, “Disclosure”, which remained on par with the ones they had already performed last night.
Following them was Only Human Dance Collective, which presented two dancers, Karen Choi and Karen Xu, as a ballet duo. The two were simply stunning. They reminded me of those adorable ballerinas one would find in a music box. They were enchanting and it was just wonderful to watch them.
Next was one of my favourites from the entire festival. The Arabesque Earthshakers came back out and danced to “Ya Gamid”. The entire routine was lively and got the crowd cheering and applauding before they were even done. One of my favourite parts was when the music began to pick up and they proceeded to shake their butts and torsos and then grabbed the rolls on their stomachs and shook them too. The crowd loved it and cheered them on as they proceeded to hip-bump one another as cymbals from the song played. They were such a great source of body confidence and I would have loved to see an entire festival of these flawless women.
UTM Dance Team came next with an elegant performance to “Not About Angels”, which was just as good and moving as the one from Friday, “All of the Stars”. Independent came back with another performance on par with their last ones.
After a solo performance by Joann Wanda Rossitter, Independent returned to perform both before and after a routine by the D’amby Project. The three routines were alike in energy and they all brought their A game before the show wrapped up.
UTM Dance Team came back with “Body Language”, a spicy little dance to Queen’s song, which got the crowd whooping and hollering when they were done.
To end the night was the U of T Pom Team who came back to perform to Nickelback’s “Burn It to the Ground”. They were dressed all in black and gave a fierce and sultry performance to end the night.
Having never been to the festival before, I would definitely say that it was a success and I would invite a bunch of you to check it out if you haven’t gone before.