On Friday and Saturday night, Hart House Theatre presented the 17th annual U of T Festival of Dance. Put together by festival director Melanie Mastronardi and her festival staff, the show showcased over 200 dancers over two days.
The show carried itself through with a variety of performances by many talented dancers affiliated with U of T and the surrounding community. After a short introductory video for the audience, the show started with a bang. In cardigans, pastel colours, and smiles wider than the girls’ poodle skirts, the St. Michael’s College Student Union delivered a rendition of the song “It’s Hairspray” from the musical Hairspray, a familiar song and dance number that put the crowd in a good mood. The night also featured an original song from the U of T engineering sketch comedy musical Revue, titled “Deadline”, which articulated the woes of meeting an academic deadline on time, something any student—including but not limited to engineers—can understand.
With ringlets in their hair and sequinned skirts, dancers also presented a variety of Irish and Celtic dances, such as the four-hand reel, the slip jig, the polka, and a traditional solo set dance to the traditional folk tune “The Three Sea Captains”.
The two nights also featured a diverse range of multicultural dances, ranging from Punjabi to Spanish ballroom to Bollywood to belly dancing. The highlights included solo dances by Parneeta Singh and Rugveda Gawade and two unique steam-fusion dances by the ladies of the Dragonfly Student Troupe. One crowd favourite was a performance by the self-proclaimed “full-figured” dance company Arabesque Earthshakers, who danced to “Ya Gamid”. The six ladies’ dance, which included booty-slapping, bosom-shaking, and belly-pounding, thrilled the crowd with its energy and celebratory mood, making it one of the standouts of the festival.
The Festival of Dance also gave performers the chance to express themselves through interpretive dance. Supported by the two Florence + the Machine tracks “My Boy Builds Coffins” and “Blinding”, Krista Mitchnick showed off her agility and light-footedness with two powerful numbers on the first night. Shak Haq, a dancer and the lighting designer for the show, wooed the crowd with a silly and playful solo dance to Akon’s “Chammak Challo” and told a solemn story of a love triangle through a dance set to Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.”
The show also tackled some serious themes. Two pieces that were sure to stir up discussion among the audience were “Night in Paris”, a dance set about overcoming loneliness by the Russian Student Association Dance Ensemble, and “War”, a performance about the Hiroshima tragedy by the Ismailova Theatre of Dance. The sets from Limitless Production titled “Sneaky in Suburbia” and the vampire-themed dance group the Underworld also used dance to tell imaginative stories without words.
Yet even with its serious side, the festival still had room for compelling and fun moments. The K-pop-style hair flips and leg kicks by the U of T Dance Club set “Girls in Action”, and the Nintendo noises and dubstep dance from the OG Crew that ended the festival’s first night, were two of many topical sets that allowed the audience to see the dancers having some fun not only putting together their routines but performing them as well.
The two nights left the audience feeling good. Many of the attendees came out to support the performers, inject a bit of culture into their weekend, or just see something new. With its wide variety of talented dancers and subject matter, they could have even risked squeezing the event into a single evening. But in any case, a strong and receptive audience and a strong organizing team made the night a success in all respects.