Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Karen Kaeja’s ability to perceive the ordinary in novel ways has given Toronto one of its most revered summer dance traditions: Porch View Dances (PVD). PVD is an award-winning, all-ages, site-specific community dance festival presented by Kaeja d’Dance that showcases real people dancing in real spaces. This summer’s performance runs from July 17 to July 21, 2019 in Seaton Village in the Annex of Toronto.
PVD was born during an otherwise routine staff meeting, when Karen found herself gazing out her living room window and watching the neighbors across the street interacting outside on their front porch. It was like watching a silent movie: in her imagination, that scene embodied the potential of a fully-animated dance. Her co-Artistic Director and husband Allen Kaeja recalls how she immediately turned back to the meeting, and revealed an inspired vision to the staff: “Families and inhabitants in a dwelling, being paired with professional choreographers, to create dances that expose stories and the lives within the home, out onto the front porch and lawn.”
Porch View Dances would be further developed through Karen and Allen’s conversation, with the result that today, PVD continues to engage everyday people as creators, storytellers, and performers. And this month, PVD is taking audiences on a walking tour of Seaton Village to view new dance works created by professional choreographers and professional dancers. Along the way, families, friends and even strangers are performing dances on porches and lawns . . . and in unexpected places, audiences will find this year’s pop-up vignettes – choreographed by Mateo Galindo Torres, and danced by Taylor Bojanowski and Mio Sakamoto.
PVD has grown and evolved over the years. Seaton Village has become the performance venue where guests from within and outside of the area perform. As a result, a range of people from across the city apply each year to perform in the neighbourhood. “We have found the porches to be as compelling, intriguing and individualistic as the participants,” the Kaejas point out. “We are also doing our best to make [PVD] a more accessible event for the audience with accessibility provisions.” PVD’s focus on multi-abilities and multi-traditions further contributes to audiences expanding their view of dance and creative movement: “Primarily, they are able to see themselves dancing in their homes, on their streets, and within their neighbourhoods.” They see “that the impulse to dance is universal, and an incredible opportunity to express yourself within the multiplicity of [your] abilities and emotional states.”
This year, father-and-son team Jim and Owen Adams will be performing in their third PVD on Porch 1. Their original proposal spanned four years: each year, they would develop a particular theme as a way of representing the medicine wheel. So each summer, they have developed one section of their four-year PVD project with different choreographers: Alison Cummings, Karen and Allen Kaeja, and this year, Aria Evans, who gave a gripping performance in the premiere of Shanawdithit just this spring. “This summer they will be focusing upon Anopowatchikan, seeking our dreams.” Shannon Litzenberger (World After Dark) will present a choreography on Porch 2, and the multi-award-winning Karen and Allen Kaeja will be featured on Porch 3. During the festival’s finale, audience members will have the opportunity to participate by joining Karen’s Flock Landing, a large participatory dance experience, which has been performed in 106 locations from Japan to Toronto.
As they anticipate the 8th annual PVD next week, the Kaejas find themselves “immersed in wonder and surprise for each year and each city we’ve been in. . . . The incredible range, diversity and breadth of creative inspiration continually enlighten and energize. Each creative process, each family or group of participants bring 100% unique experiences to our palette.” And when they step back, they marvel at having personally shaped 16 different Porch View Dances over these eight years . . . sometimes together, and sometimes separately.
In recognition of this accomplishment, the city of Toronto is honouring Seaton Village by re-naming a laneway Porch View Dances Lane – this literal landmark will commemorate the annual artistic pilgrimage prompted by the PVD. Everyone is welcome to attend the unveiling and a special celebration on opening night, July 17 at 7:00 pm. Come to this event or to any of the subsequent nights of PVD, and celebrate the art of dance and the power of community magnified and beamed through the lens of the humble front porch . . . thanks to a prescient vision glimpsed through an equally humble living-room window.
News You Can Use
What: Porch View Dances,created by Karen Kaeja and developed with Allen Kaeja; presented by Kaeja d’Dance
Who: Audiences of all ages
When: July 17 – 21, 2019 (Wednesday to Saturday at 7 pm; Sunday at 1 pm)
Where: Starts at 92 London Street (Seaton Village/West Annex) Toronto, ON
© Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019