We Did A Monster Mash-Up: Katie McMillan on Dance Marathon

I suppose it is appropriate – given that my first World Stage post began with me lamenting my inability to dance – that the final performance I attended would be a participatory Dance Marathon. It’s called irony. Or perhaps just bad luck. That’s what I thought when, less than twenty-four hours before I was going to review the show, I found out that I would be dancing. There is a line in some terrible teen movie (I think it was Can’t Hardly Wait and I will be embarrassed if I find out I’m right) where a character suggests that she is “allergic to dancing”. I’ve always had the feeling that dancing was allergic to me. I try to dance but dance seems to avoid me like I’m still carrying Swine Flu from 2009. Here was my opportunity to “dance into the light” as Phil Collins would say, and I was feeling far more comfortable with Robyn’s suggestion of “dancing on my own”, ie. At home. Not in public.

I was worried. I was worried about feeling out of place. I was worried about looking like I didn’t belong. I was worried about someone discovering that I was an imposter among professionally trained dancers or people with at least some sense of rhythm. I tried to mask my self-consciousness with neon 1980s-inspired work out clothes and sneakers but when I arrived at the theatre, I found the lobby filled with all kinds of unexpected people; a crowd of all ages, dressed up, dressed down, and everything in between. As soon as I had my pinny, it was impossible to feel out of place in this diverse group of children, seniors, middle-age couples, singles, and groups of young friends. The best part was: no one had any idea what was about to happen.

The world inside the Enwave Theatre looked like every life-changing high school dance from the movies that my high school was never cool enough to emulate. Instead of some tenth grade wannabe DJ there was a live band; instead of streamers and a rented disco ball there was a giant circular projector screen featuring live footage from the night; instead of cliquey circles of kids grinding up against each other (a staple at high school dances for my generation) there were tons of new people ready and willing to dance with anyone around. And instead of drunk teenagers there were… well… drunk adults. But tastefully tipsy the way adults are, and teenagers are not. The cash bar – open throughout the performance – definitely helped to keep the audience loose and ready to boogie. The whole set-up was a bit of a fantasy. After hours of watching Saturday Night Fever, Dirty Dancing and Footloose, I finally got to be a part of a real dance contest – the kind with fabulous prizes and a referee on roller-skates.

In our current technological climate, personal interaction is becoming increasingly less personal. When was the last time you actually struck up a conversation with a complete stranger on the streetcar? Or even made eye-contact? We are surrounded by people all the time, but somehow manage to isolate ourselves with our smartphones and iPods while pressed-up against unfamiliar people on the subway during rush hour. bluemouth inc. aims to give us one night of community, a few hours of interpersonal connection with a room full of people you have never met. And they succeed. By the time the final six couples are the only ones left standing, it really feels like you are cheering on your friends.

Scripted and unscripted realities collide and seamlessly overlap as audience members become performers in this consistently surprising event. If you are wondering why on earth anyone should have to pay admission to be a part of the performance, don’t worry. There is no lack of entertainment on behalf of bluemouth inc. – it’s just difficult to figure out who they are. Keep your eyes peeled for the creatively choreographed routines during the five minute rest periods as well as totally unanticipated moments of interdisciplinary performance featuring poetry, film, music, and some acrobatic surprises.

Many of the World Stage performances this season have asked their audiences to look critically at the world around them, and to make a few changes. It is fitting for Dance Marathon to be the final show of the season because it gives audiences a chance to do just that. The active and participatory nature of the show encourages the audience to build relationships with new people, and the seemingly impromptu events exposed as rehearsed scenes are a visceral reminder that appearances may be deceptive. I have been challenged mentally, emotionally, politically and, in the case of Dance Marathon, physically, by the World Stage performances this season, and I look forward to facing many more challenges in 2013.

My friends, thank you for reading.

Katie McMillan is a PhD candidate in Theatre Studies in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University, where her research focuses on studying gender performance in Canadian actor training institutions. As an active theatre practitioner, her directing credits include How I Learned to Drive and The Pillowman (McGill University). In her spare time, Katie writes for a comedy web-series and performs original comic songs for her cats – and anyone else who might be listening.

Katie is this season’s Theatre Criticism & Engagement Intern for World Stage 2012. This program is a part of Harbourfront Centre and York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts long-term partnership–working together to nurture a vibrant and thriving arts ecology in Toronto.