Arts in Your Neighbourhood Park

Featured Story: Dusk Dances

August 2015

Kaha:wi Dance Theatre, ‘Four Directions, Young Woman's Dance’ by Santee Smith, 2012. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

Toronto is often called a city within a park. With a park system (comprised of more than 1,500 parks and 600 km of trails) that covers roughly 13% of the city’s land area, these public spaces are a main feature of the city, and something many Torontonians value. Parks offer areas of retreat; spaces to gather, relax, play and discover. For artists, using the parks to showcase art presents an opportunity to reach new audiences, engage diverse communities, and utilize new spaces in a city where space is limited.

Sylvie Bouchard, Festival Director of Dusk Dances has a lot of experience with programming in Toronto’s parks. Dusk Dances, a dance festival which features ten minute performances by diverse choreographers, has been presenting in Toronto’s parks for twenty-one years; for the past sixteen years, the festival has been held at Withrow Park. Bouchard notes the difficulties of having to transport sets, props and music gear to and from the parks, collecting donations, having park permits confirmed at the last minute, and being vulnerable to unfavourable weather conditions, as obstacles when working in these open spaces. Despite these challenges, the overwhelming support from the community and the benefits of performing in parks drives her to continue and look for solutions. The Festival Director is currently working on securing proper facilities at the park during the run of Dusk Dances, including storage space, dressing rooms and bathrooms.

Bringing arts to parks gives artists the opportunity to access communities in ways that aren’t possible in traditional venues. “Dusk Dances is successful when the event is adopted by the community, when people have a sense of ownership with the event” says Bouchard. Involvement at the local level keeps the festival relevant to the neighbourhood, and adds to a sense of pride. “When we present Dusk Dances outside of the downtown core, we work with local presenting partners, and we involve local artists in the performance: local choreographers, dancers, a local band, and sometimes a local host” she states.

Throwdown Collective (Zhenya Cerneacov, Mairéad Filgate, Brodie Stevenson), with 'BoxSet,' 2011
For Bouchard, the importance of showcasing Dusk Dances in a public area is as much about presenting a unique dance festival as it is an opportunity to promote dance as a whole. “With our presentations, we are hopefully building a love and a need for the art form. How can anyone find out if they like watching dance if they never see it or experience it? How can we build future audiences if adults and kids are never exposed to the art form? … We drop the theatre walls while providing an experience that is both artistic and social. It is quite powerful to see large crowds watching dance side by side, on their blankets and lawn chairs, together with their kids, friends, families and neighbours” says Bouchard.

The success of Dusk Dances in each community (this year, Dusk Dances was presented in Vancouver, Peterborough, Hamilton and Pickering), tells us a lot about the needs and benefits of arts programming in parks. Sylvie states that “our long relationship with parks has helped to open communication between our needs and the city’s needs.” Indeed, cities benefit when communities are engaged, and are given the opportunity to experience art in their own neighbourhoods. A recent survey led by Toronto Arts Foundation and Leger found that Torontonians see benefits of the arts for the whole city, their own neighbourhoods, and their individual lives. The survey revealed that among the top barriers to arts attendance are cost and distance; many arts events happen in the downtown core, which makes it difficult for families and individuals living outside the core to frequent. With arts programming in neighbourhood public parks, this gives more Torontonians a chance to experience art.

This year for the first time, Dusk Dances is introducing a longer form dance piece of twenty-five minutes. “I wanted our audiences to witness a longer work to see how a dance piece gets expanded and developed beyond 10 minutes” says Bouchard.  Choreographed by Tedd Robinson, Sylvie describes the piece as an “unusual garden party, where the characters try to engage with one another but they are constantly distracted by their inner thoughts, desires and dreams - you see each character on the outside but also get a window into their inner struggles.” Other pieces in the event are choreographed by Danny Grossman, Esmeralda Enrique, Marie-Josée Chartier and Lua Shayenne.

Dusk Dances runs from August 3-9 at Withrow Park

Opening Band and Salsa Classes start at 6:45pm, Dance Performances start at 7:30pm.

Matinee performances on Thursday August 6th & Sunday August 9th (Opening Band and Salsa Classes start at 1:45pm, Dance Performances start at 2:30pm)

Suggested donation of $10.00 per person

Toronto Arts Council has long supported arts programming in parks, including Dusk Dances. Because of the overwhelming need for local, accessible and affordable arts events, and to address the barriers facing arts programming in parks, Toronto Arts Council is developing a new program called Arts in the Parks. The pilot project is expected to launch in Fall 2015 and aims to facilitate the application and permit process, with a focus on areas outside the downtown core. Click here for more details.