Review ‘The Magic Of Assembly’

As an artist and an arts reviewer, I have seen my fair share of dance theatre, especially contemporary dance shows, but I don’t always walk away from these shows happy with the performance. The Magic Of Assembly presented by the Toronto Dance Theatre however left me wanting to explore the styles of dance presented even more. Not only did I leave happy, but I also left overjoyed. 

The show, created by Artistic Director/Choreographer Andrew Tay and Choreographer Ashley Colours Perez is a wonderful celebration of the Punking / Whacking street dance style set to the music of Toronto-based electronic music duo LAL. Performers Yuichiro Inoue, Peter Kelly, Megumi Kokuba, Ryan Kostyniuk, Erin Poole, Devon Snell, Roberto Soria, and Siwar Soria harmoniously presented a whole variety of dance styles with Punking as the anchor style to the audience in an incredibly intimate setting. I felt the show as a whole was quite balanced, from the performers effortlessly demonstrating dynamics in their movement, to the simple yet effective lighting set-up used throughout the performance. 

Punking (more commonly known as whacking) has had a massive resurgence in dance, especially through social media like TikTok, but had its beginnings in the 1970s gay club scene and has carried through the decades. I felt like the evolution of time was well demonstrated by the incredible outfits created for the show. These pieces were bursting with colour, and played with construction, textures, and styles. Most of the performers were wearing pieces that straddled the line between traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine, putting things like a corset with an attached tutu, to a t-shirt you’d find in a Harley Davidson shop. The outfits screamed the 90s, and I wouldn’t mind filling my wardrobe with some of those pieces. I very much appreciated the blurring of gender lines throughout the entire production, especially in the clothing choices. 

I couldn’t help myself in interpreting the show through a central storyline, even though Andrew Tay told me after the show that he likes to create pieces that simply make you feel and do not need a storyline to drive the piece. I felt that the show reflected the safety and sanctuary that these clubs presented to many gay individuals, taking the audience from everyday motions and actions like taking phone calls and making a coffee,  (presented with a contemporary flare), to entering an underground club where everyone was welcome, and fit in perfectly like a puzzle. It was amazing watching the performers move in perfect harmony with each other, giving every ounce of energy they had to every motion and movement. 

The “club scenes” as I will call them were my absolute favourites. I especially liked how from the beginning of the piece to the end, we could almost see the dance evolve from simply moving one finger to engaging the whole body. Paired with LAL’s electric music, and the radiating energy from the audience, it took every ounce of my being to not get up and dance with them (though my toes were aggressively tapping against the floor). 

I really do have to congratulate the Dancers on such an amazing job. Throughout the show, they demonstrated a variety of dances outside of punking: ballet, lyrical, Irish folk dancing, and more, but they were able to break convention on how these styles are normally presented and seamlessly fold them into Tay’s and Perez’s intricate choreography. Long story short: you have to be really good to be able to showcase different styles, and then dismantle them and represent them in real-time. 

However, the only thing I personally didn’t like about this production was that it felt like two separate shows in one. The first was the celebration of punking and the underground gay club scene, but the second felt like an art piece one might see at say the AGO or the MOMA. I can appreciate that the company was trying to re-imagine what dance theatre could look like and attempted to meld together different disciplines, but I personally didn’t like the shift into a piece of modern art. I won’t give too much away, but it involves a green tarp, all the dancers going topless, and slime being manipulated to create little wisps. I dare anyone to tell me that wouldn’t dominate as a stand-alone piece of modern theatrical art. It didn’t take away or ruin my enjoyment of the first three-quarters of the show, but it didn’t add anything either. I am happy that the finale didn’t leave me dissatisfied with my overall experience, but frankly, I could have done without it. 

Overall, this show was fantastic and I highly recommend it to anyone who is into experimental theatre, the punking dance style, contemporary/modern dance, or to anyone just looking to have a great night supporting local art while keeping an open mind. The Magic Of Assembly has an incredibly limited run, so anyone interested in seeing the production should secure tickets immediately!

Watch the trailer for the Magic of Assembly here

Tickets can be purchased here

[Review by Shan Fernando]