SummerWorks performances evade attempts at classification

The SummerWorks performance festival begins, showcasing works that incorporate elements of music, dance, theatre and video.

10-day performance festival kicks off

Dora-nominated theatre designer Sean Frey and multimedia artist Amy Siegel the creators of The Water Thief, part of this year's SummerWorks (Sima Zerehi/CBC )

SummerWorks Canada’s largest juried and curated festival featuring predominantly new multi-disciplinary work, kicks off today in Toronto.

The festival offers audiences a selection of innovative pieces that often weave together elements of music, dance, theatre and video. This year a number of the performances are experimenting with technology as well as site-specific pieces that have audiences moving out of theatre spaces and into streets and other non-traditional performance sites.  

“We’re creating a space for the unclassifiable,” says Michael Rubenfeld, artistic producer of the festival. “It's contemporary and speaks to global performances.”  

The Water Thief, the brainchild of Dora-nominated theatre designer Sean Frey and multimedia artist Amy Siegel is classic SummerWorks fare. This audience-immersive spectacle employs film, performance, live music, shadow puppetry and dance to take audiences through an imaginative dreamscape.  

This meditation on the afterlife seamlessly weaves these disparate elements to create a rich dreamscape that’s both a feast for the eye as well as the ear.  

Jacqueries Part 1 is one of the experimental works at this year’s festival. The performance guides audiences through the backstreets and alleyways of Queen Street West, using its graffiti-covered walls, rooftops and fire escapes as a stage for its vignettes.

The high volume of actual police patrols and roaming security guards in the area adds an eerie element of realism to this narrative about conspiracy theory and surveillance culture.

While Jacqueries offers Toronto audiences what may soon become mainstream — the ambitious piece feels somewhat underdeveloped. The performance is not accessible to many as audiences are required to bring their own iPhones or iPads equipped with iOS7 and download the Jacqueries app, though organizers say some iPads and iPhones will be made available for those who aren't already equipped. The experimental app has many glitches and takes a long time and much storage space to download.

The soundtrack and video elements incorporated in the performance do not always work to enhance the experience. However, the movement and dance elements are exquisite, making full use of unconventional spaces like rooftops and stairwells.  

This year SummerWorks is partnering with The Theatre Centre making the newly reinvigorated venue the hub of the ten-day festival.

CBC asked Rubenfeld for his suggestions on what to see.  

Here’s his curated list: