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Amateur dancers perform on porches in annual festival

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Porch View Dances, 2016. (Monica Salazar Arcila photo)

For those living in Toronto’s Seaton Village neighbourhood, Porch View Dances (PVD) has become an annual celebration of art, culture and community.

PVD, an annual festival that features amateur dancers trained by professional choreographers performing on their front porches, is celebrating its seventh anniversary this year. The event was originally conceived by Karen and Allen Kaeja of Kaeja d’Dance, a contemporary dance company. The married couple are award-winning dancers and internationally renowned choreographers of professional and amateur dancers for both film and stage.

Porch View Dances is open to all and is offered as a pay-what-you-can experience that runs from July 18-22, with the shows starting at 7 p.m., except for the finale, which begins at 1 p.m.

The idea for PVD came to Karen Kaeja while she was daydreaming and her husband helped her bring it to fruition.

“It’s a community engagement event, where professional choreographers are teamed up with families or inhabitants of a dwelling, or participants outside the area who have applied and been brought in to become a group,” explains Kaeja. “The choreographer creates an eight to 10 minute work on the porch or a front lawn of a home that has volunteered.”

This year’s production of PVD is all about diversity and inclusivity. The choreographers include the Kaejas, Kathleen Rea, Andrea Nann and Michelle Silagy.

“Special to this year, we have multi-generational and multi-ability groups, so there are dancers with wheelchairs and those with multi-exceptionalities,” says Kaeja.

“So many people applied and we wanted to be really embracive of everyone. In this version, there are three homes that will be performance venues. The route gets closed off to traffic. The audience will all meet at the first house at 595 Palmerston Ave., then a tour guide will announce the first participants’ performance. After that, the audience will be guided to the next house. From one house to another, the audience will come across unusual encounters – short vignettes performed by professional dancers. The route ends up in a park.”

Once they are guided to the park, there will be an interactive installation called Flock Landing, which will allow the audience to participate in gentle dance movements.

Kaeja hopes that audiences will come to understand that anyone can dance and that it can be a fun experience for all. “The pieces that are created are really endeared from the participants’ own lives, so the choreographers don’t come with an idea ahead of time. It is really about the people involved, who are not dancers, per say. For most, it is a very new experience,” she says.

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PVD has also been staged, in partnership with others, elsewhere in Ontario, including Ottawa, Kitchener and Etobicoke. Kaeja says they have been approached by other communities in Canada and plan to expand the concept of celebrating neighbourhoods and the art of dance. A grant has also been approved in Israel to produce Porch View Dances there.

Kaeja enthusiastically exclaims that it is an event that is loved by themselves, the community and practically everyone who comes to see it.