My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

Michael Caldwell is dancing in the dusk. With a horse.

BY DREW ROWSOME  - Photos of Evalyn parry by Alejandro Santiago

"Anyone who has been in love, or hasn't been in love, can get into it," says dancer/choreographer Michael Caldwell of Bella, the piece he is performing during Dusk Dances. "The music is classical and accessible, there is a clear story and, of course, it's a beautiful set with the park and the huge, giant horse."

The horse was inspired by the work of Marc Chagall, the music is from Giacomo Puccini, and the choreography is by enfant terrible turned national treasure Danny Grossman: all major artists with broad appeal. "It's one of Danny's first pieces I believe," says Caldwell. "All of the movements are very clear and the relationships are direct. Audiences really appreciate the clearness."

Caldwell himself, though very humble, "We are always in the loop," is no artistic slouch. He and his husband, Louis Laberge-Cote, are somewhat of Canadian dance power couple. "We've worked with Dusk Dances together but never created work," says Caldwell. "But touring together - Dusk Dances started out just in Toronto but on its 10th anniversary it began to tour, Ottawa, Hamilton, Kingston, Manitoulin Island, we're just back from Peterborough and Pickering is added this year - is great because we get to room together."

Dusk Dances has grown to the point where Caldwell, who has participated since 2006, estimates the average audience is 800 people. "It's crazy to see that many people enjoying dance outdoors," says Caldwell. "It's not a usual dance audience. They enjoy a day in the park, it's warm and outdoors, and over 21 years we've developed a connection to the community - every year, the first week in August, they gear up." As the pieces are all designed to be crowd-pleasers, "It's a great entry point. People stumble upon it, we introduce them to dance," and they become nascent dance aficionados. 

"In dark theatres you can only see the audience part of the time," says Caldwell. "With Dusk Dances you connect immediately. You're trying to fill a much larger space, the energy spillover is endless." Dusk Dances is also unusual because, "Usually outdoors is a prime training ground: if you can survive it, you can survive anything." Caldwell himself has experienced, "barking dogs, birds, children wandering through the set, profanities shouted from overlooking apartments, thrown things . . ." but Dusk Dances has a host, usually comedic if firm, who, "Is very clear about how the evening progresses." 

Even rehearsals, "We have to do it outdoors at some point, the choreography changes slightly," has a tendency to attract children eager to climb on the horse or teenagers eager to show off their own dance moves. Or to mock. "We take it as people want to get involved," says Caldwell. "We hand out flyers. The horse is a great selling point."

Dusk Dances runs Mon, Aug 3 to Sun, Aug 9 at Withrow Park, south of the Danforth (Chester subway station) at Logan and Carlaw.