Inner-City Elites by Katherine Sanders

Inner-City Elites: This term keeps coming up, and I’m curious exactly who it refers to. I live downtown, near the College and Spadina intersection; a picturesque area which boasts a Burger King, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Heath, a Christian Mission as well as the infamous Comfort Zone nightclub. So I hear a lot of downtown residents screaming at night under my window. I'm not complaining. It's a remarkably convenient location, close to streetcars and subways. I bike to my job as an arts worker, which pays the bills – just barely. Most of my friends are in a similar situation, many are artists who live gig to gig and never know where their next month’s rent is going to come from. We are people who have chosen a lower income, lower budget lifestyle that involves staying within a small core of the city and helping to create the art, theatre, music and dance that Toronto uses to sell itself to the world.

But who else lives downtown? I also live near the U of T, and there are a lot of people living around me who work there. Some are administrators, some are librarians, some are maintenance workers. And some are professors - the people whom we hope will educate our children. You may think of them as "elitist". You may have a picture in your mind of a grey-haired man in a corduroy jacket with elbow patches, who enjoys wine and cigars. But that’s not exactly the reality. One of my friends from my graduating class in high school teaches at U of T and she lives down the alley from me, just barely scraping by on a junior professor's salary, while also writing a book about the economy. Oh, and I almost forgot! You know who else lives around downtown university campuses? Students. Yes, the lesser known sect of 18 - 24 year old elitists, most of whom work two jobs to afford their apartments, are $20,000 in debt for their tuition, and eat pizza every night. Yep, THOSE elitists.

A lot of people who work and own the stores we shop in live downtown. I’m not talking about Eaton’s Centre here. I’m talking about the people who run the small operations, the restaurants and cafes and clothing stores that everyone takes their out-of-town friends to. The little places that we have “discovered” that have the best sushi in Toronto, or the best selection of beers on tap, or the cutest dress for your cousin’s wedding next month. The people who run these establishments usually live nearby, if not above their stores. Their income is based on how many people pass through their doors on any given month. In December, they’re laughing. In January, they’re fucked.

Those are some of the major demographics who live downtown. I would describe none of them as “elite”. In fact, many of them live below the poverty line. Which brings me back to that first group I mentioned, the group that I hear trumpeting their values under my window at all hours of the day and night. The people who can’t produce, at the polling booth, identification with their photo, address and signature. The people who make use of the shelters and services that our new Mayor-elect won’t have in his backyard. The homeless population of Toronto.

So I’m not sure who exactly the phrase “downtown elite” refers to. Maybe it refers not to a demographic, but to a system of values. People who enjoy living in a multi-cultural society? People who refuse to sit in traffic for three hours a day? People who support small businesses instead of buying all their groceries, clothing and housewares at Wal-Mart?

I don't know what it means, all I know is that tomorrow I have to get up and bike to work. And that the very act of doing that will now make me feel like an outlaw, not an elitist.

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Vote With Your Head by Chris Dupuis

There was a funny feeling in the air of Toronto on June 4, 1999. The Mike Harris Conservatives had just won their second majority government, much to the surprise of the average Progressive Torontonian. People sat in bars and coffee shops across the city shaking their heads. How did this happen?, we asked ourselves. Harris is evil incarnate! He’s cut social services, education, arts funding, and forcibly amalgamated cities against the will of their citizens! We protested his policies, rallied our friends to come out and vote, and even set up a system to let people know whether they should vote Liberal or NDP in their riding in order to prevent a Conservative from taking the seat! How did Mikey end up with a second majority?

While the progressive population’s efforts were admirable in this case, they were also sort of sadly amusing. We succeeded in preventing a single Conservative MP from being elected in the Metro Toronto Area, but in typical Progressive Torontonian fashion, we forgot about the rest of Ontario. We assumed it would be enough to talk to our friends and the people in our neighbourhoods, completely ignoring the fact that, while Toronto holds a lot of seats at Queens Park, it is nowhere near the majority.

We comforted ourselves by saying that even though we hadn’t succeeded in unseating Mikey, we’d sent a strong message to the Conservatives that their particular brand of Common Sense was antithetical to the very nature of Toronto. We were the largest city in the province, its economic engine, and its cultural capital. Surely after seeing our protests, hearing our speeches, and watching his support drop at the ballot box (despite still winning a majority) Mikey would change his tune and start respecting our values.

This was another of those sadly amusing Progressive Torontonian moments. The following four years saw further cuts to those areas and services we valued, more poverty, more tax breaks for corporations, and a tightening of the law and order agenda. Our work against Harris did nothing to change his mandate or attitude. And why would it? Politicians elected to office, even with a minority of voters supporting them, are going to go about implementing the mandate they were elected to enact. The fact that some voters opposed them is not going to change that. In fact, having a percentage of the population in vocal and angry opposition is often helpful to politicians, because they can gesture to them when they are talking to their supporters and say “Look what we are fighting against!”

The morning of October 26, 2010 we Progressive Torontonians might wake up feeling a little like we did on that fateful day in 1999, if Rob Ford becomes mayor of our city. We will say to ourselves “But we posted all the stupid things he’s said on Facebook! We built websites telling people how bad he will be for the city! We talked to all our generally apathetic friends and convinced them to come out and vote! How did Rob Ford become mayor?”

But how many of us donated money to another candidate? How many of us volunteered in another campaign? It seems we Progressive Torontonians have become satisfied with point and click political activism, sitting behind our refurbished MacBooks with our Grande Americanos, trading jokes about the relative fatness of politicians we oppose on Facebook and Twitter, while catching up on downloaded episodes of Dexter.

But if we really want to get things done, we’re going to have to close our laptops, walk out of Starbucks, and get our hands dirty working in the political trenches. This doesn’t necessarily mean working directly for another candidate. It can also mean talking to people we wouldn’t ordinarily talk to; the kind of people who would vote for Ford because they think artists are lazy hedonists who waste taxpayer dollars on parties and that cyclists are Luddites who deserve to die because they can’t afford a car.

There’s been a lot of talk recently, as the reality of a Ford mayoralty has sunk in, about “voting with your heart” in this election; that giving support to a candidate other than Ford will show him that we don’t all share his politics and will help him lean in favour of ours. While it’s a nice sentiment, do you honestly think that would happen? It’s virtually unheard of in our political history for a candidate to change their platform after being elected based on the wishes of people who didn’t vote for them. If anything, it just adds fuel to their fire.

I am not endorsing a particular candidate in this instance, and of course I would love it if sometime over the course of today things tipped in Pantalone’s favour, but we all know that’s not going to happen. So vote however you want. But keep in mind that the decision you make today will affect Toronto, not just for four years, but likely for the next eight, since it’s unusual for a sitting mayor not to be re-elected. Voting with your heart has a nice ring to it, but we’ll all be better off if we vote with our heads.
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Alain Platel’s mapping of “anotherness” in Out of Context - for Pina by Coman Poon

We are animals. Language is wild.

“Us” absorbs “them”, and “another” is in some way like us even while it is different.

Blindness is an essential element of knowledge.

The performer dies in order to give value to that which has been degraded and rendered profane.

The witness gives value to the sacred by co-creating a privileged moment of communal unity.

I was recently reminded of these elements of “anotherness” upon being introduced to Alain Platel’s les ballets C de la B, which launched both the National Arts Centre’s fall dance season in Ottawa and Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage 2010/11 season in Toronto with their ecstatic new work Out of Context - for Pina, aptly dedicated to the late German dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch.

In contrast to earlier works by this celebrated Belgian dance theatre troupe, Out of Context - for Pina opens with a minimally adorned stage: two lone microphones on stands and a wash of white light across an empty stage. Like a performance installation, we are left to stare into and contemplate this theatrical stillness in context of our expectations of performance. A lone woman emerges from amidst the audience, climbs up onto and crosses upstage and stands with her back to the audience. She methodically sheds her attire until she is standing in undergarments and, in a choreographic homage to Pina Bausch’s unveiling of the theatrical “fourth wall” in the seminal Kontakthof, turns around and walks downstage to present herself to our gaze. In overlapping sequence, each of the performers repeat this framing ritual, ending by seductively draping and shifting their disrobed bodies beneath the plush of a uni-form red blanket.

Tonight’s dance-theatrical contract is intimated: experiences, and not stories per se, will be staged on these performers’ bodies. Each performer turns around and looks directly out at us, the audience, inviting us to straddle this liminality. What is the experiential fine line between voyeurism ; exhibitionism, passion and pathology, poignancy and indictment, escapism and realism, fiction and biography? Out of Context - for Pina intentionally plays with these considerations by collapsing the boundaries between audience and performer, psyche and body, human nature and culture.

In looking to reveal what is hidden, and to inquire about our connections and differences as human animals, Alain Platel employs dramaturgical strategies to simultaneously implicate our bodies and personas as both object and subject. Through this self-conscious labyrinth of mirrors, we are invited to gaze inwardly and outwardly at the refractions between our individual and collective yearnings.

As individuals as well as part of a collective, we all bring our own experience -our thoughts, imaginations, feelings and responses- to what we see, hear and sense. Through a language of expressionistically vocal, writhing and gesticulating bodies, Out of Context - for Pina suggests that beneath the surface of difference, humans are self-aware animals uniquely united through tears, wounds and the transgression of boundaries. The canvas of our common humanity is sewn with communal experiences of loss, sacrifice, love and ecstasy. As Pina Bausch might say, this is the source of our greatest joy and trepidation.

Coman Poon  is an interdisciplinary artist-activist who integrates a multi-modal live art background, a long-time social and environmental justice activist practice, and training as an arts-informed coach and therapist to create a unique hybrid collaborative practice. With Erica Mott (Chicago, USA), he co-founded re[public] in/decency, an experiential think tank that explores the trans-national intersections between performance, social justice activism and arts-informed pedagogy.
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A Note on New Writers From Harbourfront Centre

Over the next few months there will be some guest writers posting reviews on the site. The writers are members of the Embassy - an artist and audience development initiative offered as part of the World Stage series at Harbourfront Centre. Embassy members are Toronto-based artists and arts makers involved in local performing arts communities. As participants in the programme they have access to World Stage shows, they will be able to host Q&A discussions with visiting artists and the audience, and will also write reviews for the shows they see. The overarching goal of the Embassy is to generate healthy debate and critical discussion on the national and international work presented to audiences at World Stage. As stimulating discussion around performance is also a goal of Time and Space, it seemed a good fit to have the Embassy members post reviews here. From October 2010 to May 2011 you'll see a review for each of the 12 shows in the World Stage season, and we encourage you to jump right in and comment on what you read.

For more information on World Stage click here .

For questions about the Embassy you can write to

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