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REVIEW: R.A.V.E. thrusts audiences into a two-hour dance party

rave luminato iPhoto caption: Photo courtesy of Luminato.
/By / Jun 20, 2024

With a new artistic director in tow, 2024 seems like it might mark the beginning of a new era for Luminato. This year’s programming is a little less ambitious than normal — a wise choice for an arts institution vying for long-term stability in Toronto — and a handful of local theatre companies have partnered with the festival for individual productions. Age Is a Feeling, for instance, saw Luminato team up with Soulpepper, and R.A.V.E., a now-closed dance-party-theatre-show-immersive-experience hybrid, brought audiences to Downsview Airport Lands for a high-energy night of jiving and storytelling produced by Outside the March.

Yes, Downsview Airport Lands — far off the beaten track of Toronto theatre, which generally centralizes itself to the downtown core. (This might not be the last time we trek out to Downsview for cultural events; there’s a plan in motion to revitalize the space for events and cultural activities.) R.A.V.E. took a gamble by dragging audiences like myself out to the city’s outskirts — truthfully, I’m not sure I’d have found the time to go myself, had the experience not been imagined by Outside the March — but that risk paid off in spades. 

Situated in a vast industrial wasteland, the building that once housed offices for Bombardier feels like a relic out of Office Space, its innards littered with rolling chairs and flimsy cubicles. When R.A.V.E. audiences entered the building, under a glowing neon sign, they were greeted with free water bottles, flashing wristbands, and a free coat check. We were warned: we had a sweaty time ahead of us. Stay hydrated. Sit down as needed.

That advice was prudent: R.A.V.E. is a full-body experience that tests the limits of what live performance can be. After cast members herded the audience to the central event space, an enormous room gridlocked in desks and abandoned industrial equipment, they asked us to cast aside our worries for two hours, to dance and to make connections with fellow audience members. Real-life DJ Me Time, playing a character called The Founder, guided us through the experience, clad in an iridescent jacket designed by Diséiye. 

It’s the use of space within R.A.V.E. that made the project so impressive. Producing partners Outside the March, The R.A.V.E. Institute, and Luminato clearly worked hard to bring tenets of harm reduction into the production, which was ambiguously marketed as an experience somewhere between a rave and a theatre show. For audiences who might have been inclined to take substances, there were supplies available to use, from clean coke straws to syringes and pipes. A quiet corner of the space was transformed into a sanctuary — from the noise of the party, and the pulse of the crowd — and offered water, tea, and snacks to any ravers who might need them, as well as informational pamphlets on party drugs and how they might interact with each other. 

While I didn’t see evidence of substance use when I was there, nor was alcohol sold on the premises, it’s pretty punk-rock that such harm reduction tools were available to folks who might have come to see R.A.V.E. with lived experience of, well, raving, in all its substances and forms.

Meanwhile, back on the dance floor, a storm was brewing. The Founder, within the story of R.A.V.E., was tasked with engaging her audiences in a process called “the upload,” which required the precise execution of dance moves and gestures. In between teaching us those moves, she reflected on the history of rave, a culture rooted in Black queer communities. She guided us between genres, from house to techno to disco to garage, and pre-recorded blurbs offered context to popular songs like “Everybody Dance Now.” Over time, elements of rave culture have been gentrified and whitewashed, and as The Founder monologues her way through the show, she reclaims the rave culture of her youth, before it was commodified by Fortune 500 brands hoping to capitalize on a vibrant subculture.

Story-wise, R.A.V.E. could be tighter — I found myself wishing for clearer, more cogent glimpses into The Founder’s back story and dreams — but ultimately, R.A.V.E.’s narrative isn’t the thing you leave talking about. Nick Blais has outdone himself as a lighting designer, blending funky nightlife strobes with functional theatrical lights to illuminate Me Time and her fabulous backup dancers (Chenise Mitchell, Ashley Perez, Wellesley Robertson III, and Raoul Wilke). Amine Bouzaher’s sound design, too, is superb, binding together club and theatre traditions in a soundscape that evokes late nights dancing without the earache to follow.

All in, R.A.V.E.’s a fascinating experiment in genre, and I’ve never seen such a wide blend of audience members in one space, from critics like me to dancers decked out in full rave gear to casual theatre fans. R.A.V.E. had a short run — I alas doubt we’ll see it again in Toronto any time soon — but it’s for sure worth checking out if The Founder pays your city a visit.

You can learn more about R.A.V.E. here.

Intermission reviews are independent and unrelated to Intermission’s partnered content. Learn more about Intermission’s partnership model here.

Aisling Murphy

Aisling Murphy

Aisling is Intermission's senior editor and an award-winning arts journalist with bylines including the Toronto Star, Globe & Mail, CBC Arts, CTV News Toronto, and Maclean's. She likes British playwright Sarah Kane, most songs by Taylor Swift, and her cats, Fig and June. She was a 2024 fellow at the National Critics Institute in Waterford, CT.



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