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REVIEW: Rock Bottom Movement’s Sex Dalmatian takes offbeat ideas to subversive extremes

iPhoto caption: Photo courtesy of Rock Bottom Movement
/By / Mar 18, 2024

Considering the general theatre division at last year’s Dora Awards awarded the statue for outstanding production to Red Velvet at Crow’s Theatre – a fairly refined drama that, as Ilana Lucas put it in this magazine, exuded “a Shaw Festival-like polish” – I was surprised the dance division’s top honouree had the audacious title Sex Dalmatian.

Having now seen the 75-minute dance-theatre production by Rock Bottom Movement in an encore presentation at The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance, I can confirm the divisions rewarded two very different shows. Sex Dalmatian, directed and choreographed by Alyssa Martin, welcomes mess, taking offbeat ideas to subversive extremes. And the smart piece has rightly captured Toronto’s interest; at the sold-out performance I attended, an added row of floor-cushion rush seats was packed with rowdy spectators.

The show centres on its titular character (first name Sex, last name Dalmatian), a wellness influencer, entrepreneur, and dog. Her latest professional venture, on shelves now, is a gadget that briefly transforms the user into a cloud of water vapour, a process meant to release toxins. Two other key characters are Amalia, Sex’s eager assistant, as well as the lustful rat Mr. Meeks, a business competitor our protagonist spends a good deal of the show plotting to take down. The six-person cast trades around the roles, as demarcated by Martin and Sam Grist’s costume design: Sex dons a black-spotted white leotard, Amalia wears a tutu around her neck like an Elizabethan collar, and Meeks receives a mascot-esque rat costume with disturbingly chiselled abs.

Sex Dalmatian‘s hallucinatory structure interweaves scripted scenes with dance sequences. The show’s opening sees a cheery talk show host dousing the girlboss canine in praise. This televised interview takes place upstage, on a pair of chairs, but Sex soon struts forward and begins to dance, transporting us into a surreal theatrical space as the interview setting falls away.

She executes Martin’s complex choreography while staring down the audience, the subtext a frigid “look what I can do.” And “she” doesn’t mean just one dancer; often during the movement sequences multiple performers play the same character simultaneously. 

The choreography is both intricate and fast-paced. It comes off as difficult, reflecting Sex’s need to impress and allowing the dancers space to showcase their considerable skill (their names are Drew Berry, Brayden Jamil Cairns, Grist, Pony Nicole Herauf, Natasha Poon Woo, and Eliajah Stefura). Pelvic thrusting gives way to a profusion of jazzy turns, jumps, and kicks, with nearly every step connected by a choreographic flourish as outrageous as it is intelligent: hands angled down, like paws.

Martin and her team adorn these sequences with alluring, rave-like design, making it easy to see how Sex converted her followers to the dog side. Morgan-Paige Melbourne and Benjamin Shapiro’s propulsive score blasts nightclub beats, while The Citadel’s pale walls flash with Noah Feaver’s pink-heavy lighting. TV monitors hung from the ceiling pair with an onstage cameraman to offer close-ups of the action. 

More anarchic are the scenes, ironic in tone and nearer to sketch comedy than earnest dramatization. Though the performers tend to dance straight-faced, during scenes they let on how much fun they’re having, with clever writing – by David Bernstein, Herauf, and Martin – ensuring silliness doesn’t too often devolve into self-indulgence. Toward the evening’s end, the show begins to blend dialogue and movement more fully, collapsing these different approaches to generative effect.

Sex Dalmatian is one of those productions I’d feel confident bringing any fellow young person to, whether or not they’re a fan of the performing arts. Electric atmosphere in tow, it embraces the lowbrow – at one point, Sex even defecates on the floor, prop dung and all – while maintaining a sense of rigour. The awards were well-earned, I think.

Sex Dalmatian ran at The Citadel from March 6 to 16. More information is available here.

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

Liam Donovan

Liam Donovan

Liam is Intermission’s publishing and editorial assistant. A critic and theatre artist from Toronto, his writing has appeared in Maisonneuve, This Magazine, NEXT Magazine, and more. He loves the original Super Mario game very much.



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