(un)boxed (Jay9 Dance Projects) 2016 Toronto Fringe Review

Photo of Jen Hum and Jannine Saarinen

I’m not usually a patron of contemporary dance, but I might have been converted by (un)boxed a performance from Jay9 Dance Projects at the Toronto Fringe Festival. It made such great use of the space available, lighting, music and of course performance. It played like a Disney animated short except it was real life.

The dance uses a combination of performances in different styles to explore the boxes that are imposed on us, and it does exactly that. The motif of the box is so creatively used throughout: sometimes literally, sometimes a little less so.

The different styles of dance, which I will not attempt at identifying, were at times so completely different. It was interesting to watch, even as someone with absolutely no dance knowledge. One dance used the second tier of the stage to mimic a marionette puppet show, accompanied by a song about being a wooden puppet.

Each dance was a story, and they all  begin to weave into each other as the main character watches, and eventually helps, the other dancers break out of their boxes, but they each deal with their own restrictions.

What was great about the performance was that you could take what you wanted from it. The marionette dance could be about the expectations of womanhood, a controlling relationship, or keeping up appearances despite having a mental illness. Another performance seemed to take a look at gender roles and gender performance using clothing. The opening dance reminded me of children with learning disabilities trying to follow the same instructions as the other students, even though they don’t interpret them the same.

The show took advantage of the available space; as I mentioned above, the stage had two levels with mirror staircases leading up to them. The seats were placed far from the stage, and I soon realized it was because the dancers would hop off the stage and use the floor space as well. At one point one of the dancers sits in one of the seats and watches another performer on the stage.

I felt that there was a very creepy aesthetic to the performance, found in a secondary character. A man in a masquerade mask and top hat would drop props onto the stage between dances. He doesn’t dance or perform in any way; he just appears with a new prop and then disappears backstage again. Even though he doesn’t do much, it still seems sinister and left me a little anxious.

Even with this slightly unnerving element, the show all flowed together into an amazing and visually striking story.


  • (un)boxed plays at the Annex Theatre. (736 Bathurst St)
  • Tickets are $12 at the door and in advance, and can be bought online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s Alley, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
  • Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
  • This venue is wheelchair-accessible provided you arrive early (at least ~20 minutes) and notify the House Manager you require an accessible route.


  • Thursday June 30th, 06:30 pm
  • Friday July 1st, 10:00 pm
  • Sunday July 3rd, 04:30 pm
  • Tuesday July 5th, 06:15 pm
  • Thursday July 7th, 05:15 pm
  • Saturday July 9th, 09:15 pm
  • Sunday July 10th, 12:00 pm
Photo of Jen Hum and Jannine Saarinen by Iden Ford.