Love Notes, a “medley of live movement and music” on the topic of love, is presented by ZEST Creative (comprised of Zoë Kenneally, Eva Connelly-Miller, and Sarah McLennan) at the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival. The trio, alongside musicians Hannah Barstow, Julien Bradley-Combs, and Emily Steinwall, perform to romantic standards ranging from “Silly Love Songs” to “I’ll Be Seeing You,” celebrating the ups and downs that most often-referenced feeling brings to our lives. Given the dreaded late-night opening-day slot, the song-and-dance show overcame some early jitters to eventually become something quite effervescent and joyous.
The dance pieces in the show are more conceptual than narrative, which is less in my comfort zone as an audience member. That being said, the dancers are talented and the numbers themselves are creative, such as a group box step that gradually disintegrates to a wartime number, a loved-one jerking around, mesmerized, like a puppet on a string, attempts to break out of an endless physical loop, or various permutations of dancers lying entangled in a rolling embrace. They cavort and gambol around each other, touching, holding hands and arms, weaving in and out of each other as if reenacting a childhood game.
To hold the semi-related pieces together, short, interstitial monologues about the power of music in relation to love, such as a loved one’s favourite song, or burning a CD for your youthful crush, sometimes serve as segues. I felt more could be made of these few spoken segments; increased in number and enunciated more clearly, they could give the hour more direction. Transitions in general are well-paced and thoughtful, though the show should clearly decide if it wants a brief pause for its audience to applaud after each song or to immediately proceed to the next number.
Musically, I initially worried, because much of the singing began quite tentatively, leading to some wavering, slightly off-key notes. The three proficient musicians ultimately seemed more comfortable with their instruments than their voices, but grew in confidence over the hour; Barstow, especially, has an appealing voice with a slightly-smoky texture, and a full-company, a cappella rendition of “Can’t Help Falling In Love” hit all the right harmonic notes.
While the dancing is crisp and professional, to me, the star of the performance was the tenor saxophone. My lapsed-alto-sax-player bias may be present here, but Steinwall is a brilliant stylist on the instrument, showering us with rich cascades of notes that would make Kenny G take notice. In a sea of Fringe shows with one piano or one guitar – and the piano and guitar here are also very good – the saxophone and flute stand out.
Though this was not much of an issue, due to the group’s seeming mission to show various permutations of love, Bradley-Combs, as the only male, felt conspicuous and a little underutilized. This was largely due to the musicians’ sudden inclusion in the group numbers, bringing them into the dance space and therefore changing their status from outsider musician to relationship participant. Once he registered as a dancer, for conceptual balance, it felt as though the show was either missing a same-sex male element, or could have been entirely an exploration of female love.
By the time the last note was played, I was very much won over by the exuberance and dedication of the performers. Glitches aside, there’s really nothing wrong with filling the world with silly love songs.
- Love Notes plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace. (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (275 Bathurst St.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- The Toronto Fringe Festival is scent-free: please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or other strongly-scented products.
- Wednesday July 3rd, 10:30 pm
- Friday July 5th, 6:00 pm
- Saturday July 6th, 8:15 pm
- Sunday July 7th, 10:15 pm
- Wednesday July 10th, 8:00 pm
- Friday July 12th, 4:00 pm
- Sunday July 14th, 2:15 pm
Photo of Zoë Kenneally, Eva Connelly-Miller, and Sarah McLennan by Lauren Runions