Dance of the Afflicted: Five Days of Torture Garden Toronto

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” ~ Seneca

Great undertakings are often brought to completion in one of only two ways: They are either enormously successful, or they result in dismal collapse and failure. More often than not, especially due to outside influence, unforeseen situations and destructive occurrences beyond one’s control, grand visions and ideas can soon become nothing more than ill-fated, poorly-advised, badly executed, and dismally-failed shattered dreams.

What was a triumphant, exciting new entrant into the major fetish event scene in North America a scant nine months ago had all the potential to follow along the train-wreck rails of so many promising, preceding ventures. To wit, this particular event could very well have been of the “one and done” variety, were it not for the solid efforts of its main motivating force, and organizational master.

It is with great pleasure and a huge, satisfactory sigh that Your Humble Narrator and Only True Friend can confidently and righteously say that the second (and most ambitious) iteration of Toronto’s eagerly-anticipated Torture Garden Fetish Event was very much the former, and very little of the latter. It is safe to say, right here and right now, that as of May 2010, the longer-established “lifestyle” conventions, events and weekends have some serious competition for Fetish Festival attendee dollars in North America.

It is doubtful that anyone could have predicted that a single evening’s debauchery a little under a year ago (Torture Garden was initially welcomed to Toronto in August 2009) would have a meteoric evolution into an unbelievable five-night celebration of sinful excess. Anyone, that is, with the notable exception of the event’s organizational workhorse, Craig Galbreath. Even the two founders of the Torture Garden “franchise movement”, David Wood and Allen Pelling, were initially skeptical two full evenings of Toronto back-to-back fetish nights bearing the iconic Torture Garden masthead would be well-attended and wildly popular – let alone stretching the festivities into a five-day affair. “What Craig has done here is unmatched. It’s astounding, really,” a somewhat visibly subdued DJ David Wood remarked during a break between his sets on the Opera House stage. “When he told us he wanted to do a whole holiday weekend of Torture Garden (in Toronto), we weren’t really thinking he was serious at first. We had counted on another, successful one-night show: Craig gave us more. Hat’s are off to him. He’s worked very hard. He’s gained our confidence, for certain.”

Since Torture Garden Toronto said farewell to honoured guests, featured performers and satisfied delegates during a wonderful (if somewhat unseasonably warm) outdoor Wine and Cheese party on Victoria Day (May 24th, a national holiday in Canada), Your Humble Narrator has been inundated with queries – and demands – regarding when a full assessment and commentary regarding the near week-long festival would be produced, and made available for discerning eyes and ears. After taking some time to speak with several involved participants and excited attendees alike, a top to bottom review of the diabolically delicious pageantry that was Torture Garden Toronto 2010 is what follows.

Torture Garden, the Good:

The Music: Where does one start? There were truly so many superlatives about Torture Garden Toronto that it’s truly impossible to pick out a single, exceptional and definitive moment to call “The Best of Show”. What can be said as an appropriate beginning, however, is the quality exhibited by the event’s founders and chief musicologists, David TG and Allen TG (yes, the very same twosome mentioned above). During the two main event nights at Toronto’s old and oddly appropriate venue known as The Opera House, the rave reviews for the selection and expert transitioning of music by the disc jockeys inhabiting the stage were virtually universal.

In fact, “quality of music” has always been somewhat of a complaint regarding Toronto’s nightclub scene: more often than not, revelers are disappointed that Toronto DJ’s tend to exhaustively spin the recordings that they (the DJ’s) think their public should enjoy dancing to – whether their public likes what they are spinning, or not. Dance junkies don’t usually care if they’re force-fed repeated volumes of the same aural fare, of course. However, the consistent and exceptional quality of music that was offered to the writing masses at Torture Garden Toronto is worth noting. David and Allen know their business, of that there is no question, and it is I believe a significant reason as to why the Torture Garden franchise has been so successful for the past twenty-odd years.

Give the people great music, and professionally presented, and the “eye candy” aspect becomes somewhat incidental. All through Saturday and Sunday evening’s main events at The Opera House, the dance floors – hell, the upper level dungeon/play spaces and media balcony even – were a happy, roiling mass of fervently delirious feet and expressively ecstatic, feverish bodies. People had wondered (last year and this year both) why David and Allen would come all the way to Toronto and “work” their own franchise party. The answer, now, we definitely know. It’s because they’re the best at what they do. They keep the people excited, happy, and most importantly, moving. It is here, without question, that the winning formula has been forged by the founding fathers of TG: Combine great music with exceptional atmosphere and top it all off with the most delicious aforementioned eye candy assembled, and you have the recipe for the perfect party.

The Performances: Almost all of the performances during Saturday and Sunday evening’s main events were quite spectacular. More will be said about RubberDoll a little further on, but her two performances definitely thrilled those who hadn’t been exposed to her act before. Those that had seen her previously, well … suffice to say it would appear from comments in the crowd that her act really hasn’t changed much in the past year (or more). That being said, RubberDoll is a seasoned, professional fetish performer and she certainly didn’t disappoint. She wasn’t appearing to be “simply going through the motions”, as she gave a high-octane, savagely energetic showpiece that titillated and teased the assembled crowd gasping at the contortions and machinations taking place on the stage above.

In addition to the excellent standard set by RubberDoll, the Fire Dance set and the Aerial Performanceswere both awe-inspiring and mind-altering. There is a genuine sense of great enjoyment when one is able to bear witness to the circus-like precision exhibited by those that dance with fire, and those that twist, turn and (sometimes) twirl high above the ground floor with nothing between them and oblivion but a simple, sturdy hoop or a seemingly thin and suspiciously fragile-looking long length of cloth. No-one who saw these performances went away feeling like they’d been somehow denied their money’s worth.

Highly effective and somewhat discomfort-level causing flesh hook suspension artists I Was Cured returned to the Torture Garden stage after a shockingly triumphant “debut” at last year’s event, and once again judging by the amount of gasps, groans and excited whispers in the crowd they were once more enthusiastically embraced and cheered by an adoring, entranced and spellbound viewing public. Sunday evening featured a fun and definitely “Beach Blanket Kinko” campy demonstration performance from Toronto’s own Kink Engineering, who managed to convey to an (at first) somewhat puzzled crowd exactly what it is about “Vac Beds” that is so damned appealing and ultimately desirable. Mad Scientist and Archean, the undeniably brilliant brains and frenetically enthusiastic minds behind Kink Engineering, unveiled their (sure to be) revolutionary Vac Cube and Vac Tower designs to the very enthusiastic onlookers. In essence, the Vac Cube and the Vac Tower are “three-dimensional” Vac Beds: instead of a dual top and bottom only, decidedly flat-surface bondage effect (what those in the ‘know’ have come to regard as ‘traditional vacuum table technology’), these brand-new product offerings actually encase the imbedded subject within six separate, converging latex pieces. While the crowd enthusiastically whooted and whooped as Archean herself became immobilized by her own latex creation (which was beautifully adorned with a blue and white Japanese wave motif – more on that later), Mad Scientist was joined onstage by a gas-masked unidentified female, who promptly climbed inside the Vac Tower and for all intents and purposes, “disappeared”. The reason for the gas mask soon became absolutely apparent: as the Vac Tower was raised above the stage, and the air was removed by a small canister vacuum cleaner on the floor below, the six-sided latex cube quickly revealed the young lady literally suspended in mid-air (or, in this case, mid-rope) within. The gas mask was revealed to be attached to a breathing hose that was connected to the outside world – ensuring that the bound beauty within wasn’t about be locked in a life and death struggle for precious oxygen. When the Vac Tower was finally lowered to the stage, and the masked female was “released” from her rubber bindings, it was (of course) the incomparable rope and suspension artist Lotuslily who was revealed to have been the masked “victim” of the imposing Vac Tower. Sure, it was ‘camp couture’ at its best: but it was also an extremely effective (and fun!) demonstration of the capabilities of the units designed and manufactured by Kink Engineering. In that regard, the performance was a resounding, and much appreciated, success.

Some other established performers were given prime spots in the performance line-up, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Satomi, The Tokyo Love Doll and Vivid Angel in particular both stunned and thrilled the crowd with displays that certainly broke many of the bonds of convention. There was even a playful bit of intentional controversy (which won’t be discussed here) that was surely designed to send the crowd into whispered frenzies of shock and amazement. Suffice to say that if you do have an opportunity to see Satomi and Vivid Angel in particular, don’t miss it: those two ladies put on one hell of a performance.

The Fashion Shows:  With the addition of Northbound Leather, the fetish fashion ensembles were extremely fresh and generated a huge amount of over-the-top excitement. Northbound Leather’s designs, when the models took to the stage, were described immediately by one American visitor (from Michigan) as “completely sick” and definitely in the “I must have that” categories. Northbound was joined onstage in short order by exceptional, delicious ensembles from design houses Futurstate, Plastik Wrap and Artifice – each one with their own unique signature and style, and each one enthusiastically endorsed by an adoring public in the gathered audience below.

However, as good as Northbound Leather, Futurstate, Plastik Wrap and Artifice was, it was Toronto’s Ego Assassin that literally brought the house down. In what was the best choreographed and well-performed set of the entire Torture Garden experience, James and Slinka of Ego Assassin managed to combine an aquatic theme with an industrial edge, and gave their viewers truly a visually explosive treat. The audience was treated to another instance of the blue and white Japanese wave – this time as a smaller scale artistic treatment featured on the front of a corset adorning the bodice of a slender, lithe latex-blue female “shark”. The motifs are a trademark of Ego Assassin’s work: and there simply isn’t anything in the known fetish world that compares. Their process is unique and revolutionary (and no, I won’t give it away here, although even James and Slinka say it’s surprisingly straight-forward), and the final product is truly amazing. It is one thing to see these intricate latex designs and motifs static and unmoving on a production table, or within staged photographs. It is quite another to see those designs literally come to life, on stage, when worn by exotically-moving models and dancers. By the end of their fashion segment, the crowd below the stage was screaming in unrequited approval and amazement when two black latex “sea insectoids,” each with misshapen glowing eyes, entered and accosted one of the aquatically finned lithe females. The entire segment, truly, had to be seen to be believed. As Ego Assassin continues to develop and evolve their product lines, their designs are sure to be regarded as highly in demand by latex enthusiasts world-wide.

The Seminars: In somewhat of a risky move, Torture Garden Toronto sponsored a series of seminars that were simply expertly organized and executed by Toronto’s own Lord Morpheous. I venture to say, with extreme confidence, that there are few (if any) more engaging, knowledgeable and exceptional rope work educators within our realm. Three of the seminars were held at the host hotel (Sheraton Centre) on the Saturday afternoon, and two others were held at another, less central location on the Sunday.

One of those seminars – one which Your Humble Narrator had witnessed before, in Montreal during the Fetish Weekend – was conducted by a man named Dunter and focused on the finer aspects of controlling someone using Pressure Points on the human body. Due to a scheduling conflict, our little entourage (which included the lovely Mistress Lyn, her devoted, talented husband and “personal photographer” SJoe from New York, and a fresh young female acolyte new to our Community known as Severne) arrived at the very end of Dunter’s allotted time – but judging by the rave reviews expressed by all present, there was no question that, once again, this impressive and extremely talented educator from Montreal had held his audience (you’ll pardon the phrase, of course) “captive”. He made a new cabal of devotees in Toronto with his effectual and effusive, genial and extremely effective teaching style.

A rising star on the “Kinky Lecture Circuit” appeared in the form of a young gentleman who goes by the simple moniker of Cub Dan, and his engaging and delightful seminar on how to use regular household items (and some eyebrow raising “irregular” household items) as sensation implements for SM play was both incredibly insightful – and extremely entertaining at the same time. Watch for this man: he’s truly something special as an educator. Just don’t let him anywhere near you with a ring of steel wool, electrode attachments, a vibrating wood sander or a bottle of Hot Sauce if you can help it. He’s impressively adept at perverting (pretty much) anything – and safely – he can get his hands on.

Lord Morpheous himself ended a near-perfect and enjoyable afternoon with a fantastic talk, demonstration and audience participation lecture on Sex Bondage. He was joined, with perfect fluidity, by a beautiful and completely engaging young lady by the name of elle who served as the subject for the various ties Lord Morpheous was teaching. She wasn’t just a model: during the seminar she gave some extremely valuable and much-appreciated insight, from a bottom’s perspective, about what she was experiencing as she was being restrained. There is a reason why Lord Morpheous, in my opinion, is one of the most sought-after facilitators in North America: not only is he an experienced and truly fantastic rope artist, but he’s enjoyable and engaging to watch and listen to.

What was most impressive, about all three of these presenters, was how well their audience retained the knowledge they had just obtained. Being able to walk out of a room and be able to perform, safely and with complete confidence, a pressure point takedown; a ‘shocking’ Karaoke performance (sorry, you’ll just have to take one of Cub Dan’s classes to truly want to know what I’m talking about – but it involves electrodes, a microphone and steel wool if you must know); or a chicken-wing tie, is assuredly the mark of a true professional. All three men could be thusly, and accurately, described. Unfortunately, time and distance did not allow our little group to review the other two seminars scheduled that weekend – but if the three we were exposed to are any indication, I’m sure they were every bit as informative, fun and superb.

The Atmosphere: Choose an adjective, and chances are it applies to the over-all mood, feel and attitude of Torture Garden party-goers. Electric? Mysterious? Adrenaline-laced? Frenetic? Vibrant? All of the above? If there was one single word to be used as a definitive summary of the Torture Garden Toronto experience, it would without question have to be: “Alive” There can be little doubt; those who bid adieu to the ceremonies in 2010 have already started making plans to be in attendance at the 2011 event.

Torture Garden, the Bad:

Torture Garden Toronto officially got underway with a welcoming event on Friday evening. There isn’t much to say about the venue, unfortunately: our entourage spent almost the entirety of the evening outdoors, on the sidewalk near the front door. So did many, many others who ventured out that night. At one point, it truly was a toss-up as to which had the greater numbers: the party going on inside the venue, or the party happening outside.

Not that it mattered. This must be stressed: there were very, very few complaints regarding the unfortunate lack of space this particular venue provided indoors. People who showed up, dressed in all their fabulousness in respective latex, leather, satin, PVC and even canvas, to a person had a most enjoyable time meeting with old friends, and perhaps making new ones. However, there were certainly issues with this particular venue (regarding the understanding of rules at the outset of the evening) that did put quite a damper on the hopes of those whom had hoped to spend Opening Night comfortably dancing and cavorting indoors.

In simple terms, the venue was just too small – and the House Rules of this particular club simply too incompatible – to completely, comfortably accommodate the mass of Torture Garden attendees that did manage to make it down for the night. Undoubtedly, there had to be certain numbers of patrons who had purchased a VIP or a weekend pass that may have felt disappointment regarding Friday night and the fact that they (most likely) spent most of the evening outdoors instead of within the venue. But here’s the caveat, and the wondrous thing: the majority of people (including our own entourage) really didn’t seem to mind. It wasn’t the venue that made the party on Friday night: it was the people. Everyone was ecstatic to be there, amongst their peers – and it showed.

Torture Garden, the Ugly:

Last year, it was somewhat jokingly suggested that the only glaring thing wrong with Torture Garden’s main event … was the condition of the stairs on the upper levels. The owners of The Opera House should have heeded those somewhat tongue in cheek comments, because this year, those stairs actually continued to be a problem. Thankfully, the extent of the issue with the upper level stairs at The Opera House (and the grumbles were constrained, it must be said, to the upper levels only) really could only be considered minor in scope. Every organizer, though, that is contemplating mounting a major fetish event should consider that their guests will be adorned in very high-priced fetish haute couture that includes very expensive outerwear and footwear. It would be in their best interests if the interiors of the venue they were providing (for said finery) actually didn’t contribute in any way to the destruction of these delicious ensembles. In complete fairness to Craig Galbraith, the main mover and shaker of Torture Garden Toronto, there simply wasn’t anything he could have done better to guarantee the safety and security of his guests – the entire event, from the three nights of parties, to the seminars and to the farewell dinner afterwards, were meticulously organized and exceptionally managed. This writer can attest to the fact that Mr. Galbraith did absolutely everything within his limited power to try and address the (relatively simply) issue of those damned stairs – but obviously was ultimately thwarted. Maybe next year, Craig?

Speaking of next year: Torture Garden 2011 should be very interesting. It will certainly be hard for Craig (and David and Allen, for that matter) to top the five days of twisted and feverish consensual torment that was this year’s fantastic fetish festival. Torture Garden continues to evolve and evoke wondrous new beginnings. People will come – because Torture Garden simply gives the masses want they want: a fabulous time, a memorable experience, and a chance to express themselves without repercussion amongst their peers.

Really, to quote the immortal George and Ira Gershwin: ‘Who could ask for anything more?’

(All Photographs by SJoe, Lady Morganna and Kardynyl SynysTyr – Courtesy of Torture Garden Toronto 2010) (Images may not be reproduced without express written permission)

(Note: Photographs do not necessarily correspond with accompanying text)