Centennial Hall was overflowing with an enthusiastic crowd of around 1200 people this past Saturday for the 18th annual charity fashion show by the Canadian Asian International Student's Association, dubbed Paragon.
This year, the show donated $30,000 to the personalized medicine initiative at the Children's Health Foundation. Dr. Richard Kim took the stage to talk about his work, describing his goal of "real-world delivery of personalized medicine …Using the latest in genomics technology."
The show was divided into five "sectors," each corresponding to a stage in the revolutionary narrative as well as the category of clothing. "Alpha" opened with a video projection of the Paragon leader, played by Kate Wang, assuring the brainwashed citizens in a distorted voice that all was well. One citizen, however, is not convinced — in the crowd of blindfolded, white-clad citizens, the Rebel (Christine Stebel) opens her eyes to the corruption around her. Hip Hop Western and the Western Ontario Organization of Filipinos (WOOF), dressed in longline mesh tops and black sweats, fit in well with the aesthetic.
Stebel and Wang were both skilled, tenacious dancers, and they had an intense, shifting dynamic between them. Wang, in a flowing black dress, had a sort of dominatrix aura about her; she twirls a wooden rod with the air of a dictator, equal parts grace and brutality, striking down the Rebel and throwing her behind bars on-stage. Stebel, dressed in white form-fitting clothing, transitioned from delicate victim to a powerful, angelic force throughout the show.
Swimwear took the stage with an eye-catching array of patterns and colours, with elaborate one-piece and two-piece bikinis for the women. The men strutted to the front following the dancing to showcase their neutral-coloured shorts, flexing and freezing like chic Greek marble sculptures.
The semiformal section was the most diverse, with a variety of floral shirts on display as well as dresses and slips in elaborate lace patterns. In an interesting production choice, Isaac Eng played violin on stage to Emeli Sande's invigorating Read All About It.
The lingerie models walked out to raucous cheering and applause, as always. Black lace reigned supreme for the ladies, holding their own and dancing with incredible dexterity in pin-point heels. The men were equally well-received in (very) fitted black boxer briefs, impressing the crowd with an impromptu workout routine of one-handed push-ups.
Beautifully fitted suits graced the stage during the formal section, with admirable variety — bowties and pocket squares were welcome flashes of colour. The women wore long, flowing black dresses and the show transitioned into something like a ballroom dance, all elegance and high society.
Paragon ended with an unabashed, elegant homage to the Bond films. Eng returned to stage to accompany the strains of Sam Smith's Writing on the Wall, the theme of Spectre, while abstract ink-in-water graphics played on the projector.
The dystopian theme introduced an odd paradigm. It limited the range of colours and styles, for the most part, to a sort of minimalist greyscale aesthetic, but it also opened the door for experimentation and innovation. The show wasn't the most colourful and it wasn't as chock-full of acrobatics as last year, but that was part of the appeal; it was a story of a cold future and an age-old struggle.
Ultimately, though, the show's appeal came from the attitude of the models. There was a sense of camaraderie backstage that translated onto the stage. Each model had a brief flair when they strutted up to the front; a sultry sway and wink, a selfie with the audience — one model even had a pizza handed to him from the audience. A show for charity, with CAISA's propensity for the spectacular and happy models. What more could you ask for?