Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
“If you stumble, make it part of the dance” is an eerily prophetic and fortuitous description of my introduction to Only Human Dance Collective (OHDC). While looking for information for another article, I stumbled onto a small ad about this dance company situated within the University of Toronto (U of T). To be clear, the OHDC isn’t new to the U of T community. Yet, despite being around since 1999, it remains a hidden gem that deserves to be better known – not the least because the company welcomes everyone, based solely on a desire to dance. No audition or expertise is required, creating an all-in atmosphere that gives OHDC members freedom to revel in their collective movement and collaborative creation.
OHDC was founded by Sarah Bunston, Susanna Chwang, and Rebecca Ho with an unique, all-inclusive mandate to welcome all dancers, regardless of experience or affiliation to the university. Company member and Marketing Director Fernanda Gianone explains that, since its inception, the company has grown tremendously. “For quite a few years now, we put on our own annual professional dance production showcasing various dance styles, including Jazz, Modern, Contemporary, Chinese, Ballet, Hip-Hop, Latin, and more!”
Ms Gianone attributes OHDC’s growth directly to its open-door policy: “We want to give everyone an equal opportunity to be the best dancer they can be, regardless of dance, personal, or educational background.” However, that opportunity brings with it a practical concern for funding. As a result, sponsorship has become increasingly important as OHDC grows in membership. “For more than a decade, we have been very fortunate to be sponsored by the U of T Affinity Partners Manulife, TD Insurance and the U of T MasterCard program,” Ms Gianone explains. A portion of all proceeds raised by these partnerships on discounted money-wise options (such as customized credit cards and competitive insurance) goes towards supporting student and alumni programs, as well as initiatives like OHDC. “Thanks to them, we continue to be able to provide our dancers with costume subsidies, theatre rental, free rehearsal spaces and workshops.”
This year’s showcase is titled Once Upon Time and runs March 23-25 at Hart House Theatre. Why does the show take for its title a phrase so familiar as a fairy-tale opener? As dancers, the company views dance as a form of storytelling, and Once Upon a Time gives the choreographers an opportunity to share their stories – whether fictional or real – and regardless of dance style. “Just like our favourite childhood fairy tales, the show begins in a magical, dream-like tone,” Gianone explains. “As we progress into the show, we take the audience on an emotional ride through fictional and real-life stories of past loves, fears, friendships, and experiences.”
The conceit of dance as language allows dancers to communicate eloquently and economically through gesture and movement. (Coincidentally, Anita Majumdar’s Boys with Cars, which also opens at the Young People’s Theatre on March 23, and The Fish Eyes Trilogy, the larger show from which it was adapted, also incorporate this conceit, and allow the communication of lived experiences and multiple perspectives to be conveyed through the medium of Indian classical dance.)
Acknowledging that each OHDC show has been unique, and having been part of the company for 5 years now, Ms Gianone asserts unequivocally that the choreographers definitely “stepped up their game” on costumes and technique level for this year’s show: “We’ve also incorporated some acting elements into parts of the show, which adds a lot to our storytelling capabilities.” And in case the drama inherent in dancing personal stories sounds intense or overly serious, she quickly soothes, “don’t worry. We made sure our dancers have a happy ending!”
When asked for final thoughts, without skipping a beat (and in the spirit of OHDC), Ms Gianone extends an enthusiastic invitation to (future) dancers, dance lovers and dance dabblers to “check out” Once Upon a Time. “You never know,” she smiles. “We might bring out the dancer in you – our doors are always open to new members!
Now that’s an invitation that any dance enthusiast – practitioner or spectator – should find impossible to stumble over!
News You Can Use
What: Once Upon a Time, presented by the Only Human Dance Collective
When: March 23, 24 and 25, 2017, 8:00 pm
Where: Hart House Theatre, University of Toronto, 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto, ON M5S 3H3
Who: Audiences of all ages
Event Information: Facebook.com
Tickets: HartHouse.ca and 416.978.8849
Explore and Learn: ohdc.sa.utoronto.ca
© 2017 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya