Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Photo courtesy of OHDC
Only Human Dance Collective (OHDC) celebrates a milestone this year. The annual U of T student-led, student-run choreographic showcase turns 20! The anniversary show, appropriately titled Mosaic, celebrates the beauty of diversity that has been the core of OHDC’s long-standing mission. Mosaic features 96 dancers in a variety of genre-spanning works including belly dance, Chinese dance, hip hop, and musical theatre. Ahead of last year’s show Seasons, we spoke with dancer-choreographer and Marketing Director Christine Foo. We re-present that interview in eager anticipation of Mosaic, which runs this week at Hart House Theatre.
Seasons change, and so do we. This eternal certainty is the inspiration behind Only Human Dance Collective’s (OHDC) annual choreography showcase at Hart House Theatre, which is this year entitled Seasons. As always, the OHDC showcase is conceived, choreographed, and implemented by U of T students – and each one is as distinct as the dancers who create it. Discussing this year’s program and its theme, OHDC Marketing Director and dancer Christine Foo explains that “Just as the seasons meld together to create a cohesive year, despite diversity and chaos at times, the show will also meld dancers of different styles and levels into one cohesive story told through movement.”
Like the cycle of seasons, Seasons is divided into four parts representing the four seasons. Each number falls within one of the four parts of the show, with transitional pieces between representing the changes of season. There will also be a large “company” piece, and this year’s show will feature many new dance styles, including Soca, Ukrainian, Heels, Malaysian Peranakan, Ballroom, and Acro. The philosophical aspect of Seasons resonates with Ms Foo, reminding her of advice from her mother following a recent heartbreak: people and experiences come and go in the different seasons of one’s life. “I have times that are cold and dark, but also times that are warm and bright,” Ms Foo admits. “Times where things are falling away, but also times full of growth.” The only universal constant is change – so that is “something we can all relate to.”
In addition to a greater variety of dance styles, this year’s audience should also expect some cool stunts, props such as a light-up book – “and more boys! That’s always great to see.” OHDC is an “all-inclusive club” with dancers of all backgrounds, levels and styles, united by their love of dance. Within the Collective, each dancer brings their own, unique touch to the choreography and music. “The size of the pieces [in Seasons] ranges from 1 dancer to 45 dancers!” Ms Foo notes, and the works range from “playful pieces to emotional pieces, Beyoncé to The Nutcracker – there’s something for everyone!” She herself will perform in a traditional Malaysian dance, and she is glad to be able to represent and share a part of her cultural heritage.
Photo by Marc Bernhard
Beyond the chance to present her own artistry, Ms Foo is excited to showcase the collective passion and dedication in the show as a whole. This includes behind-the-scenes creativity, such as the lighting and scenic designs which bring a choreographer’s vision to life. “Together, they create an immersive experience for the audience” when these effects are tailored to the style, mood and energy of each piece. Naturally, a show of this scale comes with a steep production cost. Ms Foo is unambiguous in underlining the OHDC’s sincere gratitude to their long-standing sponsors: U of T ‘s Affinity Partners, Manulife Canada and TD Insurance. These partnerships support a number of student and alumni programs, and in the case of OHDC, help to cover costumes subsidies, secure free rehearsal spaces, and rent the performance venue. It truly takes a village to mount a show like this, and Ms Foo smiles with satisfaction, as she contemplates it: “It’s really inspiring how everything comes together, the journey from ideas in our heads to the stage”.
A mundane but practical question occurs. Given the overwhelm of university study loads and final exams looming a scant month away, how do the students in OHDC manage to choreograph, rehearse, market and produce this major show without letting their academic standards slip? First, while dance is a recreational activity, its positive physical, mental and social health benefits should not be overlooked or be underestimated. Dance is a physical and cerebral activity which provides a creative outlet. As such, it can help alleviate the stress which accompanies multi-tasking across multiple time-crunched subjects of study. Stress relief is a compelling reason to participate in an activity that helps to expand focus beyond assignments, tests and GPAs, and cultivates a sense of joy and belonging. Second, involvement in an organization like OHDC can help to foster critical skills like prioritization and time management. “Weekly dance rehearsals do challenge you to manage your time,” Ms Foo admits. There are also mandatory company rehearsals, which take up several hours. When these happen, members bring schoolwork or reading to complete while they wait for their number. (Ms Foo does advise new members to start with fewer pieces until they get a sense of the time commitment needed.) Finally, being a member of the executive team has taught her invaluable lessons in cooperation and collaboration: critical skills for success as a student, in the workforce, and in life. “Ask for help from your team members if you’re struggling to complete a task by yourself.”
OHDC has been a mainstay of U of T since 1999, and is enduring proof that students can maintain high academic standards individually without foregoing their collective creativity and professionalism. Despite stubbornly cold temperatures and the spectre of final exams, the 2018 OHDC dancers are readying with gusto and anticipation for their opening night, which falls just two days after the end of winter. In its energy, passion and diversity, Seasons promises – regardless of the weather outside – to usher in the glad renewal of spring.