Thursday, January 29, 2015

Happy 50th Birthday, Orchesis Modern Dance!

Long Live the Circus!
Choreography by The Ensemble
Photo Credit: Marc J Chalifoux, 2014
When you’re a dancer with Orchesis Modern Dance, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, you know the end of January means only one thing – time for Motif!

On January 30-31 2015, Orchesis will present its annual Dance Motif, a performance of the modern and jazz dances choreographed by Orchesis faculty, guest choreographers and students. This year’s Dance Motif, however, is very special because it marks Orchesis’ 50th anniversary as the University of Alberta’s Modern Dance Group. It was created by “dance educator Dorothy Harris in 1964” and it’s “one of the oldest student organizations” at the U of A.
Long Live the Circus!
Choreography by The Ensemble
Photo Credit: Marc J Chalifoux, 2014

I loved dancing with Orchesis and thinking about my dance family getting ready for the 50th anniversary show has me feeling my first big pangs of homesickness. I so wish I could be there to help them celebrate! But since I can’t be there, to honor the organization that means so much to so many, I’m excited to share my favorite memories of Orchesis with you. So here they are, in no particular order, and I hope you enjoy this birthday ode to Orchesis.

Being introduced to Modern Dance
I was 14 years old when I watched my first Orchesis Motif back in 1999. I remember sitting in the Myer Horowitz theatre with my parents, watching my big sister Salena in a piece called ‘Shadow Dance’. There were lights in the wings and on the corners of the stage, so the shadows of the dancers were cast on the backdrop, hence the title of the piece. It was a beautiful sight – the way the shadows became ghostly partners of the dancers. It was the first time I’d really seen how the lighting design can support the choreography onstage and take the performance to next level. It was so different and exciting and I wanted to see more.

The next year’s show was also very memorable. It was the first time my sister’s then-boyfriend-now-husband came to the show and I’ll never forget how he set the bar super high for all dance boyfriends when he walked into the theatre with - not one - but two dozen roses! That show had dancers swinging from a huge net strung across the stage, musicians accompanying the dancers onstage and a piece involving dancers painted head to toe to represent the various elements of the world. Salena was painted blue, like water. It was dance at its most different and distinct and it opened my teenaged eyes to a whole new world.

Salena and I in our natural habitat: a dance studio!
August 2014
Getting to dance with my sister
There’s almost six years age difference between me and Salena, so when we were dancing growing up, we were obviously in different levels. But when I joined Orchesis during my first year at U of A, I finally got to take class with her! She introduced me to the Orchesis community and in 2006, we were both in the modern jazz piece, choreographed by the great Laura Krewski. When our parents came to the show, our Mom said it was a special thrill to see her girls dancing side by side. We’ve since enjoyed many more Orchesis classes together over the years, as well as ballet and contemporary at J’adore Dance. I can’t wait to take her to class at the Centre de Danse du Marais when she comes to visit because dance is what we do! Salena will be performing in Motif 2015 and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

Karen and I backstage at Motif 2009
Photo Credit: Fiona Williams
Meeting some of my closest friends
One thing I learned in Orchesis is you can’t not be friends with someone after you’ve pretended to be seaweed together. I remember it so clearly: we were halfway through the rehearsal process when our choreographer had us hold our shoulder-stands and let our legs “drift above us in the air, like seaweed”. I was very firmly out of my comfort zone but I went for it. After several attempts, we took a break and I asked another dancer: “That was weird for you too, right? Being seaweed? Because I thought that was weird.” She nodded in agreement and that was the beginning of a very important friendship; eight years later, that other dancer was one of the bridesmaids at my wedding.

Choreography by Laura Krewski
Photo Credit: Bryn Bezaire, 2008
When I think back on the people I met at university, the ones I’m still close to are my Orchesis people. When someone trusts you enough to let you stomp around them when they’re lying on the floor, that’s not just any friendship, that’s a dance friendship. When you’re tired, sweaty, sore and you want to give up, but you don’t because your fellow dancers give you that extra bit of energy, that’s when you know you’re around amazing dance people and those are the bonds of friendship forged in dance.

Learning, growing and creating!
Orchesis has some of Edmonton’s best dance educators and choreographers, which makes its members incredibly lucky to work with such amazing people. Over the years, I’ve taken modern and jazz from many different teachers and learned so much from them. 

Working with different choreographers for Motif has also given me so many great memories. 
Choreography by Jeannie Vandekerkove
Photo Credit: J. Teres, 2009
The year Laura Krewski choreographed a beautiful, bluesy jazz piece to selections from Oscar Peterson’s Canadiana Suite was one of my favorite jazz dance experiences. I was really pushed by Jeannie Vandekerhove’s piece Prenzlauerberg, which involved some of the most physical, get-into-the-floor choreography I’ve ever performed and holds the record for the most knee bruises I’ve ever received while dancing. I attended the Orchesis Summer Dance Intensive in 2011 and absolutely loved the different jazz styles – funk, swing, African, lyrical - taught by Decidedly Jazz’s Sarisa Figueroa de Toledo. Kathy Metzger-Corriveau’s piece in 2013 was a great technical challenge and gave me some great jumping moments, and collectively choreographing Long Live the Circus, under the guidance of my friend and fellow drama teacher Fiona Williams, was the highlight of Motif 2014. Every year at Orchesis, I learned more about dance, I grew as a dancer and I was part of some amazing dance creations and for all that, I am so thankful.

Emergence: From Water to Earth
Choreography by Kathy Metzger-Corriveau
Photo Credit: Tracey Kolenchuk, 2012

And finally, there’s no party like a Dance Party!
As a drama major and a director, I’ve been to many closing night parties but Orchesis closing night parties are truly the best – hands down! The dance floor is packed almost all night, choreography is re-enacted and Thriller is performed with astonishing accuracy. There really is no party like a dance party!

To all the members of the Orchesis family, I wish you all the best for a wonderful run of Motif 2015! Know that when you lock pinky fingers in your circles backstage, I’m thinking of you and cheering you on from France.

Happy 50th Birthday Orchesis! Thank you for the amazing memories! 

For more information about Orchesis Modern Dance check out their website!


  1. Thanks Erin for the wonderful article . I feel I know a little bit now about your wonderful time with the dance group.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Marie!

  2. My eyes just got all misty...What's that all about? ;-)
    What a wonderful, insightful account of an Orchesis dancer. Love it Erin!

    1. I'm so glad you like the post, Tamara. I meant every word and I'm so thankful for my Orchesis memories. Congratulations on the 50th anniversary! I'm cheering on the Orchesis family from France!

  3. i am really glad to know that about Happy 50th Birthday, Orchesis Modern Dance!. something glories event in theses recent month before.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Maria. Dance communities are very special no matter where they are.