The University of Alberta’s Orchesis Dance Group has given students the opportunity to dance jazz and modern on campus since 1964. Every year in January, Orchesis holds its recital, Dance Motif, allowing choreographers and performers to celebrate their love for dance. I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year participating in Orchesis, surrounded by dancers with a passion for their artistry. As soon as I learned one of the choreographers for Dance Motif 2013 was creating a routine with a political message, I knew I had to join. The routine is intriguingly dark; two dancers symbolize individuals corrupted with concentrated power as they attempt to manipulate the rest of the dancers, who symbolize the masses. I sat down with my choreographer, Tony Olivares, to discuss the inspiration behind his artistry, and the influential moments in his life as a dancer.
Nikita: How would you describe this dance, and what inspired you during the creative process?
Tony: The dance is called Dangerous Liaisons, and the inspiration was Malala, the girl who was attacked by the Taliban. I am sick and tired of fundamentalists around the world, always trying to dominate the masses. So, the dance is mostly a reflection in terms of how the masses can take control of their own destiny. Even though the Dangerous Liaisons, that is religion plus power, are always together to try to manipulate us, I feel that the masses, at the end, have the last word. The dance is more improvisation-based, but also modern and a little bit theatrical. Very modern, contemporary.
Nikita: You mentioned that Malala was the inspiration of the dance. Were there any personal experiences of yours that also fuelled the creation of the dance?
Tony: I was born in Central America, and I was a part of a Civil War in 1978 to 1979 in Nicaragua. I remember being 16 years old, and being pushed to fight for my life, to have a gun in my hands. That’s another way for me to reflect, ‘How is it that the power system is really used to control the masses, and make us fight against each other?’ That’s one personal experience, and another is that as a gay man I’ve tried to survive in the straight world, and it’s very hard for a gay man to survive sometimes, because a lot of people are against us. It’s a combination of all that: religion, war, everything that has mostly inspired me to keep creating pieces that make sense to me, that are not just “5,6,7,8!” and jazzy. There’s nothing wrong with those pieces, but I like to speak out through dance, about present times and society.
Nikita: Can you tell me a little bit about how you started dance, and your personal journey with dance?
Tony: I started dancing in Nicaragua when I was 7 years old. That was the first time that there was a competition on television, and I told my mom, “I want to be part of that competition,” and she said, “We’ll sign you up.” I did sign up, and I ended up winning first place; that was in 1969. And then from there, my first experience really training in dance was when I moved to Edmonton in 1987. I’ve been training all my life since then, mostly in the United States and Canada.
Nikita: Are there any particularly special experiences or memories you have related to dance?
Tony: That day that I won the competition, I remember people applauding for me, and at that moment I decided, ‘Perhaps, this is who I am. I should be a dancer.’ Also, when I teach kids dance and I see them doing their best, to do pirouettes or anything, and when I see people feeling the dance. Those are my prized moments, of the dancers having fun with the material.
Nikita: Dance would probably be considered a very competitive field, and it’s very difficult to make a living out of it. What advice would you give to a dancer who wants to pursue dance professionally?
Tony: Just continue advocating yourself. Get your Bachelor’s degree; get your Master’s degree. Don’t stop dancing, just keep pursuing your dreams, and someday you’ll get there.
Nikita: What has your experience been like at the U of A?
Tony: I just love the feeling of the university, it’s always welcoming, and there are a lot of people with the desire to study, with the desire to push their limits, not just physically but in terms of knowledge. So, every time I come back, I feel at home.
Nikita: What would you like to say about Orchesis?
Tony: Anyone, come check out Orchesis, Dance Motif 2013, and enjoy and support the dance community here at the University of Alberta!
If you are interested in Dance Motif 2013, visit: http://www.dance.ualberta.ca/en/OrchesisDanceGroup/Performance.aspx.