Kathy Ochoa comes and goes from Edmonton. Word gets around when she's heading out, and when she comes back we find out where she's been. This time it's not clear if she's been here awhile or if she's been overseas. It is a bit of a surprise when Organic Dances is announced. "KO is here."
Just reading the description of Organic Dances sounds so exciting. "Edmonton’s most experimental renegade choreographer turned mad
scientist, Kathy Ochoa has grown another multi-media performance where
hormones, revelry and provocative dance transform a theatre into a
living forest." "There's hope for this city," one might think as they read this.
118 Avenue is on the north side of Edmonton. It's a part of the city where prostitution and drug dealing are rampant, yet there are strong efforts to gentrify the area. In fact they are currently making a CBC show called Northsiders, which seems to be causing some degree of embarrassment to our fair city. Anyway, that's where KO chose to build her piece.
The community hall is a new building along this stretch of a rather obvious attempt at urban renewal. The neighborhood seems nice, yet there is a sense of something oozing through the sidewalks, around the corners. Never mind, as soon as you walk into the hall there are familiar icons of Edmonton dance there, and walking down the halls is like walking down an aisle of a large greenhouse. Potted herbs lined the hallway and a turn into the gymnasium becomes a tree nursery (not quite a forest; for all the potted trees and plants still have the tags on them).
The space, designed by another prodigal child of the Edmonton dance scene (and former forester) Tony Olivares, feels moist and sparkly at the same time. The walls are covered in sheets of some kind of metal, perhaps Mylar. The room is full of plants and trees. There are chairs facing the stage area. Large branches extend from the floor through a basketball hoop. Tony announces the show and tells us that KO will not be performing, in fact she's expecting a child! Go KO.
The dancers are on the periphery of the space, warming up with some Qi Gong mixed with deep pliés. The music of Henry Purcell opens the of the show. To some this might seem unexpectedly romantic. A glance at the program tells us we can expect
Velvet Underground and Jackie-O Motherfucker, but also Vivaldi. When the dancers start, they lazily enter, some smiling, some staring, the focus unfocused. They occasionally dart in and out. Expecting a thrilling energy, it's surprising how the energy evaporates in this high-ceilinged room. The environment is almost too relaxed.
In retrospect, perhaps this is the lazy dance of summer. But it doesn't seem to jive with the promised experimentalism, hormones and provocation. Expecting strange interactions with the plants and trees, rather, the dancers simply pick herbs and smell them, pick up pots and dance them prettily to a new place. At one point, Kat Smy dons high heeled shoes and dances on a sort of chair. Then she takes them off. Stiff-bodiced flouncy shiny grey dresses are propped up and danced into. More staring and smiling, lighthearted dancing, some rather typical inversions and partnering.
The most interesting part of the evening is a section where the lights go out and the dancers begin to make fast ch-ch-ch-ch sounds with their mouths while shaking the trees that are around us. Having the dancers in the audience area is an improvement on the proscenium set-up, since most people beyond the first two rows can not see most of the performance in the stage area. They finish this section with pointed lunges making sci-fi sound effects. Yes, girls can do sound effects!
There is a divertissement/set change where KO and TO come out and busily move plants all around, though it's unclear why they need to be moved. This is done (finally!) to The Velvet Underground. Meanwhile, the dancers have left to change out of metallic leggings and into summery earth tones. This also seems unnecessary, but it happens! Another set of soft, energy-dissolving movements occurs, more vague smiling and staring. A section of exaggerated bad and varying British accents suddenly occurs in the middle of the Vivaldi (one of the most over-used composers in all of dance). There is talk of tea and crumpets, presumably making fun of garden parties and silly ladies. A dancer on her back performs ballet exercises with her legs straight up in the air.
The ensemble really gels in the last section, the energy of the dancing finally building instead of fading, and the dancers seem to really enjoy dancing together. Talk of wine leads to a stumbling finish of dancers over-acting some finishing poses and they manage to force themselves off-stage.
Having no other context for the work of KO other than her legend, it's interesting to think what this piece represents within her repertoire. Known as an intense performer, this piece is demonstrably relaxed, even tousled. Hopefully there will be more KO and an interview in the near future.