Trust. In order to succeed in the art of dance, it’s required. Trust that your partner will place you down without harm, trust in the aesthetic of uncomfortable positions, trust that your choreographer can utilize vulnerability, trust that touch—so intimate in its nature—is respectful.
You can see how it would be easy to place trust in Artemis Gordon. The dancers who have come through her doors at Arts Umbrella Dance Company (AUDC) have gone on to become some of the country’s top tier performers. Livona Ellis, Christoph von Riedemann, and Amalia Smith—to name a few—have all trained at Arts Umbrella under Gordon. Her graduate reach extends to illustrious companies such as Nederlands Dans Theater, the Göteborg Opera, and Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company.
I meet up with Gordon in the entrance of Arts Umbrella’s Granville Island academy to talk about AUDC’s season finale, BE MOVED. Coordinated by Gordon and choreographed by preeminent international and Canadian dancers—including Crystal Pite and Emily Molnar of Ballet BC—the show is a culmination of months of dance exploration and rehearsal.
I ask how she finds the talent that makes AUDC as a launchpad so revered, and Gordon answers without hesitation.
“I have not found anyone by going out there and looking for them; they come to us. And that’s Arts Umbrella,” she explains. “I wanted to create a community of dialogue, questioning, and commitment: What does it mean to be an artist and also a valuable citizen in the community?”
When she came to Arts Umbrella in 1992 after graduating from the National Ballet School’s teacher training program, Gordon aimed to fashion a place where like-minded people wanted to be. If you can do that, she argues, talent just happens. “Build it and they will come.”
More than most, Gordon understands what it truly means to teach. To be clear, she is focused on coordinating a student program with the top choreographers—and on a presentation of true excellence. But she’s also concerned with the skills and meaning her students graduate with.
“You can’t tell people what to do. Just telling someone is not even remotely part of the event of teaching. Teaching is about [imparting] the relevance of what the lesson is to that person. It’s facilitating the time that you have with them in order for the student to discover it themselves. That’s what profound teaching is,” she says. “It’s not my job to make the dancers look good while they’re here. It’s my job to make sure the dancers are brilliant when they leave me.”
For her, the beauty of working with young people at AUDC is that they’ve committed to studying. And it’s that study of art that truly drives her. “The product fascinates me as well, but it really is the process of creating it and what effect it has in the world.”
A lifelong dancer, Gordon can spend over a decade teaching students who enroll at a young age and dance with AUDC into their early twenties. The students in BE MOVED will graduate with the performance.
“Right now I’m going to be saying goodbye to dancers I’ve been with since they were 10 years old,” she says, sounding almost surprised it’s actually happening. “There’s a bittersweet moment that breaks my heart when I watch them on stage and realize I will never get to be in the studio with them again.
“But you understand they’re going on,” she shrugs. “And for them to go on in dance is the whole point of what we do.”