Arts Umbrella Dance Company receives raves in Europe

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      The Arts Umbrella Dance Company is taking Europe by storm, reports artistic director Artemis Gordon. She spoke to the Straight right after a sold-out gig met with a standing ovation at a new Nederlands Dans Theater venue in The Hague.

      “The general director of NDT just came on the bus to tell us how fantastic we are,” she said after the performance of a work by local choreographer Lesley Telford. “These Canadian kids are making us proud. It's just so incredible to be received with such respect and enthusiasm.”

      The 42 emerging dancers' trip, which started on June 20 and ends Sunday (July 9), has been a whirlwind of workshops, classes, and performances at places like the Holland Festival, ITS Festival, and the Julidans Festival.

      Meanwhile, they’ve also been taking in a busy calendar of dance performances, including Crystal Pite’s Betroffenheit, which hit the Dutch capital this week. Pite has worked with the company on many occasions, including early experimentation to develop pieces that would go on to premiere at the Paris Opera Ballet and the Royal Ballet in London.

      The travellers also saw the Dutch National Ballet. "[Jiri] Kilyian was there and the queen was there," Gordon raved.

      “These Canadian kids are making us proud,” says Arts Umbrella Dance Company artistic director Artemis Gordon.

      The exposure is getting the troupe noticed by European companies and luring top choreographers here to work  at the Granville Island training centre.

      Dancer Kyle Clarke, in fact, is signed to join NDT 2, the Dutch company’s second division, after the tour. “The 14 hour audition for Nederthlands Dans was the most intense experience of my life," he said in the press announcement. "I kept messing up all ballet combos and I was feeling very stressed. I've always felt that I don't fit the typical ballet model. Artemis taught me that technique comes from deep inside yourself, so I decided that I would just dance, rather than trying to get it right. I decided to let me be me and it worked.”

      Shana Wolfe, Justin Calvadores, and Zander Constant have also landed apprentice contracts at Ballet B.C.

      Says Gordon: “There’s a momentum now, learning everybody is talking about you now.”

      The company is making big strides in other ways too, as it sees expanded enrollment and program offerings. It recently received a $100,000 Canada Arts Training Fund contribution from the Department of Canadian Heritage.

      The CATF provides operations funding for organizations that specialize in training artists for professional national or international artistic careers, at the highest levels. Arts Umbrella was among just four recipients in the dance category. Member of Parliament for Vancouver Centre Hedy Fry made the announcement on behalf of Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly at the Arts Umbrella Dance Company’s opening night season finale on May 25.

      To qualify, Arts Umbrella had to demonstrate significant artistic achievement at the national level, with graduates having a national impact and achieving wide recognition. 

      Over the past 24 years, the Arts Umbrella Dance Company has performed works by internationally renowned choreographers including James Kudelka, Stephen Shropshire, Mauro Astolfi, and Mehdi Walerski. 

      For now, though, the company's biggest challenges are pulling off the logistics of bringing so many dancers across the Atlantic. "It's a well-oiled machine," Gordon says. "One mom is calling the buses to make sure they're on time and another is carrying groceries. These kids have to be fed well and we have to do their laundry too."

      Kyle Clarke
      Michael Slobodian