Flipping Burgers - Opportunity - At Arts Umbrella DanceThursday, June 11, 2015
I have recently been thinking about Arts Umbrella and how it has shaped me as an artist and when Alex asked me to write about my experiences as a student at Arts Umbrella I was excited to finally have an opportunity to share these thoughts.
It is hard to know where to begin explaining what a great program Arts Umbrella is as it is like trying to explain how your parents made you into the person you are. There are so many layers to Arts Umbrella’s practice and years after leaving the program I am still trying to deconstruct the effects that their method of teaching had on me. There has been a bit of press about the kind of dancer they produce that can meet the high standards of the dance industry today. But I feel as though there is a whole other side to this program, which is equally as important and applies to both the students who pursue a career in dance and those who do not.
“Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping – they called it opportunity.”
- Bill Gates
During a lunchtime discussion with some of my colleagues, we were talking about the value of humility and how it is an essential part of being an easy person to work with. Due to social media my generation has a false sense of self-importance and as a result makes us unbearable to work with. Plenty of students think there is the perfect job waiting for them after they graduate from high school or university, and for most this is just not the case.
I thank Arts Umbrella for teaching me from a young age to do anything that gets thrown at me to the best of my abilities and that no job is negligible. When we were preparing for a school show or coffee concert (both fairly small shows in comparison to the season finale at the Vancouver Playhouse) rehearsal director Emily Molnar was disappointed with our run-through in the morning. She told us that it did not make any difference as to the size of the audience or who was in it, because if one person in the audience enjoyed your performance then it was worth doing. We were probably 12 years old and no one had taught us these principles before. Those words still resonate with me and I apply this theory to almost everything I do.
I started studying at the Arts Umbrella Dance program in 2002 and left it in 2008 before I would have carried on into the graduate program. In my first year in the professional training program and Arts Umbrella Dance Company there was one thing that was made clear from the beginning, and that was to never let your parents fight your battles for you. Director Artemis Gordon told us that having our parents ask her why we were not given a specific part would not help our chances of getting the desired part in a performance. For the first time in my life I had to be reasonable for my own failures and learn from them in a professional way. This taught me about independence from an early age. For most, this kind independence is achieved in their early twenties and I was lucky and I’m sure I speak on behalf of all my peers that we were able to enter adulthood with a strong work ethic.
As well as attaining a professional work ethic from my dance training I left with certain knowledge of dance and the human body. My interest in dance has influenced the work I have been making on a broad spectrum.
After I left Arts Umbrella I moved to London to pursue a “career” in cabaret. I met a woman called Marisa Carnesky and got a job in a few of her shows as a contortionist. I then began work as a freelance performer, doing my acts around Europe. Fulfilling all my desires to be a showgirl, I decided that my interests lay within the realm of art after interning for artist Gavin Turk. With some encouragement from my colleagues I submitted an application to study fine art at Central Saint Martins. To my amazement I was accepted into the program without any fine art experience. The program at Arts Umbrella was so vigorous; there was no time in our day to take extra curricular classes like art in high school.
At the beginning of the course I felt pressure to make politically charged work. As a result of this the work I made was terribly cliché and I was not engaged with it on any level. One of my tutors told me to have a think about what I was interested in and I would find criticality within that. In a guest artist talk at the university the speaker mentioned that there was no way of writing dance. This comment intrigued me and this eventually formed the basis of my practice.
I have just graduated from my degree with an assortment of work that questions how we think of human motion in spoken, written, and notated language. Arts Umbrella (like many dance schools) did not teach existing forms of movement notation so I am not very familiar with how they work. Most schools do not teach these systems, as they are not widely used by dancers and choreographers. I really wanted (and still do) to understand why dance has difficulty existing in the written form. My first query was; how is it that music is notated and explained on paper when it is so hard to put a sound into words, while a series of body movements cannot? After making work surrounding this query I started playing around with movement in everyday language (written and spoken) and to my amazement people find the task of explaining movements like walking and running very difficult.
Enabling people to understand dance, as an art form is one of the many attributes of Arts Umbrella. My farther, knowing very little about dance before I started studying dance now attends almost every Ballet BC performance at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. This power that Arts Umbrella possesses is a quality I would like my work to have some day.
Nina Davies - a performance
Nina Davies - a performance