The gym at South Slope Elementary and BC School for the Deaf is transformed into a performance space. Backstage, behind the 10-foot-high curtains that screen the school cafeteria, the teen dancers of the Arts Umbrella Apprentice Dance Company have laid out costumes and pointe shoes, ready for quick changes during their high-energy performance of Coppelia.
The junior ensemble of the Arts Umbrella Dance Company (AUDC) is at the South Burnaby school showcasing classical ballet, contemporary ballet, modern, and jazz in two 45-minute performances. It’s a fast-paced production that keeps the young South Slope audience enthralled with a mix of dance and music styles, a narrated story, and a mystery.
“Woah!” exclaims the front row of the elementary school audience as 12 company members rush onto the stage, interlacing with such speed and precision it’s hard to imagine how they don’t collide.
Each year, Arts Umbrella Dance Company and Pre-Professional Theatre students perform shows at about 40 schools, reaching more than 10,000 students ranging from kindergarteners to high schoolers. These outreach school tours provide young audiences with the opportunity to see live performances at little to no cost through support from Industrial Alliance, Scotiabank, and Vancouver Trolley Company – as well as a legion of dedicated parent volunteers.
For many kids in the audience, it’s their first time at an arts performance – and they are doubly-inspired because they are watching fellow young people on stage.
“We feel the energy,” says Apprentice Company dancer Devon. “We can see the audience and take their energy.”
But as much as the school audiences gain an enthusiasm for the arts, the Arts Umbrella performers also gain a deeper appreciation.
“Performing, especially for kids, is less pressure,” says fellow dancer Ruby. “The kids take enjoyment from the expression and the costumes.”
Arts Umbrella faculty and guest artists, such as emerging choreographer and Ballet BC dancer Andrew Bartee, choreographed the Coppelia pieces. Through these collaborations, young performers have opportunities to learn varied dance styles from varied artists – growing their stage experience, creative flexibility, and artistic stamina.
There’s question time after every school show, and a South Slope audience member asks how many students would like to dance professionally.
“The program is geared to opening that up to dancers,” says rehearsal director Andrea Hodge. Though about two-thirds are interested in dancing professionally, the 25 company members have a variety of career goals, ranging from dermatologists and gene engineers to school teachers and lawyers.
“I want to be an astronaut,” says one of the young performers. “Astronauts and dancers have a lot in common – when something is going wrong, you have to be good at fixing it.” Dance training shows commitment, dedication, and an ability to focus on the task at-hand, she explains.
About a dozen South Slope students raise their hands to talk about their own ballet classes and dreams of becoming performers.
“I’m going to be a dancer too,” says one young student, who watched the Coppelia performance from her wheelchair. Like many watching in the South Slope gymnasium that day, she is captivated by the talent and dedication of the Apprentice Company.
Another South Slope cohort will see the afternoon show. They will be another audience of young arts-goers, future performers, and dance fans who be inspired by these dedicated young people.
But the Arts Umbrella dancers’ minds are far from those big dreams. The first priority after a show is lunch (“When you dance, you must eat!”). The second is getting ready for the next performance – because these very dedicated young artists are trained to be always improving, always asking themselves: “How can I make the second show better?”
This free community program is generously supported by: