Martha Graham, Judith Garay, Desirée Dunbar, Artemis Gordon — A Dance Lineage

Martha Graham — Photograph Barbara Morgan

A few days ago my 12-year-old granddaughter Lauren who dances at Arts Umbrella told me, “Papi one of my teachers this September is called Desirée.” Since I photographed Desirée Dunbar some years ago I wondered if this was the same Desirée. I tried to explain to Lauren why this was important. I told her that we could go together to English Bay and when nobody was watching we would pour a glass of V-8 Juice into the water. I further told her that a few weeks later we could go to the other end of Canada and if we tested the water with hyper-sensitive instruments we would find traces of the V-8. I told Lauren that the calculation was made possible by two scientists of the past, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Isaac Newton who independently discovered Differential and Integral Calculus. These two brought to the world the idea of the very small (but not infinitely small) and called it infinitesimal.

I am sure that my explanation was not completely absorbed by Lauren. A few days later she happily told me, “My teacher is, indeed Desirée Dunbar.

Immediately I contacted SFU Associate Professor of Contemporary Arts and Artistic Director of Dancers Dancing, Judith Garay. She called my dance infinitesimal idea lineage and has written a lively and informative essay on the subject below.

But let me explain first my excitement over Dunbar teaching my granddaughter Lauren dance at Arts Umbrella.

In 1987 (years before and after) Judith Garay was a principle dancer for the Martha Graham Dance Company. If you know that Graham died in 1991 you then can accurately surmised that Garay was under the influence of the notable choreorgrapher/dancer. Once in Vancouver Garay taught Desirée Dunbar. So in my language Dunbar will be transferring some lively V-8 Juice to my granddaughter.

Judith Garay — Photograph Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

In a chat with Max Wyman, Wyman told me that this idea of lineage was present with painters. I added musicians as to this day experts will say that a particular pianist’s style harks back to Antonin Rubinstein in the 19thcentury. Wyman added that with writers, most attempt not to be influenced by writers that came before them.

I wrote about another ancillary dance lineage here.

Desirée Dunbar — Photograph Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

It is impossible for me to stop here and not mention our very own local dance lineage. Think of local dancers Karissa Barry, Amber Funk Barton, Lina Fitzner. Think of international star (formerly at the recently dissolved Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Company) Acacia Schacte who has landed another plum job for a Lower Countries dance company. At any given time at least 40% of Ballet BC dancers and apprentice dancers hail from the Arts Umbrella Dance Company as did Barry, Barton, Fitzner and Schacte. And there are many more dancing for companies in Europe and around the world.

What is their common lineage?Artemis Gordon, Artistic Director of the Arts Umbrella Dance Company, that’s who!

I hope someday to say that not only does my granddaughter Lauren have the lineage of Martha Graham but also that important influence that is Arty Gordon.

Artemis Gordon — Photograph Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Dance Legacy — Judith Garay

Legacy keeps resurfacing lately in my conversations with colleagues and friends. Perhaps it is because of my advancing years or perhaps it is “in the air”. Historians, of course, think of legacy but I’m referring to forward-thinking individuals who are actively making things happen now including Julie-anne Saroyan of Dances for a Small Stage, Gigi Berardi researching for a Dance International article and now Alex.

In thinking about my legacy as a dance artist who has relocated many times for my career, the most profound influence is arguably the Graham legacy. I found my beginnings at the school of Toronto Dance Theatre and then studied with many Graham greats at The Place in London, England before working with Pearl Lang in New York. Pearl, a formidable performer whom I saw dance The Bride in Graham’s Appalachian Spring, was the first person to dance one of Martha’s roles. Pearl’s interpretation, as a mature woman, portraying a blushing bride was subtle, inspired, multi-layered, profound and unforgettable.

Pearl was a mentor to me before I joined the Graham Company, where I remained for a decade, and where of course Martha was the centre of the universe. Though there were many exceptional artists working at and associated with the company and school there was never any question about where the genius originated.Since leaving “the source” and continuing to teach and create I often wonder how much of, and in what form, the threads of information, inspiration and process I gleaned from those years are being passed on to the next generation.

As a mainly oral tradition dance is transmitted through the physicality of the artists. One of the profound beauties of the art form is the one-on-one mentoring and coaching and the legacy that we pass on through these ongoing interpersonal activities intrinsic to our field.

Upon moving to Vancouver I have had the great pleasure of working with many talented dancers and the honour of passing on the ground-breaking work of Graham, or my version of it, through my teaching and choreographing as I also continue to absorb other influences and to evolve myself as an artist. Desirée Dunbar who teaches, performs, choreographs and produces was in the first group of students that I taught starting in their first year at SFU. She has since garnered many other profound aesthetic, educational and philosophical influences and bodies of knowledge and I wonder how everything within her legacy will feed into the lineage that she and others like her bring to their future and the future of those they mentor and teach.

Lauren Stewart- Photograph Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

What will the next generation of dance artists see as their lineage and what legacy will they leave behind?

Originally published at

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at:

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at: