Dance Umbrella responds to the death of Emma Gladstone OBE

Dance Umbrella responds to the death of Emma Gladstone OBE

It is with great sadness that Dance Umbrella announces the death of Emma Gladstone OBE. A pioneering and highly respected leader in the dance world across the globe, Emma was Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Dance Umbrella from 2013 to 2021. Emma died on Monday 22 January, after a short illness, at home and surrounded by her loving family.

As well as being internationally celebrated for her exquisite taste and incisive acumen, Emma was a joyful collaborator who was loved by artists, colleagues and audiences alike. Her infectious laugh, delicious wit and kindness made her a cherished friend and mentor to more people than can be counted; and her dedicated encouragement, care and companionship made her an extraordinary mother, stepmother and wife.

Emma Gladstone was a hugely respected senior arts advisor and programmer working in cultural and creative industries worldwide. She specialised in dance and performance. As Artistic Director of the Rolex Arts Festival (Athens, 2023), Director of the Big Pulse Intensive (Creative Europe 2021-24) and former Artistic Director, BBC Young Dancer (2015, 2019 & 2022), she specialised in the professional development of artists and cultural workers.

From 2013 to 2021 Emma was Artistic Director & Chief Executive of Dance Umbrella, London’s long running international dance festival. Her tenure was characterised by diversifying choreographic styles, reinforcing its role as a catalytic introducer of talent, and reaching and inspiring local audiences from babies to adults  in more locations than ever before in the festival’s history. 

Emma’s work was not just about who’s on stage but also the creative collaboration and shared vision it takes to make things happen. This led to Producer Farm, a joint initiative with Fuel, Bristol Old Vic Ferment, Dance Umbrella, In Between Time and Coombe Farm Studios, which offers free residencies for professional UK and international producers to reflect on and refresh ideas and their practice. Emma was also a founding member, and instrumental in the development of the Creative Europe project Big Pulse Dance Alliance, a network of 12 European dance festivals and institutions supporting artists and diversifying dance programming on the big stages of Europe and beyond. 

Freddie Opoku-Addaie, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Dance Umbrella said: ‘Emma embodied a vital and informed outlook about what the non-verbal expression of dance can do for all humanity. Hold on, having read what I’ve written back to myself, I can hear Emma asking ‘what on earth do you mean, Freddie? Let’s get as close to the point as possible’. One of Emma’s superpowers was the readiness to share tools, impart lived experience and dive into the deep end to reach the desired goal with care. Not to dampen down, but rather to be able to take as many people with you as you can. What will forever remain in mine and all our hearts is your glorious smile, wicked sense of humour and unwavering drive for us all to do better by one another.’

Alistair Spalding CBE, Artistic Director and Co-Chief Executive of Sadler’s Wells said:‘I knew Emma in many of her guises – beautiful Dancer, programmer, advocate, leader, producer and friend. She was so dedicated to the art form she loved – always thoughtful, articulate and charming. She meant so much to all the people she touched in and outside the dance world. She was also definitely the best dressed woman in the arts! I will so miss her.’ 

Whilst Artistic Programmer at Sadler’s Wells from 2005-2013, Emma initiated a range of programming frames for artists and audiences that continue today, whilst establishing and directing the Jerwood Choreographic Research Programme. In recent years her international work as an advisor, speaker and assessor has included Chile, China, India, South Korea and Hong Kong. Emma was also Co-Founder of Crying Out Loud and Associate Director at The Place (1997-2003).

Before her programming career Emma danced for 20 years with Arlene Phillips, and Lea Anderson’s The Cholmondeleys. She co-founded Adventures in Motion Pictures (now New Adventures) with Sir Matthew Bourne. Emma was an Honorary Fellow at Trinity Laban, received a Tonic Award for Outstanding Women in the Arts in 2019, and in 2021 was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Formerly Chair of the Board at Siobhan Davies Studios, Emma was also a Trustee at Dartington Trust in Devon and a Trustee at Aesop (Arts & Health). 

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