A modern-dance artist, dancer and choreographer, Gillis has been creating original works for over thirty-five years. Her repertoire includes more than one hundred pieces, which she performs as solos and nearly a dozen duets, and group pieces.
Early life and education
She was born in Montreal, Quebec, the daughter of Gene Gillis, an Olympic skier, and Rhona Wurtele, a Canadian Olympic skier. Her brother, Jere Gillis played professional hockey. Her other brother, Christopher Gillis, was a professional dancer and choreographer who danced with her since childhood and collaborated on numerous shows.
Showing a passion for dance early in life, she began ballet and gymnastic lessons at the age of three. In her youth, she trained and rehearsed on her own and later continued to learn in classes with teachers such as May O'Donnell, Linda Rabin, Lynda Raino and Allan Wayne.
In 1981, she founded her own company, the Margie Gillis Dance Foundation with the mission to support and present her artistic work. Her international tours have taken her to Asia, India, Europe and the Middle East as well as across North and South America.
Gillis is a socially committed artist. She has been spokesperson for a number of organizations dedicated to the fight against AIDS as well as for OXFAM and the Planned Parenthood Foundation.
She was the first performer to take modern dance to China in 1979. During the summer months, Gillis teaches two one-week dance retreats at HollyHock, a centre on Cortes Island, British Columbia.
On March 3, 2011, Gillis was named a 2011 laureate of the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.
Awards and distinctions
Gillis is an Honorary Cultural Ambassador for both the Quebec (1986) and Canadian (1981) governments. In 1987, she was the first modern dance artist to be awarded the Order of Canada.
In 2001, she received a Career Grant from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec for her exceptional contribution to Quebec culture.
In the fall of 2008, Gillis was chosen by the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City, New York, to receive its first MAD Spirit Award for her involvement in various social causes, and she was awarded the Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts by a jury of her peers at the Canada Council for the Arts.
In June 2009, Gillis was appointed Knight of the Ordre national du Québec.
In May 2011, she received the Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award from the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award.
In 2013, Gillis was appointed an Officer of the Order. This honour recognizes a lifetime of achievement and merit of a high degree, especially in service to Canada or to humanity at large.