Oakland University dancers and Take Root display ‘top-notch’ talent in Berlin

Oakland University dancers and Take Root display ‘top-notch’ talent in Berlin
OU dancers/Take Root in Berlin
Oakland University dance students recently travelled to Berlin, Germany where they were able to learn about German contemporary dance techniques and perform at the Uferstudios. (Photo courtesy Elizabeth Kattner)

Students, alumni and faculty from Oakland University’s Dance Department recently travelled to Berlin, Germany where they were able to learn about German contemporary dance techniques, take classes at the well-known Tanzfabrik dance center and work with German dance artists, including Berlin-based choreographer Henrik Kaalund.

 

“Berlin is not only the capital of Germany, and the focal point of much 20th century history, it is also a major center for the arts, especially the freelance contemporary dance scene,” said Elizabeth Kattner, Ph.D., an assistant professor of dance and coordinator of dance education at OU who accompanied the students on their trip to Berlin.

 

“I was very proud of the professionalism of our students,” Kattner added. “They began rehearsing as soon as we arrived and worked for several hours the first few days in Berlin. They were able to set themselves up in a new city, use public transportation, deal with jet lag and still give a top-notch performance. The choreographic and performance talent of our students was definitely on display in Berlin.”

 

The students spent approximately three weeks in the city, from April 29 to May 19, as part of a study abroad program offered every three years by Oakland University’s Department of Dance.

 

“Throughout the trip we were exposed to many choreographers, workshops, performances and lectures that gave us a look into many of the diverse methods, techniques, performance spaces and culture that surround German contemporary dance,” said OU dance major Kathryn Calleja, who participated in this year’s program.

 

“We attended various performances — everything from a creative dance performance for children and a showcase by graduates of contemporary dance institutions to a two-hour solo dance by a 53-year-old,” Calleja added.

 

OU dancers/Take Root in Berlin
Calleja in front of the Altes Museum in Berlin. (Photo courtesy Kathryn Calleja)

While the program primarily focuses on learning German contemporary dance and performance, there are also opportunities for students to experience Berlin. Visits to the world-class museums such as the Pergamon Museum, the New Museum, the Old National Gallery and performances by the National Ballet, Berlin Philharmonic, and independent artists are included, as well as site visits to the Berlin Wall, the Holocaust Memorial and the Brandenburg Gate.

 

“Although I loved the dancing aspect of the trip, it was really exciting to be off on my own and experience the culture of the area,” Calleja said. “It sounds trivial, but it was exciting to navigate a new city and public transportation, communicate with new people, and attempt to learn the culture and blend in. It was amazing how much I had learned and adapted by the end of the trip.”

 

The program also includes optional day trips to nearby cities such as Potsdam, Lutherstadt-Wittenberg and Dresden.

 

“I didn’t really know what to expect in Dresden, but the city was absolutely beautiful,” said Calleja, who took a day trip to the city by train. “It’s less urban than Berlin, so it was a pleasant surprise to see the massive buildings with such rich history. It was intimidating at times to be virtually alone in a foreign city, but ultimately I felt more independent because of it and was proud of myself. I can honestly say I loved the entire experience of traveling to Dresden.”

 

For Calleja, another highlight of the trip to Berlin was the opportunity to work with Henrik Kaalund.

 

“It was such a positive experience,” she said. “He was very open with us, and always had an encouraging and upbeat attitude. He treated each of us like people — he listened to our opinions and choreographed to our abilities; yet he also challenged us in a healthy way and was always willing to have a good laugh with us. I felt appreciated as a dancer and as a person while working with Henrik. It was truly an unforgettable experience.”

 

The OU dancers ended their stay in Berlin with a final performance at the Uferstudios, a contemporary dance venue which serves as a performance space for the city’s rich culture of solo and group dance artists. They performed their own works from Oakland Dance Theatre productions, as well as new works learned in Berlin.

 

“Performing in Berlin was a very different experience than in the United States,” Calleja said. “The space that we performed in was very long, which meant our dances had to be adjusted to the difference space as soon as we arrived to rehearse. There were only a few different options for lighting designs, and there was no backstage area, dressing rooms or wings.

 

“It was a very intimate setting, which was a little intimidating because I could see everyone in the audience,” she added. “Because there was no backstage area, our whole group had to sit behind the audience, where we also did costume and hair changes, virtually in the dark. It was definitely a different experience; but it was very interesting as it forced us to be present in the space, which is difficult to do in a traditional proscenium stage performance area.”

 

According to Gregory Patterson, associate professor of dance and dance department chair at OU, the performance received a standing ovation from the Uferstudios audience.

 

“This was incredible because dance is such a respected art form in Berlin,” Patterson said. “Knowing that our students are incredibly strong, talented dancers really impressed the audience.”

 

OU dancers/Take Root in Berlin
Take Root performing at Uferstudios in Berlin. (Photo courtesy Ali Woerner)

Take Root, a professional contemporary dance company-in-residence at Oakland University, also traveled to Berlin from April 24 through May 2.

 

“While we were there we participated in Tanz Tanzgente’s Dance for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) class,” said Associate Professor of Dance Ali Woerner, who co-founded Take Root in 2013 with fellow Associate Professor of Dance Thayer Jonutz. “We were thrilled to have the opportunity to not only dance with the Dance for PD program in Berlin, but to participate in a talk/back after the class with the dancers, discussing Take Root’s Dance for PD program, as well as the similarities and differences with their class in Berlin.”

 

According to Woerner, Take Root was invited to teach an Arts Education/Creative Movement class for 6-12 year olds at Tanz Tanzgente, as well as a master class that was open to the public. The dance company ended their week in Berlin by performing a full-length, sold out evening concert at Uferstudios.

 

“We were humbled by the fact that so many of the people we had worked with and interacted with during the previous week came to see the performance,” Woerner said. “Children from the Arts Education class, dancers from the Dance for PD class, plus people from the community who had heard of the show found their way to our performance. We couldn’t believe there wasn’t one seat open.

 

“This spoke volumes to us, confirming that we had in fact impacted lives through dance during our stay in Berlin, but also the trip had impacted our lives,” she added. “We can’t wait to go back and hope that we can continue our collaboration with Tanz Tanzgente for the future.”

 

To learn more about Take Root, visit www.takerootdance.com. For more information about Oakland University’s Dance Department, visit www.oakland.edu/mtd/dance.

OU dancers/Take Root in Berlin

OU dance students in front of a section of the Berlin Wall.
(Photo courtesy Kathryn Calleja)