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Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - A New Dance Company and a New Collaboration

by Gillian Ellis

In February, OU dance professors Thayer Jonutz and Ali Woerner combined their dance companies, soduo and Shifting Sol, for a performance entitled Take Root, based on themes inspired by trees. It was an artistic success, much enjoyed by the audiences who saw it and by its creators. It was so rewarding for Ali and Thayer that they decided to join forces indefinitely, and the contemporary dance landscape of Michigan is now graced by a new company, which they have named after their first endeavor: Take Root.

In additional to Ali and Thayer, the dancers in the company are Meg Paul, Vivian Costello, Andrew Dettloff, Liz Schmidt and Madeline Metzger. Alexandra Plaskey is the company manager. See Take Root’s website here.

Ali says that OU professor of English Kathleen Pfeiffer was in the audience for their February performance in Varner, and her attendance has been providential. Kathy was recently honored with a prestigious Kresge fellowship for her work in creative nonfiction. She is currently working on a memoir of stepmotherhood and she blogs on her website at
Along with other Kresge fellows, Kathy was invited to participate in Art X Detroit: Kresge Arts Experience, a multitude of events happening April 10 – 14, all over the Midtown Detroit district in dozens of venues, including the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit Symphony Orchestra Hall and the College for Creative Studies.

Kathy says, “I feel so lucky and so honored to have been awarded the Kresge fellowship. My first instinct is to want to share the wealth [and] all writers want to reach the widest possible audience.” She decided she could best do both of those things by collaborating with other artists, and after seeing Take Root, she approached Thayer and Ali to join her in a performance that would combine readings from her work with dance. A fourth OU professor, photographer Andrea Eis, was also asked to collaborate, and her work will provide a backdrop of visual art.

The result will be Snapshots, which Ali characterizes as a performance about stepmotherhood and loss. It can be seen at the Detroit Institute of Arts in the Kresge Court on Friday, April 12, from 7:30 until 9 p.m. Read more about Snapshots here.  A complete schedule of Arts X Detroit events is available here.

You can see the briefest of previews here in this excerpt from Ali and Thayer in rehearsal. Ali and Thayer will perform a preview performance in the final event of our Arts-After-Work Performance Series, the MTD Faculty Collaboration, on Thursday, April 4 at 6 p.m. This event sold out last year; we advise you to purchase your tickets early. Remember our pay what you wish policy at these AAW events! Complete ticket information here.

Kathy Pfeiffer says, “I think that [MTD department chair] Jackie Wiggins deserves some credit for sparking my imagination. My Kresge fellowship year has coincided with my first year as English Department chair, and in the various chairs meetings I've attended this year, I've come to see, understand and appreciate the creative energy coming out of MTD. Jackie is such a passionate advocate for the arts, and I think that some of her passion got under my skin and made me want to stretch myself through this collaboration.”

This will be Kathy’s public debut as a creative writer and it’s very high profile. She says, “I've gotten a lot of confidence from the mutually understanding and mutually inspiring connection I've found with Andrea, Thayer and Ali. It feels very much like our collaboration finds moments of transcendence that make my own personal nervousness seem rather silly. In working together, we create something much larger and more resonant than anything I could have done on my own.”

Andrea Eis’s work has frequently been on public display, including a show in Paris, a solo exhibition called "Silent Conversations" in August 2012 at Grace Teshima Gallery in Montmartre. The scenic elements that will be used in Snapshots are from her Marginalia series, including the work "In my truth is strength," which she created specifically for use in Snapshots.

Andrea says, “Marginalia works are a series of silent conversations that I have with a woman who wrote English words on Greek texts over a hundred years ago. I combine photographs of these texts with my images of Greek sculptures, to explore how the emotions and struggles in human relationships have remained the same over thousands of years. The photographs, saturated with the past, merge with the present when I print them on translucent fabric.”

Thayer Jonutz and Ali Woerner continue to use dance to express their emotions and their struggles. And they go from strength to strength. They recently announced their plans for the summer. Ali wrote, “Thayer and I are thrilled to inform you that we have been invited to perform at the National Theatre of Costa Rica in July. We will be performing Sandra Torijano's work Teatro al Mediodia. We could not be more excited with this opportunity. Thanks to all of you for your continued support.”

We look forward to supporting the newly formed Take Root dance company for many years, knowing that astonishingly creative and exciting experiences lie ahead for our dance program and our audiences.

You can read more about Andrea Eis’s work in this article in the OU Magazine.

You can see more of Andrea Eis's images in her book, Inscriptions, at this link.

You can read more about Kathy Pfeiffer’s academic work as a literary critic and professor of American and African-American literature in her OU bio.
Read more about Kathy Pfeiffer and her Literary Fellowship on the Kresge website here.

Photo: Top: Thayer Jonutz (left) and Ali Woerner rehearse. Photo by Gillian Ellis
Middle: Left to right, Ali, Kathy Pfeiffer and Thayer in discussion. Photo by Gillian Ellis
Lower: One of the images to be used for the scenic elements of
Snapshots: In my truth is my strength (Aeschylus, The Oresteia), from the Marginalia series, 2013. Andrea Eis