|MTD professors Ali Woerner (left) and Thayer Jonutz.
Oakland University Department of Music, Theatre and Dance (MTD) professors Ali Woerner and Thayer Jonutz are fluent in the universal language of dance.
The pair was invited to perform and teach this summer in Costa Rica, where they hope to bridge cultural gaps and connect with a diverse group of dancers.
“There’s a level of almost nervousness because it’s a foreign setting,” Jonutz said. “I think the reason we love dance so much is that it’s a nonverbal way of communicating emotions. I’m curious to see if dance can bridge the language and culture gap.”
Woerner and Jonutz will perform choreographer Sandra Torijano’s work as part of the Teatro al Mediodia series at the National Theatre of Costa Rica in San Jose.
They will be the only Americans performing in the concert, which will feature six dancers and a group of musicians directed by Juan Pablo Andrade.
“It’s a huge honor to have been invited and we hope to rise to the occasion,” Woerner said.
Both graduates from the University of Michigan’s Masters of Fine Arts program, Woerner and Jonutz began working with Torijano as students and have continued their collaboration with her and with each other.
After an inspired performance this February, the pair combined their individual dance companies, Shifting Sol and Soduo, to form Take Root. Take Root consists of seven dancers, including Woerner and Jonutz, who act as co-founders and choreographers for the group.
Although Woerner and Jonutz have danced individually around the world, the performance in Costa Rica will mark Take Root’s first international performance.
Torijano contacted them in March seeking a duet for her concert in Costa Rica. Since then, they have met with Torijano in Ann Arbor for three rehearsals. Jonutz explained that Torijano’s choreography process differs from their style, which Woerner describes as visceral, emotional and dramatic.
“When Ali and I work, we get a little cerebral with the process and think things out,” Jonutz said. “With Sandra, it’s almost like she’s pulling the material from the inside out. Every movement has this very internal, almost gut-wrenching, feel to it. It’s healthy for us as artists to go to different places.”
Prior to their performance, Woerner and Jonutz will also teach masters’ classes to the National Dance Company of Costa Rica and to Danza Universitaria, a professional company in residence at the University of Costa Rica.
They hope to build strong relationships with the Costa Rican artists so the entire Take Root company will have the opportunity for future performances and classes.
Woerner also hopes to offer some new ideas and gain inspiration from the classes.
“We teach together quite a bit and we have found a lot of success teaching partnering before technique. It’s another viewpoint for learning movement and I know it will be different for these dancers because of the culture,” Woerner said. “We learn too, though. Every time we teach, we find something new to bring back to our company and to Oakland.”
Those interested in learning more about upcoming performances or auditioning for the dance program can visit the department’s website
To see Take Root in action, visit the website
for photographs, videos, dancer profiles and a list of scheduled performances.