Take Root Dance Company finds inspiration in unconventional places

Uprooting the norm

We tend to have a one-sided perception when it comes to dance and dancers: We think the art is created in one space and then immediately transferred to the stage, the space where most dancers perform their art. While other mediums of art can be transported into various locations, the performing arts tend to be associated with a stage, lights, sound, and watching from your chair in the audience.

Performing on a stage with all the bells and whistles is exhilarating and fantastic, but becoming a true artist means that you can be adaptable to any situation. A dance company that made its way out of Oakland University's dance department, Take Root, is challenging the norms of what it means to be performers and how one performs in a space.

We spoke to Ali Woerner, who co-founded and co-directs the company, along with her dance partner Thayer Jonutz, about what Take Root is about, dance's impact on the art world of Detroit, and their upcoming performance at the Red Bull House of Art on Oct. 1.

"We started [dancing together] about eight years ago, and Thayer Jonutz and I knew each other from grad school. We both loved partnering so we just gravitated toward each other," Woerner says.

The dance company's beginnings can be traced back to when Jonutz and Woerner began performing together, but it took a little while before things became official.

"People started asking us to perform together and we always said 'yes' to everything. I had my own dance company and he had his at the time, and we thought this would be kind of cool to just do this together," Woerner says. "Our first concert together was called 'Take Root,' and we just continued on from there."

That was back in 2013. Take Root has evolved since then into a company of six dancers, plus a music director/composer who plays live music at every show, and they're about to perform for the fourth time at the Red Bull House of Art in Eastern Market.

If you're familiar with the Red Bull House of Art, it is normally not known for hosting dance concerts. The space is mostly used to showcase hanging art to the masses, but Woerner and her team love the challenge of setting up shop in an art gallery opposed to an auditorium.

"We have nothing against going to a theater and watching a show," Woerner says with a chuckle. "I love going to theaters as much as the next person, but we really want to create an experience, and we think that it's possible when you do that in an alternative space."

The company has drawn inspiration from performing at the Detroit Institute of Arts and rooftop spaces in the city.

"The audience is very immersed with art when they come to these shows," Woerner says. "You're surrounded by actual art and then you're watching live art being performed. We like that it brings attention to our company, but also deserving attention to the Red Bull House of Art because they are so great. It's turned into this annual event now and we love it."

Since Take Root is allowed to break the fourth wall, they have a unique opportunity to engage with the audience at the performance space and in the community. "We're really passionate about bringing dance to people who normally don't dance with outreach," Woerner says. "We'll go into schools where the arts are not funded, and we'll do outreach with dance and music along with our music director Jon Anderson, who teaches composition and music theory at Wayne State."

In addition to outreach at schools, Take Root hosts a free dance class once a month at Oakland University for people with Parkinson's disease.

Woerner only hopes the company can continue to grow and create while the city of Detroit is growing too. "We have an amazing opportunity as artists to showcase Detroit and all that it has to offer for people who want to consume art."

Take Root's season-opening concert is Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Red Bull House of Art, 1551 Winder St. in Detroit. A VIP reception starts at 6:30 p.m. followed by a live performance at 7:30 p.m. that is open to public. General admission tickets are $35, student tickets are $20, and VIP tickets are $100. Visit takerootdance.com for more information.

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