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Give Me Your Hand

The "Danse générale" educational project brings musicians, dancers, university students, school pupils, and refugees onto the stage

Freiburg, Jul 27, 2018

Give Me Your Hand

Photo: Alexander Koch

University of Freiburg dance teacher Christina Plötze has gathered nearly eighty dancers on the stage of the "Konzerthaus" auditorium. It's about far more than art, passion for music, and perfection in motion. Plötze's project aims to show that dance can also be a key to integration.

Mythic creature: "Showteam Matrix" dances Igor Stravinsky's "The Firebird."
Photo: Alexander Koch

The final notes played by the orchestra "Orso" are still reverberating as all the tension dissipates to sound of a series of standing ovations. As almost eighty dancers take their bows on the stage, the audience is enthralled. During the course of the evening, the crowd saw them perform three different works. The youngest danced in Maurice Ravel's "Ma mère l'oye." The sports students then presented another Ravel work, "Daphnis et Chloé." And finally, the "Showteam Matrix" of the gymnastics club Herdern performed the finale, Igor Stravinsky's "The Firebird."

The three ballet pieces date back to before the First World War, when Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev revolutionized the history of dance with his world-famous ensemble, the "Ballets Russes." On this Saturday night in June 2018, Christina Plötze is the person pulling all the strings. The dance teacher at the University of Freiburg's Institute for Sport Science and Physical Education is staging the gargantuan project "Danse générale."

After the nearly three-hour performance there's a sense of wistfulness that the project which began last semester and brought such a diverse audience into the "Konzerthaus" is all over. Some who came were Orso fans. Others loved gymnastics. And there were the families and friends of the young performers, boys with sidecut hairstyles in sweat-pants, and cultured, middle-aged ladies. During intermission, three girls from the secondary school in Wentzing race through the foyer in costume. Two sisters from Syria are posing with a friend as their father takes a picture of them with his mobile phone. Rarely do cultural events so greatly blur the boundaries between different societal groups as does the dance project "Danse générale," for which the university's rector Prof. Dr. Hans-Jochen Schiewer is the sponsor.

Conductor Wolfgang Roese directs the "Orso" orchestra during a dress rehearsal.
Photo: Alexander Koch


"We"re playing for you"

Now, it's time for a change of scene. On the Saturday before the premiere in the auditorium of another secondary school, the Friedrich Gymnasium, it's crowded, humid, and brimming with excitement. Orso conductor Wolfgang Roese ensures the performers focus. "Listen up, we're playing for you," he says. Christina Plötze counts, "Four, five, six, freeze ..." The timing of the finale isn't quite perfect yet. "Do it again. There has to be enough time," says the choreographer. At this rehearsal, it's the first time that the musicians are meeting the team. The "Showteam Matrix" – founded by Plötze in 2004 – is there. The acrobats' body control and precision make them stand out. Plötze's students with concentrations in dance are not only appearing themselves, but also working with the children and young people on the choreography of the fairy tale medley, "La mère l'oye." It's given them an opportunity to apply their knowledge while being supervised by a teacher. The youngest performers make up the most heterogeneous group. They are pupils at the Wentzing secondary school, the 'Tanzschule 3-Ländereck' (Tri-state Area School of Dance) in Lörrach, and kids who are taking part in the 'kick for girls" project, which includes girls from Syria, Greece, Serbia, Macedonia, and Iraq.

Girls can kick

A research assistant at the Institute of Sport Science and Physical Education, Kathrin Freudenberger, says that while working with "kick for girls" she noticed that not all young, girl refugees could be reached through soccer. Freudenberger has been working with the project since 2013 and wrote her Bachelor's thesis about it. She concluded her studies with a Master's thesis about gaining intercultural skills through informal learning.

A love story and a sea of people: University of Freiburg sports students give a moving performance of Maurice Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloé."
Photo: Alexander Koch

That nine girls who have fled to Germany danced in "Danse générale" at the "Konzerthaus" is a highlight, and one of the more publicly visible parts of the community project, she says. "After all, this is also about experiencing community and regular structures as well as confidence and learning the German language through play," reports Freudenberger. At the start, some of the young girl pupils could neither read nor write. There has also been official recognition that sports can make an important contribution to integration. In 2017, the German Football Association awarded the "kick for girls" project its Integration Prize.

Breaking down reservations about classical music

If you ask Elena Hotaki, who teaches German language and music at the Wentzinger secondary school, "Danse générale" is fulfilling a comprehensive educational purpose. She says the project breaks down kids' reservations about classical music by giving the pupils holistic access to music and allowing them to interpret it by using their bodies expressively. This is one of the aims driving Christina Plötze as well. She is where it all comes together – the instructional, socio-political, and artistic aspects.

Plötze was trained in contemporary dance performance and dance education at the Iwanson School of Contemporary Dance in Munich and studied sports and German as well. She also taught these subjects for several years in Freiburg and Gengenbach. Before they even rehearsed the first steps, Plötze and the students examined Impressionist paintings and read poems and prose about the metaphors of ballet. Plötze's teaching motto is: "Don't overwhelm, but by all means challenge."

"Danse générale" is a collective feat in which most of those taking part are volunteers. The choreographer says that when children who otherwise suffer from attention deficit disorder concentrate intensely on dancing in a crowded concert hall, then that's moving for everyone. "That's why we do it," says Plötze.

Annette Hoffmann