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EDN european dance news (October 2004)

School Spotlight: Berlin’s balance 1
excerpt: Balancing Act: Berlin’s balance 1 offers a well-rounded education spanning everything from pliés to politics by Laura Peters

Nestled between factories and office buildings in one of Berlin’s industrial zones is a building where the only machines build is strength. In this unlikely setting, sisters Miriam and Stephanie Drechsler operate a professional dance academy called balance 1. „It’s a plus to be located in an industrial zone, because we can be very noisy if we want to!“ says Stephanie.
The blueprint for balance 1 originated with Miriam’s dream to provide contemporary dance students an all-inclusive educational package: A school where they could not only build a solid technical foundation, discipline and creative skills but also learn the business and pilitical side of a professional dance career. Armed with training in ballet, jazz and modern, Miriam’s ambitous goal was to raise the standard of dance education in Germany’s capital city. „This is why balance 1 is still unique in Berlin: It does not focus on one technique or style,“ Stephanie explains. „Miriam’s aim is to bring different techniques together and enables dancers to use them as a whole in the movement.“
Miriam’s quest began in 1993 when she founded DanStudiOne BALANCE and began offering open classes Her co-director was fellow dancer and life companion Joern Wiegand, who died in an airplane crash while on tour with American singer Melanie Thornton in 2001. Stephanie, who studied acting in Berlin, London and Paris, and worked in Milan at La Scala as a mime, came on board to teach acting and eventually became co-director of the school.
Over the next few years, Miriam developped a professional curriculum and added studios and rehearsal and training space, gradually expanding over the building. By 1996, she had realized her dream, and DanStudiOne BALANCE became balance 1, an academy offering a three-year study in classical and contemporary dance.
The building dates from 1913 and includes a terrace and 80-square-metre courtyard. The school occupies three floors with dance studios, and theory spaces

COMPETITIVE EDGE: The academy has now an average of 60 students per year and is acknowledged by the state. The programme is graded and certified. Dancers from Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Sweden, the Netherland and Japan have come to train at balance 1. „We demand a lot of discipline and effort from the students, and in return we give them a lot of inspiration and motivation,“ Stephanie says
Prospectice students must apply, and auditions are by invitation only. „We tell people to look around…and audition for several schools,“ Stephanie explains. „There’s a school for everyone and they have to get used to auditioning, because it’s an important part of the life of a professional dancer.“

DEVELOPING DISCIPLINE: The first year of the programme focuses on technique and theory, including a thorough study of Cunningham, Graham, Limón and Horton techniques. Other classes include dance theory, anatomy, medical background, massage and Physiotherapy. „The students learn the importance of discipline and independance, because the first need of a good dancer is to be able to work by himself,“ states Stephanie. The first year also includes improvisation, partnering and contact improvisation.
In the second year, dancers build stage presence and character. Second- year students also study breathing and voice techniques, acting, partnering as well as contemporary composition. Those who choose to create their own solos have the opportunity to showcase them in a public presentation.

READY FOR THE REAL WORLD: Technique and theory continue in the third year, but the focus shifts to the business of getting a job and making a living in the dance world. Barbara Friedrich, producer of the anuual festival Dance Days Berlin, talks with the students about funding, insurance, finances and politics. „In this year we try to prepare them fort he every day life of a professional dancer,“ says Stephanie. „We work on the final presentation, but also on auditioning and applying for jobs. A professional dancer needs to be able to adapt very quickly, especially when auditioning. We want to prepare them as much as we can.“

JUST AROUND THE CORNER: The Drechsler sisters are continuing to refurbish balance 1, embarking on a new project every year and taking over more of the building as they expand the school. „We have our minds set on the neighbouring building,“ Stephanie says, adding that the next project is a theatre space. „It has been used as a garage but is abandoned now. It would make a wonderful theatre space with lots of possibilities. Thatbwould be really great. Oh well, it’s our next big thing!“

STUDENT SUCCESS STORY: Angela Schubot, founder and cghoreographer of Berlin-based company Two Fish. „In the three years she was here, we saw her develop,“ Stephanie says. „She has such an extraordinary, unique style.“