When Piet Mondrian painted his picture “Tableau No. 1, 1925” in his atelier in Paris in 1925, he was searching for a visual language that radically reduced forms to their essential elements. The result was a square painting hung diagonally, its surface divided into geometric parts. Around the same time, Gret Palucca was exploring new possibilities for body language, giving it room for expression. She developed a new, abstract style of dance defined by a combination of weightlessness and geometric elements that were comparable with Mondrian’s straight lines and contrasting colours. She created moving images that sparked the audience’s imagination without focusing on a specific theme. “There is no more content or meaning to my dance other than that it is simply dance, natural movement, arranged in harmony with music.” When Palucca opened her own dance school in Dresden that same year, it was therefore no surprise that her whitewashed studio contained nothing but a black grand piano and the painting by Mondrian hanging above it. Many derided it, asking what it showed other than a few lines. But Palucca always loved the painting and considered it a great work of art. She saw her own ambitions embodied in its precise lines.
Musical talent, an active imagination and the ability to express yourself through dance: These are just a few of the qualities a young dancer needs today. Ten state schools in Germany offer professional dance training, but the only independent institute of higher education for dance is in Saxony: Palucca University in Dresden, founded by Gret Palucca 90 years ago. Students here dream of achieving international acclaim as dancers, staging performances as choreographers, or teaching young dancers.
Places at the school are in high demand, especially from abroad. “At the moment, we have just under 200 students from 25 countries at Palucca University of Dance. More foreign students enrolled in the 2014/15 winter term than ever before,” says Professor Jason Beechey, president of the university. More than one in three students are foreign nationals. “That’s a good indicator of the university’s excellent international reputation and the professional level of training,” says Beechey. The field of dance is extremely international in general; whether in competitions or later when looking for work, students compete with other graduates from all over the world.
The curriculum comprises three pillars: classical ballet, contemporary/modern dance and improvisation. The focus is always on the individual. “Everyone has the potential for creativity, which we aim to cultivate and promote,” Beechey emphasizes. Each student is encouraged to find his or her own style, to grow and develop into a creative artist capable of thinking independently. This guiding principle of the university is based on Palucca’s philosophy. “She always said anyone can dance, and everyone must find their own dance. That’s exactly how I see it too.” The large number of male students is also gratifying. Over a third, or 36 percent, of students at the university are male. “We have an excellent ratio and it is something I am very proud of. The atmosphere we have here is good for young men.”
However, the road to Saxony is not an easy one. The school organises aptitude tests every year in Milan, Barcelona, Düsseldorf and Dresden. Successful candidates are then invited to take part in an entrance examination at the university. Ultimately, twenty students a year are given the opportunity to fill one of the highly sought-after places and to earn solid academic training, culminating in a Bachelor’s degree. The course requires students to exhibit a high level of knowledge of classical and modern dance. Once accepted, students have access to excellent conditions for study. Situated next to Dresden’s “Grosser Garten” park, the campus is an attractive blend of modern glass buildings and historic villas housing studios, classrooms and a boarding school. (excerpt)
Photo: Bettina Stöß