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Take a former Rockette and a veteran of Peter Sparling's celebrated dance program at the University of Michigan, and what do you get?

You get Take Root -- an out-of-the-box modern dance company that will bring their kid-inspired programming to the Max M. and Marjorie S. Music Center Friday evening. 

Ali Woerner and Thayer Jonutz, both Oakland University dance professors who trained at U-M, form the brain trust behind the eight-person troupe.

"When we both ended up getting hired at Oakland," Woerner said, "we started dancing duets and discovered we had great creative chemistry together."

The two did a 2013 concert together titled "Take Root," and have been choreographing and performing together ever since. Still, in dance terms, they're a bit of an odd couple, though Woerner says that's made for fascinating collaboration.  

"Thayer's much more the modern-dance and gymnastics guy," Woerner said, "while my background is commercial dance with the Rockettes for seven years."

Her Rockette friends, she said, still can't get over the fact that she's gone all modern. "But I tell them this is fun," Woerner said. "I get to dance in bare feet everyday."

Jonutz and Woerner aim for spirited choreography that defies stereotypes and expectations. 

"Men lift women and women lift men," Woerner said. "We're very specific in the dancers we hire, and they stay with us. Many have been with us since the beginning." 

All Take Root performances are accompanied by live music composed by John Anderson, a Wayne State music professor. 

Take Root will premiere two new pieces Friday evening -- "In Dreams" and "One Fish, Blue Fish." Both are drawn from the dancers' own experiences.

"We always do a lot of creative writing to generate work," Woerner said. "In the case of 'In Dreams,' we did pages and pages of free writing: What does this mean to you?"

But truth be told, she said, both she and Jonutz often pull ideas and dance moves from their own children. "In Dreams" was sparked in part by the question from Woerner's little boy, "Why is it you forget your dreams as the day goes on?"

"One Fish, Blue Fish," by contrast, was pulled from Jonutz and Woerner's experience working with k-8 kids in arts-education programs with Pontiac's Baldwin Center and Oakland Family Services. 

"The piece is all based their quirks and mannerisms," Woerner said. "I can watch our dancers and think, 'Yup. There's my kid.'"

Take Root's social outreach isn't limited to children - they also do programs for seniors with Parkinson's. 

When they first started, Woerner said, "I thought it'd be a class of five," but that first day 40 showed up, all moving down the hallway with canes and walkers. Working with them, she added, has been deeply affecting. 

"They're my people," she said, "just the most unique group of wonderful human beings."

mhodges@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-6021

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy 

'Take Root: An Evening of Movement and Music'

The Cube, Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward, Detroit 

7 p.m. Fri., Aug. 2 

$15 - general admission; $40 - general admission family 4-pack; $49 - VIP (includes admission, reserved cabaret seat and 1 free drink)

(313) 576-5111

dso.org 

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