Conscious Classrooms Through Dance Film: The Making of Klasse

wild class 2 When my flight touched down in Hamburg, I couldn’t imagine how the project for which I’d just traveled 12 hours would unfold. Two weeks, four public performances, one dance film production, 15 German pre-teens. And almost zero German language skills. My collaborator Hannah Schwadron, choreographer and architect of the project we were about to embark on, had just flown in from the US as well. We decided, as we had over the previous ten months of planning our dance film Klasse, to go for a walk. But this time we were walking in the very neighborhood where Hannah’s family had lived before they fled the Nazi regime in 1941. Klasse bts7 This was not Hannah’s first time in Hamburg—in 2012 she had honored the story of her grandmother Ursel Lievendag as part of the Stones of Remembrance project, in which Jewish artists are invited to Germany to make work involving Holocaust history. Hannah had danced in concert with a group of middle school students from the Ida Ehre school where Ursel had once attended. The success of the project led to an invitation to return, and this time Hannah brought me along to direct a dance film in the gorgeous, historic classroom site at Hamburg’s Israelitische Tochterschule (Jewish School for Girls), now a Holocaust museum space. Hannah was clear from the start that the Ida Ehre students we were working with must help create the choreography for the performances and film, and that they would do so with archival Holocaust material as the starting point. In her previous visit to Hamburg, Hannah discovered that the Israelitische Tochterschule had kept letters written between Ursel and her friends in 1938-39 as they departed on the Kindertransport. classroom0 Hannah and her team of four US and German dancer-educators had the students read the letters aloud, write their own letters to real or imagined friends who were forced to leave, and create movement based on their experiences. With Germany’s shifting demographics and the growing refugee crisis, the students easily related to the struggles that Ursel and her friends faced 75 years prior.

“It was quite moving to see that by the 4th day of workshops—which culminated in the first of their public performances—the students were not only serious and prepared, but also fully engaged with the historic importance of the project and its contemporary relevance.” –Malia Bruker, Director

klasse1 We shot the dance film for two days after that, and despite the strenuous all-day shooting schedule, the students were very expressive and (mostly) very focused. One young dancer refused to keep the top button of her blouse closed like the rest of the cast and another took his shoes off for half of the takes, which we would only notice months later when reviewing the footage. But we also saw in the footage that they were pushing through exhaustion, giving so much to the project and the intensive nature of the production. Hannah and I are really proud of the film we produced there, but we are also excited to further explore what we think is an innovative process for creating political/cultural/social awareness in the classroom through historical dance film production. We could not have embarked on this project without the 2015 Production Grant from Dance Films Association and we look forward to sharing the film and discussing our process with the DFA community.

–Malia Bruker is the director of Klasse.

Nov. 11, 2015


Join Malia for a special screening of Klasse at La Sala in Williamsburg at 7pm on Saturday, November 21st. Bruker, choreographer Hannah Schwadron, and composer Louis Schwadron will be present for a Q&A and dinner to follow.

La Sala

58 N 3rd St (Btw Kent & Wythe) Brooklyn, NY 11249 t: 305.562.1961 Free and no RSVP necessary Located in the rear of Cantina Royal

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