From dance to choreography and teaching

Focusing the new MA Dance on teaching and choreography: Friederike Lampert and Samuel Wuersten. Photograph: Regula Bearth © ZHdK

In autumn 2018, eight dance artists will embark on the new ZHdK Master’s in Dance. A conversation with Friederike Lampert and Samuel Wuersten about the challenges facing dance studios and what awaits incoming students.


Lilo Weber: The MA Dance is a programme in Choreography and Teaching and Coaching Dance Professionals. Why not offer two distinct Master’s programmes: one for choreography and one for dance pedagogy?
Friederike Lampert: The two fields of practice are closely intertwined, especially in contemporary dance, but also in ballet. The work of choreographers has a pedagogic dimension. In turn, training and rehearsal leaders must understand choreographic concepts in order to be able to conduct rehearsals.

Samuel Wuersten: Choreography requires the ability to convey ideas. No matter whether students want to concentrate more on coaching and teaching rather than on developing their own creations or vice versa, they still need to understand studio processes and dynamics. How do we treat each other? How do you develop movements with dancers and how do you elicit these?

So is this also a Master’s for future ballet masters and mistresses, who will be rehearsing ballets created by choreographers for a particular company?
Samuel Wuersten: Exactly, they are choreographic assistants. Today’s choreographers often have someone at their side who accompanies the development of ideas.

Friederike Lampert: Teaching and Coaching Dance Professionals is actually the contemporary expression for ballet masters and mistresses and also includes activities like training or rehearsal management.

What entrance requirements do students need to meet?
Friederike Lampert: The programme is aimed at experienced professionals. Students should have a Bachelor’s in dance and be familiar with production processes in a dance company, whether at a city theatre or in the independent scene. Three years’ experience are desirable. Though portfolio admission is also possible.

Samuel Wuersten: In terms of personality, we are seeking self-motivated, initiative students keen to break new ground. Only these attributes will enable us to help them develop artistically.

Supposing someone is not suited to teaching — would they still be able to join the programme to learn choreography?
Samuel Wuersten: There is an entrance examination and we strive to establish abilities and aspirations ahead of programme entry. One needs an affinity for this kind of work. Our combination of creation and teaching has grown from the realization that various shortcomings determine the work done in dance studios. There are brilliant choreographers, but they are not really good with dancers, perhaps due to personal insecurity, making them difficult for their environment.

When is the decision whether students will move into choreography or pedagogy taken?
Friederike Lampert: Right at the beginning. Though students indicate their preferred focus when applying, they know that the other area forms part of the programme. That’s what makes this course so special.

Good choreographers have their own style. How can the programme help students discover theirs?
Friederike Lampert: The programme offers a wide range of opportunities for individuals. We aim to provide inspiration — especially to enable students to familiarize themselves with many different movement styles and working methods.

Samuel Wuersten: Through encounters, conversations or in-depth examination of a choreographer’s work, we want to help students discover what fascinates them and why. The extent to which students develop is ultimately determined by their personal commitment.

Dance analysis takes up quite a lot of the schedule. Isn’t that too much theory?
Friederike Lampert: No, it isn’t. The emphasis is placed less on dance science than on dance history. There’s lots of inspiring material to be discovered in dance history. We have developed an e-learning tool together with ZHdK for the programme. Along a timeline spanning 400 years of dance history, students can watch videos to gain a visual impression of significant and characteristic works.

Samuel Wuersten: The context in which dance is created is important — including the historical dimension. It is essential to engage with this history, as it informs one’s own work. These insights enable us to look into the future, to do something completely different and to consciously let go of what we have learned.

Future filmmakers, actors, musicians and designers are also receiving their training at ZHdK. Is it possible to work with them?
Samuel Wuersten: ZHdK has consciously decided to establish a BA Contemporary Dance and now a Master’s alongside the dance academy. We aim to promote connections between the various art forms.

What about networking with institutions and personalities beyond the university?
Friederike Lampert: We envisage that MA students from different creative disciplines will come together and co-create. There’s also a Master’s cluster module in which courses are taught on an interdisciplinary basis.

Samuel Wuersten: International networking is integral to our BA Contemporary Dance. The MA taps into this network by regularly inviting guest lecturers, for example. This is the only way that such a programme makes sense — the link to professional practice needs to be tangible.

What about the course load and how long does the programme take?
Friederike Lampert: It’s a full-time degree. We try to provide a certain flexibility. Though the course can be designed individually, students need to fulfil clear guidelines.

Samuel Wuersten is artistic director of the BA Contemporary Dance and the MA Dance at ZHdK. The dancer, teacher, choreographer and programme designer received his dance training at Hamburg Ballet School and Rotterdam Dansacademie. He is co-rector of Codarts University of the Arts and curator of the Context Festival in Moscow and St. Petersburg and of the Holland Dance Festival in The Hague.
Dr. Friederike Lampert is Professor of Choreography at ZHdK. She studied ballet at the Musikhochschule in Frankfurt am Main as well as applied theatre studies in Giessen University. She has performed as a professional dancer in various companies and has been a research associate at the University of Hamburg, Tanzplan Deutschland, Codarts University of the Arts and Dresden’s Palucca University of Dance.
Lilo Weber was an editor on the dance and Zurich culture desk at the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung.” Today she commutes between Lake Constance and Berlin as a freelance dance publicist.
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