Oakland dance instructor prepares for five years of teaching the art

This year Thayer Jonutz, choreographer, performer and teacher, will celebrate his fifth year with the Oakland University Repertory Dance Company. Jonutz has been dancing over twenty years, since his freshman year in high school.

For the last decade, his focus has been on performing and teaching modern style dance.

“It’s very rare that you find a dance artist that only performs,” Jonutz said. “They are usually teaching and choreographing to supplement income, and because it is just part of the dance world.”

Jonutz has traveled as far as Argentina, Japan and South Korea. 

“It’s pretty phenomenal that you can go to these different countries and see strong differences,” Thayer said. “The culture, politics and identity shape the voices and viewpoints of the artists. Despite the differences, the passion and love for movement is very universal.”

This summer, Jonutz traveled to Costa Rica for a week, along with OU dance instructor, Ali Woerner, to perform in a showcase.

Sandra Torijano, a University of Michigan dance professor and native to Costa Rica, hosted the show, which predominantly showcased local Costa Rican performers.

Torijano invited Jonutz and Woerner to be featured U.S. artists. She choreographed two duets for the pair, using movements specified for their dancing bodies, according to Jonutz.

“It was a really great setting. It was in the capital, San Jose, at the National Theater,” Jonutz said. “They set it up… so that workers, people who normally wouldn’t see art, could come on their lunch break.”

The sold-out show is not the only adventure that Jonutz and Woerner have experienced together.

The two started teaching at Oakland at the same time and have since built a partnership: growing together and learning from each other.

After collaborating for a performance in February this year, the two merged their dance companies.

“The collaboration was very successful. Both our company members and ourselves, as artistic directors, enjoyed the creative process so much that we decided to make it permanent,” Jonutz said.

They decided to name the new company Take Root after the title of the show because they thought it had a nice ring to it.

Take Root is comprised of one student apprentice from OU and several older, more seasoned artists.

The company focuses primarily on modern style, but the members have vast experience in all forms of dance.

Jonutz said that owning his own company had always been in his artistic trajectory.

“I think it’s important for me as an artist because it allows me to have a creative outlet to continue to express my voice as a choreographer,” Jonutz said. “But also to use as a laboratory to continue to grow and then, as a result, offer that knowledge and experience to my students.”

Take Root is sharing two performances with The Leopold Group, a company out of Chicago, at 8 p.m. Feb. 7 and 8 at Varner Recital Hall.