Michelle Gladwin © 2023
It is surreal, given the intervening pandemic, that already four years have passed since the first magical Berlin Ballet Retreat in 2019. That set the stage to make the 2023 Berlin Ballet Retreat particularly meaningful.
Franziska sets a high bar not only for every carefully constructed class she teaches and clever combination she imparts, but for an infinitesimal number of micro-movements and counterbalances she points out in order that her students can appreciate holistically the mechanics of movement of the human body.
Under Franziska’s tutelage, it seems she proves both my high school physics teacher and Sir Isaac Newton right: indeed, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Not a single cell is static in her dancers’ bodies throughout her classes. Whether elongating the plié following a jump or using a stretch band to illustrate the balancing effect the pull of arms away from each other in fifth position can achieve, her clean combinations belie their complexity. And she strings them together thematically to disclose whatever nuanced ballet mystery she is unravelling on that particular day.
Franziska’s classes are not for adult students who like to flit about expressing themselves with grandiose gestures to feel they have done something creative in their day. Rather, her classes seem to attract high achievers who respect the spartan discipline that is required and the concentrated tone she sets. Her rules are at the same time unspoken yet speak volumes. Somehow, Franziska seems to be entrusted with the last remaining drops of a powerful potion my strict childhood ballet teachers from Eastern Europe used to keep us on our toes.
As to the 2023 Berlin Ballet Retreat (as one could dive as deeply describing Franziska’s Holistic Ballet approach as she does teaching it), it is notably special. Perhaps precisely because Franziska’s adult ballet classes are deliciously obsessive-compulsive about detail, the retreat attracts a group of international, mature, professionals (although they are not professionals in ballet).
What else would explain why they come together in an edgy, urban European capital at the height of summertime to subject themselves to five hours a day of stretching and challenging obscure muscles of their bodies to conform to commands and contortions in an unairconditioned but beautifully sunny studio in the uber-cool Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood of Berlin?
It does not go unnoticed that spray-painted in purple graffiti on a building just outside the oversized but spectacularly engineered German windows of the ballet studio scream the words in English “GOOD JOB!”
It is also noteworthy that whether one is a beginner or someone with years of ballet experience, together, every dancer is able to get something tremendously worthwhile out of Franziska’s classes. But what sets the Berlin Ballet Retreat apart from her London classes is that taking the dancers away from their daily work lives and other commitments, they are able not only to share five days in the studio at the barre and rehearsing Balanchine’s completely lovely Divertimento, but are able to amble together into any number of eclectic eateries on the sidewalks of East Berlin and beyond, whether Lebanese, pan-Asian or otherwise.
Conversation inevitably leads to ballet topics like which company’s Swan Lake is preferred, and why there are very different endings. Or how the repertoire of The Royal Ballet differs from NYCB’s. And with this year’s added bonus of touring the State Ballet School of Berlin, which Franziska attended even while the Berlin Wall was being dismantled, the dancers got a backstage view of the making of an art and a ballerina they love. Just seeing the ballet library was illuminating. But the costume department, for this particular crowd, was like seeing the Crown Jewels.
All this sharing of experiences does much more than provide a week of summer entertainment. The dancers, who typically exchange only polite smiles before and after classes in London during their busy schedules, suddenly become chums and supporters of one another. They laugh and joke and genuinely marvel at the wonder of why grown adults would take great joy in moving their arms, legs and heads in unison with one another to the strains of Mozart in front of giant mirrors in a hot studio while their friends and partners opt for beach holidays in Greece.
Only someone who knows Franziska’s complete investment of herself in Holistic Ballet is lucky enough to know that gravitational pull and why her dancers, grown-up as we are, continue to devote ourselves to this odd and ever-elusive artistic endeavour that brings us enormous joy in immeasurable ways.
There is a genuine dignity in that which extends far in time and space from August in Berlin. From the depths of my heart, thank you, Franziska.
Read other retreat participant's testimonials HERE>