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PORCH: Dancing Outside The Box

Deck: P.O.R.C.H. is a professional summer dance-training program, located just outside of one of Europe’s hottest modern dance capitals, Berlin.

BERLIN, GERMANY -- P.O.R.C.H. (Ponderosa Ongoing Research Collaborative Happenings) is a quirky name for a rather unusual dance festival. Started in 2010 by Stephanie Maher and Kathleen Hermesdorf, P.O.R.C.H. is a three-month, three-module international training program for professional dancers (seen in Photo 1).

Each month focuses exclusively on one of three areas: training, performance, and improvisation-based choreography. Dancers train with cutting-edge international teachers, choreographers, and company directors eight or more hours a day, pushing their physical bodies and minds past their limits. Since the program size is limited to 25 dancers per module, the intimate setting fosters deep bonds between the artists who stay connected long after the end of the festival. Attended by artists from around the world, P.O.R.C.H. acts as an international dance convention and is possibly one of the richest international meeting grounds for modern dancers at the forefront of their field.

What perhaps best defines P.O.R.C.H. is its unwavering dedication to the state of improvisation, both as a training technique and way of life at the festival. It is a place where creativity flows constantly from every corner of the festival, ready to bubble into moments of magic. Experiments where literally anything can happen—a silent bridge-building event in full suits, a dance set on a merry-go-round, walking silently with a partner for hours, improvising at dawn, wearing transformative wigs or maybe nothing at all—the freedom to explore at any hour of the day is fully embraced. Improvisation can be outrageous, it can implode, or it can take off into the realm of ecstatic beauty. P.O.R.C.H. is meant to be a transformational life experience, where artists realize that their boundaries are far beyond where they once imagined.    

It is a rare thing to find dancers congregating in non-urban environments, but P.O.R.C.H. has established itself as one of the few rural dance communities in the world. Ponderosa, the umbrella non-profit organization under which PORCH functions, is set in Stolzenhagen, Germany, about one hour north of Berlin and part of former Eastern Germany . It seems like an unlikely cultural nexus: a remote old 19th century Prussian farm estate constantly in a state of renovation (as seen in Photo 2).

When Stephanie Maher (San Francisco, CA) and Uli Kaiser (Germany) found the estate in the early 1990s after reunification of East and West Germany, they bought the 13-acre property for less than 40,000 Euros. Since then, several artists have joined the collective and made their homes here, supporting not only the renovation of the buildings but also providing the backdrop for a vibrant, eco-conscious artistic network. Self-sufficiency and sustainability play a big role in life at Ponderosa, which features solar showers and cookers, composting toilets, and its own functioning vegetable garden and greenhouse (seen in Photo 3).

The granary (seen in Photo 4) serves as the communal housing and kitchen for program participants, as well as the setting of a smaller studio space. The enormous top floor of the cow barn was transformed into a spacious sunny studio hosting many of the large events – sometimes over a hundred dancers will congregate here at one time. Huge sturdy masts support the ceiling in the space, which reaches at least 20 feet high (seen in Photo 5). Supported by the raw space and each other, artists at P.O.R.C.H. delve deep into creative investigation each day.


P.O.R.C.H is currently in its 3rd season, and you can find more information about the program online here


Photos 1-5 courtesy of Ponderosa,