Celebrating Harriet Berg - Detroit Opera

Celebrating Harriet Berg

How does dance make you feel?

In an interview with Monica Mercer for Hour Detroit Magazine in 2012, Harriet Berg shared that her friend and mentor Merce Cunningham often said "dancing is ‘that fleeting moment when you feel alive.’" Perhaps the most influential advocate and champion for dance in our community Harriet Berg has spent her lifetime (an incredible century) performing, teaching, choreographing, and inspiring an appreciation for dance in Detroit, throughout Michigan, and beyond.

Harriet Berg. Photo by John Hardwick

While a dance teacher at Wayne State University in Detroit in the 1950s, and for decades after, Berg’s mission was to put Detroit on the map for the modern dance, folk dance, and historical dance movements. She was the founder and artistic director of a number of dance groups. In the 1970s and 80s, Berg acted as an advisor to David DiChiera while he served as artistic director of Music Hall for the Performing Arts, resulting in Music Hall being referred to as “The Dance Center of the Midwest.”  At that time, more companies appeared on the Music Hall stage than in Chicago!

Berg worked annually with Karen DiChiera, then director of education for Detroit Opera, as one of several instructors for the popular “Learning at the Opera” summer program, launched in 1996. She also consulted with Carol Halsted on dance symposiums, initiatives, and companies to present at the Detroit Opera House in the late 1990s through the mid-2000s.

Many who have attended dance productions at the Detroit Opera House for the last three decades encountered Harriet in the lobby, the auditorium, or backstage, with a twinkle in her eye and ready to share her illustrious career with dance. Most recently, after Dance Theatre of Harlem’s October performance at the opera house, she visited with the company’s artistic leadership recalling her interactions with founder Arthur Mitchell and the role she played in introducing him to David DiChiera, who would first bring the company to Detroit’s Music Hall in the 1970s.

Harriet’s story is our story, and in big ways or small gestures, our combined efforts have ensured that the millions who live in southeast Michigan are able to attend performances of the finest dance companies in the world. In the spirit of Harriet’s legacy, we are proud to present Spain’s Compañía Nacional de Danza for their Detroit debut, for their only US performance of choreographer Johan Inger’s Carmen on Wednesday, January 17, at 7:30 PM.


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