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Michael Bjerknes

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I am sadder than I can say to have to post this. Michael was a fine classical dancer (Houston Ballet, Washington Ballet, Joffrey Ballet), wonderful teacher and incredible human being. He was also a charter member of this board. I don't have any details. He had been ill for some time, but only a few weeks ago his wife told me he was back teaching. This is the email from Pam Bjerknes that was sent to friends.

Dear friends,

Michael passed away early this morning. I was with him when he died and he was at peace.

I am planning a service and will let everyone know soon what we will be doing. I am home with my family and will continue to lean on family, friends and colleagues to help us through.

All classes at ADI will continue as scheduled. Michael wanted us to keep moving forward.

Thank you for your kindness and support.

Pam B.

Michael Bjerknes

December 6, 1956 - April 14, 2008

“Help young people of all ages create art and hopeful peace rather than war and dividing hate”


(April 10, 2008)

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I am not sure how to express the grief I feel over this news. I did not know Michael well but we shared time in class at Maggie Black's over the years. He was also a friend of friends of mine and in more recent years we shared a few personal communications about our lives as teachers through this board. My deepest sympathies go out to his wife, his family, and his students. So young to leave us. We have lost a truly special person in the ballet world. His inspiration will undoubtably live on in all that he touched. But his depature from this earth seems incredibly premature and surely unexplainable to all those that loved him. May your spirit dance on, dear Michael. You left an indelible mark on so many of us that love this world of dance.

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We were friends at Joffrey in the 80s and though friendships come and go ours never wavered. Just last year Michael and Pam presented my Joffrey apprentices for the second year in a row at their school in Rockville, MD. Michael and Pam always had me over for dinner at their home when we toured to Kennedy Center. I was at their home two Thanksgivings ago. Michael and Pam have raised three beautiful and intelligent children and they have served the dance community with much generosity and great dignity for many years via their excellent school. I will miss Michael's advice.

My thoughts go out to Pam and their three children.

Thank you for all you have given me Michael.

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I remember meeting him when they first opened their beautiful studios in Maryland. I would watch him teach class through the observation window and wish I was good enough to take his class.

I have always enjoyed attending performances in their studio theatre and I will be there this weekend when ABTII performs. He would introduce the company.

I am so grateful he provided these opportunities. RIP

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I don't know why it makes me so sad that Michael died. I first met in 2003. We talked a few times, but not much. We weren't close. But I really appreciated him, and ADI. It's really hard to do what he did - to create a real pre-professional school from the ground up. And he did it. In the process he created a community for us, for me.

I didn't spend a lot of time at adi. Rehearsed there a few times with a few people. My strongest memory is being there for Ed Tyler. But it makes me really sad that he's gone. I know there are a lot of people like me - who weren't close, but who loved him. We'll all miss him.

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I think Robert captured beautifully the essence of Michael. He did touch people who barely knew him. He was one of the warmest, kindest people I've ever known, and he had a very gentle charisma: you wanted to be around him, and to be part of whatever it was he was doing. This year, he'd planned something beautiful for his students -- and any students in the area: a series of performances and master classes by various studio companies (Paul Taylor 2, ABT 2, etc.) so that his students could see, as he said, the dancers they were about to be.

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Like Robert, I can't really say why I feel so sad, but like him, I do. I only knew Michael through his posts here, as "mbjerk" -- but everything he said seemed so thoughtful, considered, "rounded," i always wanted to know what he thought about anything. THe smallest insight might grow into the biggest realization, and anything he said seemed to have real life in it. "Ballet is one of those things you do in order to find out why you do it."

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Thank you, Paul, for giving us Mr. Bjerknes's screen name, which I did not know. I recall, when I first saw mbjerk's posts, being intrigued by what I took to be a charming willingness to acknowledge in himself a little bit of the "jerk" that lies in all of us but is frequently ignored or denied. The name, and the quality of his brief comments, led me to search for other posts, which revealed someone who carried his impressive experience and knowledge lightly and with gentle wit.

Here's one, from 2003, I've never forgotten:

Markova coached me in Les Sylphides where she constantly told my partner not to jump, help or anything. Her words were, "Make him lift you!" It was the first time that I heard someone tell the woman not to at least feel a releve into a lift. I think I remember Freddie Franklin telling stories of how he partnered Markova in pirouettes telling us that he made the turns and she just help her pose.

Markova was wonderful. Another line was, "Of course if I were in training I would show you exactly." She was a true grand dame.

This world needs dancers, teachers, and friends like mbjerk. I join others in extending my sympathy to his family, colleagues, and friends.
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Lisa Traiger wrote a beautiful appreciation of Michael Bjerknes in her danceviewtimes blog:

Michael Bjerknes

Michael was funny, sometimes wickedly so, but not when it came to technique or performance. My daughter would come home breathless and tell me how challenging and demanding his classes and rehearsals were. And I can attest to that. I took just one adult ballet class from him, barely got through it and he suggested, kindly but unmistakably, that I shouldn’t come back to his class. The petite allegro combinations were lightening quick, the grand allegro, a sweeping combination of weight changes, tours en l’air and grande jetes, and the adagio was a lovely … and long … meditation of promenades, developes, balances and a death-defying penche. It was all so beautiful … and so much more than my modern-trained 40-something body could accomplish.
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This is a marvelous record, especially considering that it is a rehearsal in practice clothes. The focus, quite rightly, is on Patricia Miller. But all 4 men are such thoughtful partners, each making the work seem effortless. Which is Mr. Bjerknes?

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