|Who participated to the BRDance festival as contemporary dancers?
To name a few of the companies which we had invited, you might know the Dance Company Rubato (directed by Dieter Baumann), Tanzfabrik Berlin (the most established collective/company in Berlin at that time – today it’s more a studio and a production house), Susanne Linke was part of it. I did one of the last presentations of Gerhard Bohner in the festival… it was almost like a historical moment because there were all these American and Canadian presenters coming to see him.
When we had this nationwide presentation, it was the first time the ministry people realized there was something like a contemporary dance scene, which they did not know before. You don’t know how many times I went to an office at a funding body explaining to them what contemporary dance is. I was not just fighting for the artists I wanted to work with, but it was more like explaining the art form—defining it for the bureaucrats. At that time, I went to the Ministry of Education and convinced them to give us money, to organize a symposium on contemporary dance education. I connected it with the symposium part of the festival and managed to get the state Secretary of Education—who is now the head of the German parliament, Dr. Lammert, a very important politician —to come to the opening of the event. We were always using our projects to attract a bigger audience. We found a way to collaborate with people to make it bigger, more important, and at the same time, we used the energy that came from the event to put pressure on the bureaucrats.
What was the symposium about?
It was an international symposium on dance education. The idea behind it was because we only had ballet academies at the time and the only contemporary dance school at the time was Folkwang (Essen), but the rest of the dance community felt that it was a breeding ground for the Pina Bausch—like it didn’t serve for anything else. The symposium was very important in providing vital information. We released the first booklet on dance companies, which was financed by the Ministry of Education as a part of the symposium. We were able to say that there was a dance community and in this city we had this company, and this company, and here were the addresses, and then we would have five pages of people who were professionally involved with dance. These were the documents to create public recognition of the existence of dance, and to show the fact that there a living community and we need to support this art-form. This was one of the most striking arguments when we began our movement—that there was an art-form that exists in Germany that gets no funding at all from the public sector.
So you were successful in seducing the officials…
Seducing and oppressing (laugh). In the beginning it had a strong political impact—critics wrote that it was a fantastic festival, it had to go on—but you cannot have a festival as a celebration, with the same people every year. The idea was to do the first festival to show what’s there, and present a funding scheme that would make it clear for the sponsor to see what we need, and then we would have to continue with the funding scheme. It had to be interesting to them to have a major event in the opening, and then continue with a funding scheme that reflects what they’re doing in their business.
Through these activities, we established the National Performance Nez in Germany (NPN) in 1999 with six German dance organizers to create and adapt a long-term supportive structure for contemporary dance. The idea of the NPN is always to stimulate the collaboration between the artists and the promoters and producers. The money we give out is always to the presenter who invites a company, but we ask them to provide a certain minimum pay for the dancers in order to raise the social status of the dancers. So we force the presenter to give more money to the artists, but by subsidizing them, it’s less expensive for the presenter. So both—the presenter and the artist—are winners, but only if the artist is properly compensated. That’s the basic model. With the co-production grant, we make it so that you need two co-production partners within Germany in different federal states, and you need a third partner from outside the country. We don’t mind if the choreographer comes from Germany or elsewhere on this planet—it’s just important that the essential part of the production is made in Germany. And the applicants have to come from Germany as well.
There are many public theaters in Germany. How do you work with them as the director of NPN?
We have something like 300 state- and civic-theaters. It’s quite a huge number, and the number is growing these days. We are lucky that there are almost 80 fully-subsidized, fully-paid companies at state- and civic-theaters all over Germany. Originally there were only ballet companies, then there were a few contemporary companies like Pina Bausch or William Forsythe. The funny thing about these companies is that they produced for a local audience, but there wasn’t any exchange between them. Most of the dance that you know now from Germany has been produced on the independent scene. But the independent scene was funded with a lot less money. In the independent scene there was a smaller audience, but much more artistic freedom. By collaborating in this independent community with international festivals and production houses, these created a much stronger mobility, a lot more exchange between Germany and the international festival circuit. In this way, the whole independent scene became a sort of counter-power in regards to the established theaters. Since one or two years ago, there’s much stronger solidarity between the two worlds of dance because the established theaters realize that they’re in danger if they don’t socialize with the independent scene. It’s hard to get that distinction if you don’t have that theater system in your country. That’s the reason I say the system is a great help, it helps artists do their work, but at the same time it’s a burden for artistic development, because established theaters haven’t been opening up, they didn’t provide for experimental work because the audience hasn’t been interested.
Germany has a federal republic, the state, the province, the city and the regions—four layers of funding. The states play an important role on the national cultural policy, doesn’t it?
In the German legislation, the federal states are most responsible for the arts. We have a funny paragraph in our constitution that says that the sovereignty of the arts lies with the federal states. We are fighting this like crazy because we want to have a change in the constitution so that the state of Germany also becomes responsible for the funding of arts. From our experience in history with the Nazi government, where all activities were streamlined for propaganda, especially culture, we inherited the constitution from the British system which gave sovereignty of culture to the federal states in order to avoid streamlining of cultural expression by a dictator or by the federal government. It’s a good thing, but it’s also complicated to work with this system because all the federal states are competitive, and there is little coordination and no real communication. There is a steady conference of the Ministers of Culture, but every federal state has the right to a veto, and we have 16 of them, so it’s really hard to get a decision. Most of the funding for the production, by the way, comes from the cities. However, the NPN is a very good example of how the federal states can collaborate in cultural funding.
You also have been responsible for Dance Platform in Germany.
The first Dance Platform was five days in Berlin in 1994. We presented 25 companies as a collaboration of the three cities, Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich, and we had about 130 promoters coming from all over the world. It was a huge success. At that time the Platform undertook a role of the selection for the Bagnolet platform, and the biggest platform in the world. We decided to have Dance Platform every two years in different cities.
In Frankfurt in 1996 we made it a bit tighter—it was three days with 15 companies, a good format. By the time it came to Munich in 1998, we had seven venues we could work with. We did some site-specific work—we showed Lynda Gaudreau in the main hall of the university in Munich and Felix Ruckert in a construction site. We had a 600-seat theater, a 1,200-seat theater that opened meanwhile, and we had several theaters with 150 seats. In the end we presented 15 shows in 7 theaters, and it was a really big event. We had 350 producers coming from all over the world to see it. Within four years’ time, we’d begun from a small thing, and suddenly it was eventually a far bigger event than Bagnolet.
Originally we had a plan for three cities, Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich. We didn’t think further. But when it was in Frankfurt, we already had the first colleagues coming up and saying “Hey, what will happen when Munich is over?” The next one to apply was Kampnagel in Hamburg. They were close colleagues of ours so they asked if they could do the next one after Munich. We said OK if you prove that you can do the fundraising, and you have the venues. They found it was a successful project, and we raised some funding with the Ministry of the Interior at the time, too.
Now it’s getting bigger and bigger. For Leipzig in 2002 we were already such a big group. In the first years of the festival, the co-organizers [Nele Hertling, Dieter Buroch and me] were also responsible for programming; however, since the Düsseldorf Dance Platform in 2004, the decision-making has been placed in the hands of a board of advisors which consists of dance professionals, who were in turn elected by the co-organizers.
What are your future thoughts regarding the platforms?
Dance Platform will be transformed by the artists themselves, and as the world will change. We will decide about the next one after 2010, and maybe we will do it in Frankfurt again...but we don’t know yet.