The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
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Presenter Interview
Working to build an infrastructure for contemporary dance in Germany. Speaking with the founder of Tanzplatform Deutschland
Walter Heun
Are there any other projects you have been involved in the German dance scene?
Did you hear about Tanzplan Deutschland? The Federal Cultural Foundation (Kulturstiftung des Bundes) is now giving 12.5 million Euros over a period of five years until 2010 in order to stimulate contemporary dance. Their original idea was transforming Dance Platform into a national dance festival, so we opposed that and proposed a new idea. I was lucky to be on the consultancy board for the National Culture Foundation. We told them we have the idea of federalism already in Germany, so why don’t you create a system where you use the strength of federalism, but use your national money in order to create a competition between the federal states so that the states put more money into dance. This was our original idea. But they decided to go for a National dance Festival. Then they began advertising the position of artistic director for a dance festival they would do on their own. There were quite some people interviewed for the job of being artistic director of it. Then it was Madeline Ritter who kind of neglected the job description and proposed something completely different that went more towards what we thought was right. It’s funny this wasn’t a common plan, but somehow in the end they did the right thing! Tanzplan Deutschland supports and internet platform, the co-production funds of the NPN, and some other activities of national recognition. It’s biggest budgets are allocated towards 8 cities whose dance institutions teamed up for activities that would strengthen the recognition of dance over a five year’s period and would make a substantial change for the establishment of dance in that respective city.

Is there any state you can point out as being the most energetic in Germany in terms of dance?
It’s clearly Berlin. For a while, you could say there were two directions, mainly coming from Berlin. One is what people call conceptual dance. Like Xavier Le Roy, Thomas Lehmen, Alice Chauchat. Jochen Roller, Martin Nachbar, and others. The other one I would call the “new German dance comedy” (laughs) like Constanza Macras we’ve seen yesterday. It’s a development from Berlin like Sasha Waltz— some people who work with her do kind of similar things as she did before. It’s of course a fun term for it. I think there is a new way of doing German Dance Theatre in a fresher way and in a more juvenile style, and with a kind of Berlin trashy charm. One of them is Constanza Macras, another is Two Fish, but the one who kind of invented it was Sasha Waltz in 1984.
I also think that internationally there is a serious development of artists who work more toward the fine arts. If you look at Lynda Gaudreau, Neuer Tanz, Christina Ciupke in a way, when she did the program with the photographers. And then there are also some artists who are really reflecting the art of choreography again, but from a different angle—Jonathan Burrows, for example, or Rosemary Butcher.
I think Munich has the second biggest dance community. If you think about dance as a dance community, Hamburg is also strong. If you think of dance as venues or famous artists, of course Frankfurt used to be big with William Forsythe, the Mousonturm. They do a lot of international programs. I would say Berlin, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Munich, Frankfurt are all the leading cities. Then we have a choreographic center in Essen. There is a collaboration between the city of Frankfurt and the city of Dresden in order to support William Forsythe.

Perhaps foreign artists enjoy a privilege working there with equal status. So how about multiculturalism as the national policy?
I would say that almost every German funding system, whether it’s a city or a federal state or a national state, they don’t mind where the artists come from. But it’s important that they live in Germany and that they are working there. In most funding schemes there is a regulation saying that your life and artistic work has to be in the city—that most of the time and energy you spend has to be in that place. Of course if a choreographer is successful, they spend 2/3 of their time abroad, so it’s difficult to make that distinction, but it was never difficult for foreign artists to apply for funding. I’m really happy that it is like this in our country.
In Munich they have a regulation that the city funding can only go to an artist who has been doing one production of reference at his own cost, so you cannot just pass by, take the money and run. You have to make one production to prove that you have a serious interest in staying in Munich. But it’s really quite open. For example, working with Rosemary Butcher, we had a scheme called choreographer in residence, and the funding for this went into the new project. With our choreographer in residence program, we were always inviting one international artist to produce in Munich with the integration of artists from Munich. For example, Butcher did a piece with two dancers from Munich and one dancer from Italy and she produced a piece called “White.” It toured successfully in Europe, and we found international co-producers, but the main funding came from Munich.
Joint Adventures as a production unit tries to help choreographers establish their work in Munich. I had been collaborating with Mia Lawrence since some years ago. She did a production in our festival, so she had the right to apply. But then we don’t follow them up for good—they have to follow their own structure.

So Germany still attracts many artists from abroad.
There’s a fantastic system. If you want to work as a choreographer in a civic theater the companies have something between 450,000 to five million Euros a year. The state ballet has something like 60 fully-employed dancers. The biggest opera company of a single opera house is Düsseldorf with 80 dancers, fully employed and there should be some foreign artists in the company. That’s quite something.

Can you give us your perspective on the role of festivals in the future?
Festivals should not be just a celebration. You need the celebration aspect in order to make it work—it has to be fun for an audience to be there. You cannot program things that an audience won’t accept. When I think about a festival I think about creating a dramaturgy for an event.
It can be many different things. It depends on where you are and what you do. When I worked at the opera house in Lucerne, we had a 500-seat theater in a 50,000 inhabitant city. It’s the main theater in that city, and the audience had 30 years of ballet tradition to see there. You cannot go there and only present Jerome Bel, for example. When I programmed there, I started with relatively established names like Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown, Wim Vandekeybus, O Vertigo. I showed them a range of work. We also presented choreographers like Boris Charmatz who worked with music by Otomo Yoshihide with a sound level of 105 decibel in this opera house. The administrative director asked somebody in from sound control and we had to turn it down because it was physically aggressive. But the audience could stand it. I think you can do that if you take your audience by the hand. I gave a few hints on what they should look for, rather than explain what they were seeing there. After each show we had a public discussion like, “Are there any questions?” But after half a year it was a really lively discussion.
I am working on a new collaborative project now with a few partner organizations in Munich called access to dance. In this new project, we are also thinking of creating a focus on a certain dance community somewhere. In April we are planning an event in Munich and some other Bavarian cities where we would present Swiss dance for three or five productions, and create a focus on Swiss dance. Maybe we will do that with Dutch dance one day, but we’ll see—there could also be a possibility to do Japanese dance, if we find a common ground.
 
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