The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Karl Regensburger
Karl Regensburger
(C) Nikolaus Samilache

ImPulsTanz - Vienna International Dance Festival ImPulsTanz
*George Tabori (1914-2007)
Born in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire (in what is Hungary today), Tabori was a screenwriter and playwright and a director. In 1936 he fled Nazi Germany to the United Kingdom. During World War II he emigrated to the United States, where in Hollywood he was active as a screenwriter for movies including one by Hitchcock. From the end of the 1960s Tabori moved his base of activities to Berlin and Vienna and continued activities as a playwright and director. From 1987 to 1990 he served as manager of the Schauspielhaus theater in Vienna. Among his representative plays is Mein Kampf (1987), a black farce criticizing Nazi-ism.
Presenter Interview
May. 11, 2015
One of Europe’s leading dance festivals, ImPulsTanz 
One of Europe’s leading dance festivals, ImPulsTanz 
The ImPulsTanz festival (Vienna International Dance Festival) is one of Europe’s largest international dance festivals presenting not only performances by both world-renowned contemporary dance artists and the work of emerging choreographers but also many workshops by leading figures in the dance world. The festival is an outgrowth of the Vienna International Dance Week intensive dance workshops launched in 1984 by Karl Regensburger, who still serves as the festival’s director, and the Brazilian-born dancer and choreographer Ismael Ivo in response to the lack of any other venue for learning about contemporary dance in the city. From 1987 a performance program was added to the week’s schedule and from the following year, 1988, the ImPulsTanz name was adopted, combining the German words for impulse/stimulus and dance. Since then, it has been held every year in the months of July and August—the summer vacation period for the Vienna’s public theaters—with a program that presents leading dance artists, choreographers and companies old and new, such as Wim Vandekeybus, Marie Chouinard, La La La Human Steps, Rosas, Josef Nadj and Emio Greco to name just a few, and workshops and other events for the education of young people in dance. In 1996, all of the performances and workshops were made free of charge for participants and a mentor program scholarship named danceWEB Scholarship Programme was established. Also, from 2001 a new program named 8:tension was launched to introduce young choreographers. To learn about the ImPulsTanz festival that has supported Europe’s contemporary dance scene for three decades dating back to the Vienna Dance Week, we spoke with its director, Karl Regensburger.
Interviewer: Akiko Yamashita [journalist]

I would like to begin by asking about your own background. As far as I know, it seems that you don’t have any personal background in dance [practice], so what was it that led you into this line of work?
At university I majored in economics. And, although I never had any education in dance, but when I was employed by an office involved in dance I was able to use the management skills I learned at university in the field of dance. After that, when the Brazilian native dancer and choreographer Ismael Ivo, who had been active in New York, came to Europe to begin activities here, I was introduced to him and eventually became his manager. That is when I began to work seriously in the field of dance.

It was in 1984 that you and Ismael Ivo began the intensive workshop program called the Vienna International Dance Week that became the forerunner of ImPulsTanz. It was in 1973 the Pina Bausch became artistic director of the Wuppertal Tanztheater, and it was in 1984 that William Forsythe became artistic director of the Frankfurt Ballet Company. I believe it was in the beginning of the 1980s was a time when dance theater by artists like Pina became popular among audiences in Germany. What was the state of contemporary dance in Vienna around that time?
It is true that in the 1980s Pina had established dance theater as a genre in Germany and Forsythe was breathing new life into ballet. It was a time when new things were happening in dance, and it wasn’t only in Germany. France had also begun establishing its national choreography centers.
At the time, as in Germany and France, there was growing interest in contemporary dance in Vienna as well. Ivo and I both felt that the time was right to start something new in Vienna as well. We were still feeling our way and searching when we started the Vienna International Dance Week in 1984.
At first we borrowed space at the Vienna Physical Education Institute and I invited six prominent dancer and choreographer friends from around the world to come as instructors for a two-week schedule of workshops. Looking back, the expression ‘feeling our way around” is a good description, but the response we got was really great and the number of participants exceeded our initial limits. There were requests for the length of the workshops to be extended, so we ended up extending it to three weeks. And, in response to the new things that were happening in dance and ballet, the theaters of Vienna were very open and cooperative. They noticed that we were getting more and more applicants every time we held the Vienna International Dance Week.

So, Vienna had a lot of potential needs in the area of dance, didn’t it?
Yes. With the Vienna International Dance Week, the biggest break contributing to its success was our encounter with George Tabori*, who was the most successful figure in the theater world at the time. Before that, I had worked with him on a number of separate occasions, but it was when Tabori came Vienna’s Schauspielhaus theater in 1987 that was a real turning point for us. He let us use the theater so that we had the venue to hold a program of performances besides our workshops. With that, we changed the name of our Vienna International Dance Week to the current ImPulsTanz (hereafter “IPT”) name from 1988 as Vienna’s international dance festival that, in addition to our workshops included a program of invited performances by companies from around the world.
Even with the workshops alone, what had started as a two-week schedule grew to three weeks and today it is four weeks in length. It reached the point where a summer schedule was no longer sufficient, so 1997 we used the Institute’s winter vacation period to hold an additional ten days of workshops. The winter schedule included 100 classes with about 150 instructors, but from 1998 we decided to concentrate it all in the summer.

IPT is held during July and August when Vienna’s national theaters are in their summer vacation period. Was it your plan from the beginning to use this period?
Holding it in the summer period after the theater season ended meant that we could invite theater’s resident dancers and choreographers as workshop instructors. It also meant that the theaters’ dancers could participate in the workshops. And, because the theaters were on vacation during this period we could also use their theater spaces for performances, so it was a good thing, I believe, that we decided to hold the workshops and festival in the summer months. Today, we have performances of the IPT program being held in theaters around Vienna at times of the year other than the actual IPT festival, and these theaters have also come to ask us for cooperation in creating performances for their own programs. Of course, we only do this on the condition that there is no financial risk involved for us.

This is proof of IPT’s success and the fact that Vienna has come to recognize it, doesn’t it?
Yes, I believe it does. From the very beginning in 1984, the workshops brought a big response and recognition, and from 1988 when we added the performance program, I believe we can say that IPT became an important fixture of Vienna’s arts scene.

In the 30 years since you began the Vienna International Dance Week, have there been any changes in the kinds of people who participate in your workshops?
It is not that we have intentionally tried to change the type of people participating, but there has indeed been a change in the quality of people participating. When we first started out, many of the participants were young students that had just begun studying dance at university and were largely from the local area. However, when we started the scholarship program we call danceWEB in 1996, the number of professional dancers has increased. This program is so popular that we get some 1,500 applications for the 60 or 70 scholarships offered for each year’s program. We have the scholarship winners come to Vienna before the start of IPT and we give them a full orientation for IPT, and then they are allowed to participate in all the workshops and performances on the schedule free of charge, as well as participating in the research program. After the program ends, they are given time to reflect on the entire experience, so in all it becomes a five-week program.
In addition to the workshops oriented to people who are aiming to become professional dancers, we also offer classes for a broad demographic from children to the elderly with the aim of increasing the base of people interested in dance. We also offer classes for people who have absolutely no prior experience with dance. We offer these classes because we believe that it is important to make efforts to remove the barriers that would otherwise present people from having contact with dance. For example, in our programs last year, the eldest participant was an 84 year-old woman. She had no prior experience with dance whatsoever, but she started coming to our workshops each year and came to look forward to them very much. We literally provide dance experiences for everyone, ‘from the cradle to the grave’. (Laughs)

Did you have any worries when you started your performance program in 1988?
As I mentioned earlier, we were fortunate to have theaters coming to us and asking us to work with them on programs. But, probably the experience that made us serious about starting a full-fledged performance program more than any other was when we invited Tricia Brown to come and perform and have it be very well received. After that, it seems that word about IPT spread among dance companies. It was perhaps that they felt very comfortable performing here in Vienna. For example, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker came to IPT to perform many of her works, and for her Vienna became a regular performance place.

Recently she receive the Austrian Federal award for contribution to the arts, didn’t she?
I wouldn’t say it was directly because of her performances at IPT, but at least I know that we were the reason she started performing here in Vienna.

Looking at the contents of IPT, we see that besides the workshop and performance departments, you also have a research and a social department as well.
Our research program was launched in 1990 as a three-week seminar exclusively for professional dancers. We found out that three weeks was too long a period for professional dancers, so now we have shortened it to ten to 14 days. It includes short periods of intense instruction such as our Coaching Project in which dancers can receive direct instruction from choreographers that come to IPT, instruction in improvisational dance and group projects and the like. Our social program involves something like parties that provide meeting points at IPT for the dancers as well as people from the general public. This is where we also do celebrations after premiere performances. It provides a venue for the general public to get the opportunity to meet the dance artists and talk freely with them. It is a way to lower the threshold for getting to know about dance, and these events have become very popular among the people of Vienna. It has been one of the things that has helped IPT establish firm roots in the city of Vienna, and I believe it is one of the positive achievements of IPT.

In other words, IPT brings life to the city that would otherwise be largely closed down for the summer holidays, doesn’t it?
That’s 100% true! In fact, the occupancy rate for hotels and lodging in Vienna goes up by 35,000 visitors during the IPT festival run. Workshop participants, company dancers, stage technicians and audience all gather in Vienna for IPT, so that is the total it comes to.

The 2014 IPT program ran for a month from July 17 to August 17 and included performances of 35 works at 15 venues around the city and 240 workshops at 20 cites. For a program like this do you set a theme each year?
That is exactly what we avoid doing. If you are trying to form a program around a specific theme, it takes at least two to three years of preparation. If you do that, your festival loses flexibility and becomes less current, and you lose your ability to respond to the most contemporary trends in the dance scene. So, our intent is not to commission works to be created in line with a specific theme but to show at IPT the most interesting works of the day.

Do you personally do the curation to chose the works for your IPT performance program?
I do make the final decisions, but we have a staff of more than 20 people working on IPT and many outside people cooperating with us. When we hear from these people helping us around the world about some interesting work being done, either I or one of our staff members will go to see it first-hand. In the course of a year we see actual performances of about 200 works, and we also see videos of anywhere from 600 to 800 pieces.
Regarding our workshops, Ismael Ivo draws up the concepts and then makes the decisions together with our staff. As for our 8:tension part of our performance program that introduces young choreographers’ work (with a prize of 10,000 euro awarded to the best work selected by the jury), we have a separate specialized staff. So overall, the final decisions for the program are decided based on the works seen by our cooperators, our staff and myself.

Is your program basically a lineup of existing productions that have already been choreographed and created?
Of course there are some new works that premiere here in Vienna at our festival. And, in fact, there are many companies that want to premiere new works at IPT. However, with a premiere, you have to rent the theater for five to eight days before the performance, so there are budgetary limits to how many we can afford to have.
IPT runs for a month, and during that time it becomes the site of performances by companies from around the world, and since we plan it with plenty of time in the schedule, there are plenty of opportunities for dancers and choreographer to meet. Choreographers who are planning their next projects can go to see workshops in process and talk with the instructors and they can also choose dancers they want to use in their coming projects. So, for dancers it provides chances to get their next jobs. In this situation, the dancers don’t have to go through the pressure of an audition, and for the choreographers it lets them see the dancers without the work of having to pour over piles of audition applications. So, for both sides the IPT workshops are a good place to meet.

Would you tell us about your organizational makeup for running IPT. You and Ivo serve as co-directors, and besides the two of you, how many staff members do you have?
Usually we have 18 to 20 people on our staff, but around and during the time of the IPT festival that, number goes up to about 200. Regarding our venues, the number changes year by year, but it is usually between 14 and 16. Most of our venues are theater spaces, but sometimes we also find new places that have not been used for performances before, and in some cases the artists themselves find places where they want to do a project. In that case, we try our best to do things where and how the artists want, and we take on the task of doing the negotiations with the venue or the public authority in charge. The artists know that we are prepared to accept the unexpected and try our best to accommodate them, so there are always new things happening.

Perhaps this is related to the fact that IPT evolved from the workshop program of Vienna International Dance Week, but it seems to me that IPT places a lot of importance on education and nurturing young artists. In the 30 years you have continued your workshops, don’t you feel that a lot of dancers and choreographers have gone on to become mature artists? What do you think the results are in real terms?
I think we can say that 70% of the important young choreographers active today are former participants in IPT workshops. Artists like Akram Khan, so many of the prominent choreographers today began their careers with activities in Vienna. Especially since we started the danceWeb-Europe scholarship program, there has been definite progress in the educating and nurturing of young artists. However, there is also the opposite case of people who come to feel that they have less ability compared to the other participants and decide not to pursue a career in dance. Since encouraging growth in young artists is very important for us, we are working to strengthen our support systems in ways such as supporting production of works by young choreographers that have been selected by the jury in our 8:tension program or providing residence periods for them.

In recent years, with developments such as Forsythe having to leave the Oper Frankfurt opera house and Belgium’s Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie where Rosas was based announcing the end of their program of dance production, the situation for contemporary dance in theaters [resident dance departments] has been getting worse. So, the situation now is that companies and dancers can only continue activities independently.
Certainly the situation for dance and dancers is severe. In the past, dancers could be [full-time] members of companies, but now dancers are selected on a one-time basis for each project or production. There are almost no companies left that have full-time ensemble members. And, for individual works to become part of a [company’s] repertory is probably not happening anymore.
In response to this current development, we have started a “ImPulsTanz Classic” in which works performed at IPT in the past and were very successful are reviewed [and restaged] again. This is, in other word, a program aimed at showing the contemporary dance has a history. Through this program, we can have young dancers today perform old works of artists like Jérôme Bel, for example, and through that experience they can learn why his works were successful and why he is famous. Furthermore, restaging works in that way here in Vienna has also led to them being performed again at theaters outside of Vienna as well, such as Sadler’s Wells in London. This has also led to cases of joint productions of historic works of contemporary dance between IPT and other theaters. By giving a choreographer who created one of these classic works years ago the opportunity to restage them today with young dancers may also give that choreographer a good opportunity to review [and revise] the work anew.

Could you tell what you can about your budget? Materials I have seen show that within an overall budget of 5.2 million euro, the city of Vienna provides 2.1 million euro in funding, the Austrian government 500,000 and the EU 600,000, while sponsors provide another 700,000 and ticket sales account for 1.3 million euro.
This year our budget may be a little smaller that last year’s, but overall it is about 5 million euro and I believe ticket sales are in the range of 1.4 million. As for the percentages for public funding, sponsor support and ticket sales, they are probably about the same as last year.

This year’s IPT is scheduled to run from July 17 to August 17. What kind of program is planned?
We are still in the process of finalizing the program. We will have about 200 workshops; that is already decided. As for the performance program, the things I want to do are decided and right now I am negotiating to see how much budget we can get for it. Detail of the program should be online from the end of April, so I hope you will look forward to it.

I want to thank you very much for taking the time to give us this interview today.
I am honored to have an interview like this from Japan. And I would like to thank you as well.