Berlin’s Dance Scene

When TanzWerkstatt Berlin appeared as a newcomer on the Berlin scene in June 1988, Tanzfabrik on Möckernstrasse was already 10 years old, TanzTangente in the Steglitzer Kreisel, founded by Leanore Ickstadt, Joanne Pateas, and Irene Sieben had been going for at least seven years, and the PMTT performance series (Pantomime – Music – Dance – Theatre) at the Akademie der Künste had been presenting dance since 1976, in parallel with the Berliner Theaterfreffen. And let’s not forget the Berliner Festwochen, which brought large ensembles to Berlin. All in all, there’s no way it can be said that modern and contemporary dance was something completely new to the West Berlin public.

With its compact programme offering performances and technique classes, workshops, discussions, and other projects, TanzWerkstatt was something new. Young, unknown groups from Europe presented their latest aesthetic experiments – it was a ‘dance workshop’ in the truest sense.

In the period between E 88 and ‘Tanz im August’ (the festival’s new label), which started in the middle of August 1989, it seemed as if the hard work done in June 1988 had opened a door.

On 16 March 1989, the first coalition between the SPD and the Greens took power in West Berlin: the so-called ‘Momper Senate’, whose nomination of eight female senators promised a new style of politics – also in terms of culture. Senator for Culture Anke Martiny wanted to better support the ‘independent scene’ and found a politically-active counterpart in Tanzinitiative Berlin, founded in 1988.

The list of collaborators for the first edition of Tanz im August in 1989 indicates just how lively the Berlin dance scene was:

Artistic Director: Nele Hertling
Coordination and Organisation: Hartmut Faustmann, Marion Ziemann
Project Manager Tanzwerkstatt:
Contemporary Dance: Ulrike Becker, Jacalyn Carley, Dieter Heitkamp, André Thériault
Early Dance:Klaus Abromeit
Symposium:Johannes Odenthal

Manuscript in ballett international “T 89 - ein schöner Traum” by Claudia Henne, 7.7.1989

It is difficult to say whether the fact that the July/August 1990 edition of tanz international magazine (published by dance magazine pioneer Rolf Garake) was dedicated extensively to the Berlin dance scene indicates the particular prominence of Berliners in the landscape of German dance.

Herrmann-Josef Fosel, an expert on the Berlin scene, criticised the city’s cultural policies: “lacking money and suitable venues, most dance groups find themselves in an intermediary space (caught between the need to earn money and to dance) that does not allow them to work continuously.” (tanz international, July/August 1990, p. 23) The scene reacted sceptically to Senator for Culture Martiny’s invitation to submit proposals, preferring to place confidence in their own ideas:

  1. Provision of additional money for the core funding of the three companies Dance Berlin, Dance Company Regina Baumgart, and Dance Theatre Skoronel
  2. The planning and realisation of a Berlin dance house
  3. The establishment of TanzWerkstatt Berlin with a fixed budget allocation

In the July/August issue of his dance magazine tanz aktuell, Johannes Odenthal called for a “dance of the present”:

In a press release from 23 November 1990, merely two months after re-unification, Berlin’s Senator for Culture Martiny promised personnel and money:

Just one year later, however, Tanz Initiative Berlin e.V.’s newsletter revealed that the senate had never got round to implementing these plans:

The Berlin dance scene continued to fight and managed to gain increased space in the Theater am Halleschen Ufer (today HAU2), which at that time was being used by the independent theatre group Theatermanufaktur, founded in 1979:

Reunification also contributed to the worsening of the situation, because dancers and choreographers from the GDR and the two large ballet companies at the Staatsoper and the Komische Oper in East Berlin wanted and needed to be looked after financially. The ignorance and arrogance of a large number of their West German colleagues disappointed and embittered many. In the 40 years of a divided Germany, dance had – and this was not something to overlook – developed separate East and West German histories, something that was particularly noticeable in Berlin. Even Jo Fabian, whose work was celebrated with Whisky & Flags in the Hebbel-Theater in 1993, didn’t feel that he was taken seriously:

“After ’89, no-one was interested in what I had done in the GDR any more. This became obvious pretty quickly. People of my generation had to fight for recognition again, because it wasn’t simply given to them, because it wasn’t believed (…) that in a construct like the GDR something could be created that the West had monopolised.” (Exhibition catalogue Krokodil im Schwanensee: Tanz in Deutschland seit 1945 [Crocodile in Swan Lake. Dance in Germany since 1945], pp. 265-66).

Increasingly, new approaches, new programmes, new participants, and new venues began to appear:

  • In 1988, the state-owned Hebbel-Theater Berlin GmbH is founded, with Nele Hertling as business manager and artistic director.
  • In 1991, Podewil is created out of the former Haus der Jungen Talente on Klosterstraße. Podewil becomes the home for the newlyfounded and state-owned Berliner KulturveranstaltungsGmbH (BKV), where senate-funded projects are organised and managed. Examples include TanzWerkstatt and venues such as Theater am Halleschen Ufer.
  • In 1992 the Theater am Halleschen Ufer is opened as the “central venue for Berlin’s independent dance groups,” with Hartmut Henne taking over the artistic direction. The theatre becomes an important venue for contemporary dance.
  • Wibke Janssen and Kirsten Seeligmüller look for a rehearsal space for their dance theatre, rent a 300m2 factory floor on Kastanienallee, and gradually develop DOCK 11.
  • On 25 September 1994, at the invitation of the performing arts department of the Akademie der Künste, a number of Berlin cultural institutions meet under the motto Notruf der Berliner Kultur (Distress Call Berlin Culture). They spontaneously decide to form a committee that has since met regularly as an advisory council for the arts.
  • In 1995, Sasha Waltz, Jochen Sandig, Zebu Kluth, Dirk Cieslak and others found Sophiensæle in Mitte, which opens in autumn 1996 as the production facility and venue for ‘independent theatre and dance’, with the premiere of Sasha Waltz’s Allee der Kosmonauten. In the same year, dancer and choreographer Constanza Macras moves to Berlin.

  • In 1996, Zebu Kluth is appointed artistic director of Theater am Halleschen Ufer (until 2001), whose programme he opens up to include contemporary dance, performance art, and postdramatic theatre.
  • In 1999 the federal government and the state of Berlin come to an agreement within the framework of the contract for the Capital of Culture regarding the Haupstadtkulturfonds, “from which significant cultural and artistic projects and events in the federal capital of Berlin will be supported.
  • Also in 1999, a merger occurs that seriously calls all the old organisational structures into question: Thomas Ostermeier (DTBaracke) and Sasha Waltz (Sophiensæle) along with Jens Hullje and Jochen Sandig take over Schaubühne on Lehniner Platz. Dance and theatre make common cause. Body, the theatre’s premiere piece by Sasha Waltz, is a resounding success. In autumn 2004, Waltz and Sandig announce their departure from the theatre’s artistic direction.
  • In 2000, Greek choreographer Toula Limnaios and composer Ralf R. Gliertz found the private theatre Halle Tanzbühne Berlin in a former gymnasium in Prenzlauer Berg, which serves as a venue for contemporary dance.

Berlin's Dance Scene at “Tanz im August” - Extracts from programme magazines (2001-2007).

  • Also in 2000, Zebu Kluth, dance dramaturge Dirk Schlüter, and Tanzfabrik directors Claudia Feest and EvaMaria Hoerster start Tanznacht Berlin. In December of the same year, Zeitgenössischer Tanz Berlin e.V. (Contemporary Dance Berlin) begin their work, representing the interests of choreographers, dancers, dance companies, and dance institutions in Berlin.
  • In January 2001, the initiative Zeitgenössicher Tanz Berlin (Contemporary Dance Berlin) is founded, chaired by Barbara Friedrich.
  • In 2003, Matthias Lilienthal takes over HebbelTheater Berlin GmbH and unifies the Hebbel-Theater, the Theater am Halleschen Ufer, und the Theater am Ufer into the HAU theatre group, setting a new tone for the combined programme.
  • In 2003, Constanza Macras and Carmen Mehnert found the interdisciplinary ensemble DORKYPARK.
  • Following fierce battles for position between the three ballet companies after reunification and the failed attempt to integrate all three into one Berlin ballet company, the Staatsballett Berlin is founded in 2004.
  • A residency at the Volksbühne on Rosa Luxembourg Platz (20052010) leads to choreographer Meg Stuart becoming even more strongly embedded in the Berlin dance scene.
  • In 2005, dancer and choreographer Livia Patrizi establishes TanzZeit, bringing dancers and choreographers into schools.

  • In autumn 2006, Jochen Sandig and Folkert Uhde open Radialsystem V as an open space for dialogue between different art forms. The renovated pump station becomes the new home for Sasha Waltz & Guests.
  • In 2005, Tanzbüro Berlin is founded as the central institution for the Berlin dance scene.
  • Barbara Friedrich, who since 1996 has been organising the Tanztage im Pfefferberg (now known as Tanztage Berlin), a forum for young dancers and choreographers, and who has also tirelessly fought for more production and performance venues in Berlin, manages to rent the former BVG workshops on the Panke river in Wedding for Uferstudios GmbH. Following the completion of renovations in 2010, 4200 square metres become available for artistic productions, information and education. Studios are opened, and Tanzfabrik, Tanzbüro, the InterUniversity Centre for Dance Berlin (HZT) and ada Studio move in.
  • In 2009, DOCK 11 expands its premises and establishes EDEN***** with five studios in Pankow.
  • In 2012, Annemie Vanackere becomes artistic and managing director of HebbelTheater Berlin GmbH and announces at a press conference on 12 September 2012 that “this support that we are receiving also includes the Senate Department for Culture and Europe’s decision to secure the future of Tanz im August, as well as the decision to completely transfer this tradition-rich and beloved festival to HAU.” A glance at HAU’s programme confirms Vanackere’s commitment to dance.
Aufführung von La Ribot - Laughing Hole bei Tanz im August 2017.

Since then, the future of the festival has been secure, although at the price of the closure of TanzWerkstatt. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the festival in 2013, Bettina Masuch, who had taken over the direction of the festival for this edition, wished for “the sun of Montpellier, the co-production budget of Impulstanz in Vienna, and the Berlin Senate’s commitment to dance.” (“A look back – without Anger” by Eva-Elisabeth Fischer, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 20.08.2013)

In August 2014, utilising her wealth of international dance experience, Finn Virve Sutinen presented her first edition of the festival as artistic director.

Vanackere successfully fought for increased funding for the festival, managing to almost double the budget for 2018/2019. Thanks to the four-year pledge of funding, the festival finally has a bit of breathing room and can establish itself more effectively as an important player in the dance world. Up until now, however, the Berlin dance scene has so far been unable to achieve two key demands: a dedicated dance space and separate budget allocation for Tanz im August.

The current players in the cultural-political dispute with the Berlin Senate and parliament are Tanzbüro Berlin, Zeitgenössischer Tanz Berlin e.V., and TanzRaumBerlin Netwerk, as well as LAFT Berlin. According to tanzraumberlin (a magazine that is a must for all dance enthusiasts), the Berlin dance scene is alive and kicking, but it also notes that:

“In the last 15 years, contemporary dance in Berlin has developed a lively scene that is very popular with the public, has an innovative dynamic, and international impact. Involving 300 choreographers, 3000 dancers, and around 1400 events per year, the scene’s artistic output is of extreme value. As ever, though, dance remains far back in the queue behind other artistic disciplines when it comes to funding.”

The recently-constituted Runder Tisch Tanz has until the end of the year to prepare recommendations for the future funding of the Berlin dance scene. Incidentally, no-one is really sure how many meetings have been held of this round table which is supposed to (once again) nudge Berlin politicians in the right direction. Any volunteers?