A New Place for Dance
The House for Dance and Choreography which is in its conception phase aims to develop a new institutional model for the Berlin dance scene(s) and beyond.
Text: Lisa Densem and the Haus für Tanz und Choreografie (HTC) conception team
The dream of having a publicly funded institution for dance in Berlin has been around for so many years that most people probably can’t imagine such a venture becoming a reality. Nele Hertling, former Managing and Artistic Director of the Hebbel-Theater, first began lobbying for it in the early 1990s, but ideas were already floating around during the 1980s, a time when France started building its 19 national dance institutions throughout the country. Why this never happened in Germany is due to complex histories, cultures and politics beyond the scope of this article, but if North Rhine-Westphalia (with the tanzhaus nrw and PACT Zollverein) has successfully managed to found two major dance institutions, it is hard to understand why a house dedicated to dance has never been established in the German capital.
But change is looking hopeful. With the participative process of Runder Tisch Tanz (RTT, Round Table for Dance*) in 2018 and the subsequent recommendations to the Berlin Senate, funding was made available for a House for Dance and Choreography conception phase, and in January 2021 there was a call for applications for this project.
A Multi-Disciplinary Approach
The team responsible for the House for Dance and Choreography conception phase is a multi-disciplinary group of six people (from the fields of dance, choreography, visual art, architecture, urban planning and production). It came together in response to the call from the Berlin Senate last January, and in April our application was chosen by the jury for work to begin in May 2021.
We are Lisa Densem, Thorsten Kock, Ulrike Kuner, Moritz Majce, Shahrzad Rahmani and Frans Swarte. The architect Hannes Hössel also joined us later in the year, and several colleagues accompanied the work over an extended period of time: in particular Angela Alves, Clementine Burnley and Modjgan Hashemian who worked with us closely on issues of diversity, racism, ableism and anti-discrimination.
Starting from the requirements developed during Runder Tisch Tanz (RTT), our team began its work with many weeks of collective brainstorming and the establishment of two parallel (local and inter-/national) tracks of research.
The research focused on Berlin involved reaching out to many places, initiatives and people in meetings and conversations. Our goal was to collect as many different perspectives, opinions and knowledges specific to this city as we could. We wanted to form a clear picture of the many different dance communities, and have an overview of the different wishes and desires in the scene(s), and of the decentralized Berlin dance venues as well as the different problems faced by the around 2500 people working professionally in dance and choreography in Berlin having no continuous institutional support so far. We also wanted to reach people who might not have known about the RTT or did not participate for various reasons.
The second track of our research involved surveying and analysing national and international dance and performing arts institutions in Germany and abroad. We visited some of these on-site, including tanzhaus nrw in Düsseldorf, Kaaitheater in Brussels and Vooruit in Ghent (amongst others).
By the end of December 2021, we had met over 120 people from Berlin and abroad. This included dancers and choreographers at different points in their career, writers, journalists and theorists, dance facilitators and art workers, and directors of various institutions. There were also many people and groups we met with expertise outside of the dance field but relevant to the development of the HTC: from people working in art museums to people working with new digital technologies to organisations specialising in diversity and anti-discrimination.
Outcomes: Four Main Needs
Meeting such a wide range of people and repeatedly hearing similar observations and structural deficits, confirmed to us the importance of a new institution for dance and choreography in Berlin. There were strong patterns of agreement regarding the needs for dance in this city which we distilled into four main categories:
Space: Infrastructure and Resources
A need for new and accessible spaces for presentation, production, research, development, exploration and reflection.
Diversity: Inclusion and Participation
A need for a new culture of hospitality, of being and working together; focus on marginalised positions and embracing a structural understanding of diversity.
Attraction: Encounter and Inspiration
A need for a centre of gravity for Berlin and Germany: a place where audiences, artists, art workers, researchers meet and inspire one another.
Radiance: Export and Exchange
Getting more work made in Berlin to tour nationally and internationally and getting more work produced in other German cities, and other countries, to show in Berlin.
Questions that Shape our Work
In response to these points, these are some of the questions that inspired and shaped our work: How do we develop a concept that can simultaneously fulfil these different needs? How do we develop a venue that has an independent profile (new presentation spaces, international visibility, exchange) yet can also provide the decentralized Berlin scene with resources and support? Can we create a gravitational center while also ensuring that the existing dance venues continue to thrive? What kind of organizational structure could address the general lack of diversity in current institutions? What conditions could ensure visibility and access to space for different voices? How do we raise the profile, increase visibility and engender curiosity for this art form to expose it to a wider public? How do we strengthen the identity of dance as an independent art form, even as it defies easy categorisation and continues to be inspired by its relationship to other arts? What do we mean by sustainable artistic production and presentation? How do we go beyond well-known binaries: Centre vs Periphery /Representation vs Resource / Artists vs Audience?
And one question stood out: How can we set an international standard for what an art institution and its role in society can be – its relationship to its art, to those who work inside it, and to its audience?
Our Work over the Course of the Year
It is easy to dream but demanding and rigorous work to bring it into a form of concrete recommendations. Some of our practical work has involved the following:
· Estimating the numbers and types of spaces and rooms the HTC would need (from big stage to polyvalent to long durational to participative and social spaces to construction and outdoor areas) and drawing up a plan of the spatial structure. A plurality of bodies, forms, and approaches to dance guided this work.
· Developing new spatial paradigms with a view to the dance needs of the future.
· Thinking and conceptualizing new resources, means, and working conditions for artists.
· Emphasizing the role of learning, knowledge and participative co-operations with partners from science and research.
· Creating a possible organizational structure for the house with an outline of the different departments and the way they function and interact with one another.
· Estimating the number of people working in the different departments, outlining the types of work they would be doing, and considering the way they would work together and make decisions.
· Working closely with the two steering groups of the TanzΔrchiv Berlin and the Tanzvermittlungszentrum, a future organisation for Dance Mediation, to ensure shared goals and concepts.
· Drawing up guidelines for the kinds of sites suitable for the HTC and surveying different possible sites.
· Designing a recommended process for the appointment of staff in the house.
· Writing recommended diversity and anti-discrimination policies.
· Analyzing potential budgets.
Presentation to the Berlin Senate
With most of our conceptual work now in place the team is preparing the final presentation to the Berlin Senate which is scheduled for the end of April 2022. We will also be looking forward to a further presentation to the whole dance scene later in the year.
Our hope for this year’s work is that the Senate will agree on the importance and cultural significance of this project and decide to invest in its future development. This would be a huge step for Berlin not just for dance and the body related arts but, we believe, also for the city and our shared future. The issues we encountered during our research, are pertinent not just for dance, but also for the wider society: the need to focus on issues of diversity, inclusion and structural inequality; the need to rethink a future structure of an art institution; and the need, especially in this era of Covid-19 and environmental concern, to consider the body anew, to contemplate our creaturely selves and to remember and celebrate our shared humanity. We hope that the timeliness and necessity of this project is recognised and that the long-held demand for of a Haus für Tanz und Choreografie in Berlin finally becomes reality.
* Further information on the Round Table for Dance, the final RTT report presented in February 2019, and the implementation of its recommendations since 2020, is available on the website: www.tanzraumberlin.de/runder-tisch-tanz