Dance seizes the Initiative – a portrayal of two privately founded arts venues in Berlin
Jochen Sandig has been a key player in Berlin’s dance scene for a long time. He was a co-founder of the legendary Sophiensaele. The ensemble of his wife Sasha Waltz is now successful throughout the world. And for some time both of them were artistic co-directors of the Schaubühne at Lehniner Platz. Nevertheless, a few years ago, when Sandig discovered a former pumping station for waste-water at the River Spree, he decided to risk a new venture.
The conditions seemed simply too perfect: an area of 2,500 square metres, directly at the riverside with a view of the Spree. The place seemed the ideal location for a new dance venue in Berlin. To make this space viable for artistic productions Sandig and his partner Folkert Uhde took a financial risk. For, apart from some subsidies for the technical equipment of the building, neither the Berlin Senate nor other funding institutions supported the venture. Finally a private investor financed the conversion, and in 2006 the Radialsystem opened its doors to the public.
Now the neon lights in front of the building illuminate the Ostbahnhof, inside there are two theatre halls and three studios, and from the riverside terrace one can gaze into the water. Since its opening six years ago, a flock of international artists has performed on the stages and experimented with the exciting attempt to find new connections between music and dance. The flagship for the work in the house is the dance company Sasha Waltz & Guests, which has found a new home at the Spree.
Yet it shares the space with the Akademie für Alte Musik, the Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop and the Ensemble Vocalconsort Berlin. The Radialsystem has become a large-scale project. A project that can only be financed when concepts occasionally extend beyond artistic dimensions. Thus the venue is also rented out for company celebrations, conferences and PR events – first and foremost, however, it is available to creative artists. The renowned Festival Tanz in August took place in the Radialsystem last year, as did the interdisciplinary network “Zentrale Intelligenzagentur”. Choreographers such as Mathilde Monnier from France or singers such as Peaches have also enhanced the venue by performing there. And, six years later, it has become a virtually indispensable cultural space in the city.
Investment in the back yard
Without the impressive initiative of Wibke Janssen and Kirsten Seeligmüller Dock 11 would never have come into being in the mid-1990s. What began in 1994, without any subsidies, as a dance school in Prenzlauer Berg has become fifteen years later one of the most important meeting places of Berlin’s dance scene. When the many choreographers who trained in the small backyard school in the early days asked about possible performance venues, Janssen and Seeligmüller soon decided to accommodate this demand: they rented a hall on the premises and converted it with private means. Artists who meanwhile perform on the city’s larger stages or have become internationally successful often appeared previously in Dock 11. Well-known choreographers such as Nir de Wolff or Yui Kawaguchi have remained loyal to the small dance venue - also, and not least, because they too have to struggle repeatedly with difficult production conditions, financial constraints and a lack of available rehearsal space. To relieve this situation, three years ago Seeligmüller and Janssen opened another dance venue.
EDEN***** is located in the centre of Pankow. Here on the outskirts of the city, far away from the busy arts scene in the centre, dance is produced and presented. And here too commitment pays off. The conditions in which dance artists work in the Pankow rooms are luxurious – large, light studios in park-like surroundings, affordable rents and affiliated performance possibilities. For a regular performance schedule, however, there are insufficient funds. The building of the studio was supported by subsidies from the foundation Deutsche Klassenlotterie, but a regular rehearsal and performance schedule costs money. To enable key figures such as Meg Stuart or Laurent Chétouane to continue their creative work on the outskirts of the city, Seeligmüller and Janssen generate the costs for their project almost exclusively on their own initiative.
The idealism involved in founding and sustaining performance and rehearsal spaces for dance on individual initiative does great credit to the operators of institutions such as Radialsystem and Dock 11. The city can be truly proud of the engagement of the free scene in Berlin. In these days, however, when dance contributes more than ever to Berlin’s cultural attractiveness, the city should also feel obliged to give it appropriate support.
studied Theatre Arts and Anthropology in London. She now lives as a journalist in Berlin and writes about cultural and societal topics.
Translation: Heather Moers
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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