Dance education Dancers of Tomorrow

Bundesjugendballett (National Youth Ballet)
Bundesjugendballett (National Youth Ballet) | Photo (detail): © Marcus Renner

Made-to-measure and yet also versatile – this is what is expected of dance education today. The path to professionalism is closely linked to a new self-conception of the profession of dancer.

Individualism counts. “My name is Winnie, I’m 21 years old, and I dance.” Dressed in jeans and a bright yellow top, Winnie Dias from Brazil stands on a platform in the middle of the Hamburger Rathausmarkt surrounded by a group of pupils. More pop star than ballerina, she is animating the school kids to dance, following a choreography that she has been rehearsing with them. Arms are stretched upwards enthusiastically, faces beam as the children, en masse, follow the graceful movements of the dancer, hopping on the spot, rotating in a circle, while Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons music heats up the rhythm over loudspeakers.

A new self-conception

The large-scale schools project is only one of many activities in which the Bundesjugendballett (National Youth Ballet) has been involved, not only in Hamburg, since its foundation in September 2011. The spectrum ranges from the gala event via club evenings to workshops in prisons. Up-and-coming choreographic talents such as the Canadian Robert Binet or the Hungarian Natalia Horecna receive here highly regarded opportunities while John Neumeier, by way of an exception, even creates personally the occasional work for the international cast of the Youth Company of which he is a co-founder. Usually, however, the eight talented young dancers create their own pieces, and in so doing they embrace, as it were, both high culture and street culture, they unite art and societal engagement. They give the profession of dancer a new self-conception. Not least for this achievement will the Bundesjugendballet be awarded the German Dance Prize “Future” on 2. March 2013 in the Aalto Theatre in Essen.

Future Dance Training – Who sets the benchmark?

Winnie Dias studied at the Tanzakademie Mannheim, four of her colleagues at the Ballet School of the Hamburg Ballet. The Bundesjugendballet, funded by the government in Berlin, does not aim to be a link between school and company in the way that, for example, the Junior Company Munich functions between the Ballett-Akademie of the Heinz-Bosl Foundation and the Bayerischer Staatsballett. Nevertheless, the question as to the aims of professional training is an issue that arouses strong emotions everywhere. And this to such an extent that in 2007 the state-run dance education institutions founded the Ausbildungdkonferenz Tanz, aka its abbreviation AKIT (Education Conference Dance). In 2008 the 1. Biennale Tanzausbildung, as part of Tanzplan Deutschland, succeeded for the first time in involving the Ballet Academies of Munich and Hamburg, the Universities of Stuttgart with their modern and contemporary dance programmes, the Palucca Hochschule in Dresden, the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen, the Academies of Music and Theatre of Frankfurt, Mannheim and Cologne and the Inter-University Centre for Dance Berlin (HüZT) in an active dialogue and in assembling the students in one training hall. In 2014 the 4. Biennale will already take place in Dresden.

Dance education in Germany calls for change if one wishes to strive, as did the recently deceased Deputy Director of the Munich Academy, Konstanze Vernon, “to raise the level to such an extent that we can keep pace with Russia and the USA.” Made-to-measure and, at the same time, versatile - this is expected of dance training. And it raises the question as to whether a strong classical technique is nowadays still enough for dancers who should be able in the end to do everything and perform all styles. As early as the late 1990s, when he became a Professor in Frankfurt, Dieter Heitkamp had launched a thorough renewal of the education and training programmes. A synthesis of classical (including en pointe) and contemporary dance and body work is the result, very much in accordance with the ideas of the radical ballet innovator William Forsythe, who exerts a formative influence as honorary professor.

Invent yourself!

Widespread influence in Frankfurt, extending right into the “Community”, has also been exerted by Tanzlabor 21, initiated by Tanzplan Deutschland, which in cooperation with the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies, the University and the Künstlerhaus Mousonturm has contributed to the development of a dynamic dance scene that is open to experimentation and discourse. In Berlin, also inspired by Tanzplan Deutschland, two new study programmes were implemented as pilot projects and have meanwhile firmly established themselves. A far cry from the competitive standard which Vernon had in mind, they may be described as physical learning in the context of art theory and societal criticism, whereby students have much freedom of choice within the programmes. One course ends with a Master’s degree in solo dance: individuality counts. For in dance as in every other profession the maxim is – invent yourself.

Dance history becomes cultural practice

The path to professionalism begins long before graduation. During their training, dancers already present themselves to an audience – as self-determined artists and not as pupils. A new awareness of history is aroused, an interest in the idols of yesteryear, observed against the background of art and society today. Strict repertoire adherence has been consigned to the past and replaced by individual research, not infrequently in the light of one’s own (dance) biography.

The thinking dancer, as the influential reform pedagogue Rudolf von Laban once postulated him or her, is now more important than ever. Thus, in her solo Trois Voies, Jasmim Ihrac, a graduate from Berlin’s Inter-University Centre for Dance, interweaves her own steps with the vocabulary of the choreographer Trisha Brown and the gesticulating speech of the philosopher Slavoj Žižek: an encounter on a level playing field.