Dance Year 2016 Celebration instead of Frustration, Deliberation instead of Dilettantism

Soirée at the opening of the Dance Year 2016 at the Federal President Joachim Gauck in Bellevue Palace in Berlin
Soirée at the opening of the Dance Year 2016 at the Federal President Joachim Gauck in Bellevue Palace in Berlin | © Eva Radünzel

It was a memorable premiere: in February 2016, Federal President Joachim Gauck received artists, curators, theatre managers and other custodians of dance at a soirée in Bellevue Palace. Here Germany’s highest-ranking representative hosted a special presentation showcasing the diversity of the national dance landscape: ballet and hip-hop, dance theatre and slapstick, cultivated artistry and contemporary rough cuts, professionals and quasi-professional amateurs. At the reception Gauck chatted with evident enjoyment to the actress Senta Berger – once a dance pupil herself – who was present in her capacity as Ambassador of the Dance Year 2016.

Dance Year 2016? What is taking place is actually what always takes place anyway – just not within 12 months: Tanzplattform Deutschland, Tanzkongress, Internationale Tanzmesse NRW (North Rhine-Westphalia). The organisers of these three conventions and the umbrella organisation Tanz have proclaimed the Dance Year as a campaign of the dance scene aimed at attracting more attention, more acceptance and more interest on the part of the political decision-makers – which should then generate more money. There is the external impact on the one hand, the internal impact on the other – whereby both are equally desirable!
 

  • Soirée at the opening of the Dance Year 2016 at the Federal President Joachim Gauck in Bellevue Palace in Berlinening of the Dance Year 2016 at the Federal President Joachim Gauck in Bellevue Palace in Berlin © Eva Radünzel
    Soirée at the opening of the Dance Year 2016 at the Federal President Joachim Gauck in Bellevue Palace in Berlin
  • Soirée at the opening of the Dance Year 2016 at the Federal President Joachim Gauck in Bellevue Palace in Berlin © Eva Radünzel
    Soirée at the opening of the Dance Year 2016 at the Federal President Joachim Gauck in Bellevue Palace in Berlin


With regard to external impact and image, dance has certainly scored in recent years. The brave new world of video clips and advertising banners features dancers everywhere. There have probably never been so many participatory projects - from schools to homes for senior citizens. The statistics of the German Stage Association regularly record more spectators for dance than for other genres, and if one talks to the directors of various festivals or production centres, then they have relatively few complaints. Nevertheless, there are some ongoing issues that assume particular prominence in the Year of the Dance: for example the precarious working conditions of the free-lance scene or the inferior character of some artistic productions, all the more noticeable when they appear side by side with attractive, well-developed performances.

Negative outliers


This is precisely what one could observe, for instance, at the Tanzplattform in Frankfurt am Main that took place in February 2016. There a few well-conceived and well-performed pieces were presented, yet they were flanked by formats that caused many raised eyebrows among the spectators. Really, what is the point?

These shortfalls are unfortunately not uncommon; in fact, they are the price for the performance revolution. The expansion of the dance zone to embrace language, fine arts and video setting produces effective alliances in as far as artists are involved who have perfect command of their means and tools – the instruments for dancers being their bodies. It diminishes dance if the participants have only a nebulous idea of what it actually is – dance? A gymnastic exercise? A cool workout? The result of “artistic research”? So standing around, walking around, sitting around, talking around, all accompanied by a preferably vapid expression and the occasional fumbling around, more or less boisterously, with one another. No professional violinist would dare to walk on stage without having achieved excellent musical skills, no singer without having carefully prepared his/her voice. Yet in contemporary dance it seems absolutely possible to claim artistic status without possessing skilled body techniques. A more or less opaque concept with all sorts of allegedly “innovative” ingredients is sometimes enough to procure project acceptance from the jurors and custodians of subsidies and funds. Whether the audience consists solely of the “in-scene”, and the public outside this bubble simply dismisses it on the grounds of incomprehensibility – no matter, as long as “contemporary dance” is satisfied with itself.

Art instead of the assertion of art


One may reject this description as a malicious caricature. But it is here that dance finds itself in a dilemma: if it wishes to be perceived and taken seriously as art, then it must perceive and take itself seriously as art. This entails casting an open and critical look at its own creations, at its own tools – and at the word “contemporary”. How much “contemporaneity” is there in a production? Does it appeal to us with its content, its formal and aesthetic character? Quite often it seems that the post-modern “anything goes” is still determining the way forward - even though its 1980s’ heyday with its attendant performance euphoria have long since passed.

Experiments, also in art, only thrive if grounded in experience and expertise. In dance these are both based on the skills of the body. If the Dance Year 2016 can encourage the training, theory and practice of dance to respond to the present rather than cultivating creative hubris, to make art rather than assertions of art, then much will have been achieved. As soon as deliberation instead of dilettantism, dancing instead of dabbling are on the agenda, then celebration will be possible without frustration – also in Bellevue.