Ballet in Germany “Dance thrives on exchange”

‘Cinderella’ at the Hessian State Ballet
‘Cinderella’ at the Hessian State Ballet | Photo (detail): © Regina Brocke

Germany’s dance scene is especially diverse. An interview with Tim Plegge, director of the Hessian State Ballet, on interactive dance, international guests and the universal language of ballet.

Tim Plegge Tim Plegge | Photo: © Regina Brocke Mr. Plegge, in 2014 the federal state of Hesse and the cities of Darmstadt and Wiesbaden have initiated a special form of cooperation including the founding of the Hessian State Ballet with performances in both locations. What is the advantage of this partnership?
Dance is a lively art form that thrives on exchange. Cooperation between the ballet sectors of the State Theatre Darmstadt and the Hessian State Theatre Wiesbaden has existed since 1975. By having a joint Ballet, we want to create an ensemble that not only has its own specific artistic signature, but also integrates external influences and impulses from the international scenes and contexts. Both dancers and audiences stand to gain from this. For example, Philippe Saire, from Switzerland, is currently our resident guest and working on a piece in the ballet hall with his dancers. Thanks to workshops, our dancers gain insight into his way of working. In the series Work in Progress, interested visitors can get an impression of the status of the production. We then present the finished work on our stage.
Your State Ballet also travels abroad for guest performances.
We feel it is important not only to invite the world to us, but for us to take what we produce here out into the world. In our first season, we were at the Belgrade Dance Festival and in 2016 at the Innsbruck Theatre Summer. Soon we will be on tour to Spain and Saint Petersburg with our production of Cinderella.
Who goes to see ballet these days?
The audience members are as diverse as our programme. They come from all over the region, are young and old, male and female. No one group is missing. At the moment, we are doing a piece for children up to three years of age: Farbenspiele (Play of Colours), which also gets the children involved.

An artistic rendering of the attacks in Paris

What with interactive theatre, open training, international guests, a lot has changed in the world of ballet over the past years?
Mediating work has become so much more important, now that the days of up-front theatre are gone. Our Odyssee_21 was a large participation project and it brought us audiences from different groups of the population. We indicate that we are not at all elitist, as some people believe. We counter prejudices and create confidence.
Dance is popular. According to figures issued by the German Theatre Association, 1.6 million people went to a ballet in the 2014/15 season, i.e., about 200,000 more than in 2004/05.
People often think that ballet has nothing to do with them. But that is not so. In the 2015/16 season, we engaged with the theme of borders. Odyssee_21 is about homeland and departure – refugees performed on the stage along with locals. In Grenzgänger (Border-crossers) Marcos Morau and Damien Jalet shifted and transgressed artistic border. Jalet experienced the attacks in Paris in November 2015 and worked on those immediate experiences in the piece Thr(o)ugh. The story ballet I have choreographed, Kaspar Hauser, is ultimately a topical piece: the homeless boy no one could speak to. It asks how we deal with strangers in our society. The audiences realize this, and that motivates them to come again.

Looking outside the box

Which countries, in your opinion, are pioneers when it comes to contemporary dance? Which works by which choreographers should one have seen?
The dance scene in Germany is more diverse than almost anywhere in the world. Belgium was always a trailblazer for contemporary dance in Europe, France too, and the Netherlands. Great Britain has Hofesh Shechter, Akram Khan and Wayne McGregor, a generation of influential and inspiring choreographers. John Cranko, the director of the Stuttgart Ballet who died in 1973, was born in Cape Town. Today there is a great company there too. We have invited an Indonesian artist, Rianto, a choreographer and dancer who combines the traditional Indonesian dance Lengger with contemporary forms. Through such artists and their work, we enable our audiences to look outside the box. What makes ballet and dance so special is the direct sensuality. With this universal language, we can reach people all over the world.

Tim PleggE

trained at the Hamburg Ballet John Neumeier. He studied choreography at the Hochschule für Schauspielkunst Ernst Busch in Berlin and the 2013 Annual of Tanz magazine listed him as one of the new hopes, “who hopefully will move the future”. Since the 2014/15 season, he has directed the Hessian State Ballet in Darmstadt and Wiesbaden in his function as Ballet Director and Head Choreographer.