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Renewal and Continuity of Tanz Im August

Bahok, AkramKhan ©Hugo Glendinning

This article was commissioned by the  Korean Arts Management Services and originally published in Korean  for – a database website for the global exchange of performing arts, a project supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Republic of Korea.

“It is important that the audience see the artistic development of an artist.” Nele Hertling

Tanz Im August accompanies the development of artists, and follows them in their development.” André Thériault

Apart from the flock of tourists having their picture taken in front of the Brandenburg Gate, the sight of a mass of people in the streets of Berlin is a rarity.  If you were looking to find a substitute for the non-existent rush hour in the city, I would recommend you to go to the theatre. Premieres, performances or festivals are spots, where one is very likely to experience another rush in the presence of a crowd.

Swimming into the wave of spectators queuing up for tickets or entering the theatre can often be equally amusing and interesting as the actual performance.  In case you missed out on booking your tickets, weeks or months in advance, this would add up to the theatre, film, music or dance experience.  I love it when I hear it from people how difficult it is to get tickets for such and such performance or festival especially if they live in Berlin.  After all, there is regularity at how events, particularly big and established festivals, are scheduled in the city so you can follow them from month to month, year after year. Eventually, it will automatically get into your psyche that a certain month is tagged to a particular festival.

Trisha Brown © Nan Melville

Like a seasoned commuter, I’ve learned how to plan and manage the rush hour experience for the month of August, in time for Tanz Im August, an international contemporary dance festival in Berlin.  While preparing for this, I remember a dance practitioner commenting that this festival has been programming the same companies over the years.  My initial thought in silence was “Why not?” If Peter Pan, Cinderella or Swan Lake is played, restaged, reinterpreted and kept in the repertoire of state ballets all over the world over and over, why can’t such festival keep the dance companies that they and their audience like? Secondly, if there is truth to this, I figured that there would be an opportunity for newcomers like myself to learn and catch up with other critical eyes; and grasp an overview of contemporary dance development in Berlin, Germany and within the international sphere.  Besides dance companies do have more than one set of work, right? And perhaps, continue to develop new works? This may sound too banal but one thing’s confirmed; you ought to be prepared to queue up for your tickets.

In 2009, Tanz Im August managed to fill the seats of the two-week festival by 96.3%. With 34 productions from 20 countries, 6 world and 20 German premieres staged in 10 venues, 20,000 audiences joined over 300 dance artists and professionals for the festival’s 21st anniversary.

In separate interviews with Nele Hertling, Founding Artistic Director of Tanz Im August and André Thériault, one of the festival curators, both stressed the importance of continuity in programming and audience development.[i]

Tanz Im August has consistently offered a diverse repertoire of independent avant-garde performances alongside highly established choreographers and dance companies for over two decades.  It has succeeded in becoming one of the biggest international contemporary dance festivals in Germany.  Trisha Brown[ii], Merce Cunningham Dance Company[iii], The Nederlands Dans Theater[iv], William Forsythe[v], La La La Human Steps[vi], Sasha Waltz & Guests[vii], Meg Stuart [viii]are among the big names that have regularly participated in this festival over the years.  With the aim of promoting dialogue on the works shown, methods of production, role of the spectator and artist’s position within his own creation and the world at large, Tanz Im August has proven to intensify each year.

LaLaLa Human Steps © Edouard Lock

The opportunity to organise an international dance festival was born in 1988 when Berlin was named the Cultural Capital of Europe.  Hertling, who was at that time working with the Akademie der Kuenste[ix], now the Vice-Director of the same institution, was approached to develop an idea within the framework of the Cultural Capital.

Since funding was available, there was an opportunity to create a new dance festival: a festival highlighting contemporary dance. The primary aspiration was to develop an international dance festival to support Berlin-based contemporary dance companies. Hertling recalls this as “a very exciting time for young curators and Berlin-based artists, who were given the chance to build something for the city as a part of the European Cultural Capital programme.  Moreover, creating a festival was more manageable at that time considering that there were less artistic happenings or international exchanges taking place in the city compared to the present day.”

According to Tanz Im August’s founding director, through their European travels, artists and curators discovered that none of the contemporary dancers have met or seen each other’s works before. In the first year, 8 European dance companies were invited for 2 weeks in Berlin to perform, and conduct lectures and workshops.  This platform created awareness of what development or movement was happening in Europe as well as the different aesthetics.

Second-generation curator, Thériault adds, “Tanz Im August introduced the discourse in dance.  At that time, there was no dance-training programme in the city.  The festival offered possibilities of bringing artists not from Berlin; exposed the dancers to new techniques and took them out of the community.”

In 1989, Hebbel am Ufer (HAU) [x]served as the theatre space and Tanzwerkstatt [xi]was the host organisation for the festival. For practical reasons, it was timed in August since nothing was pretty much happening in the summer.  Therefore, the spaces were empty.  The following year – HAU and PODEWIL[xii] were both used as performance spaces. HAU programmed the established productions, which was considerably attractive to the general public; while PODEWIL catered to the experimental works for the artistic community.

On its fourth year, as the festival was growing, the organisers of “Tanz Im August had to convince the city to find a bigger space for the companies.  It was a long and arduous process to secure the Deutsche Opera[xiii]. The question of how to fill 2,000 seats was among the biggest questions. Since the opera was empty during this period and there was no income for the city.  The festival was then allowed to use it.  This meant not only getting into the huge theatre but also capturing the opera audiences for the dance performances. The staging of a piece by Jiri Kylian[xiv] for the Netherlands’ National Dance Theatre with 200 performers onstage packed the seats at the opera house,” recants Hertling.  This was just the beginning.

In the succeeding years apart from PODEWIL and the three stages at Hebbel am Ufer, HAU 1-3, venues such as Halle Tanz Buehne[xv], Haus der Berliner Festspiele[xvi], RADIALSYSTEM V[xvii], Sophiensale[xviii], Dock 11 [xix]and Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz[xx] became regular partner venues for the festival.

Continuity and renewal are essential elements to the festival’s programming. Since its establishment, artistic decision-makers from HAU and Tanzwerkstatt, have had the possibility to follow the development of artists.   Tanz Im August’s current pool of curators Ulrike Becker, Pirkko Husemann, Matthias Lilienthal, Marion Ziemann and Thériault conduct weekly dialogue meetings to discuss what they have seen at different festivals. Based on these, they collectively evaluate the line-up for August. Most of them, with the exception Husemann, have been collaborating since the festival was set-up either on the management or artistic development of the festival.

Its artistic leaders value personal contact in setting up local and international collaborations.  Thus, apart from the need to access information in finding a new breed of talents and institutional partners abroad, Tanz Im August remains open to propositions coming from those who have made the effort to reach out to them face to face.

Rosas© Michel Francois

According to Thériault, artistic decision is independent from any governmental support. Absolute artistic freedom is exercised in the festival programming. There is no pressure to do something special.  He asserts, “We do not programme according to the audience, we programme according to artistic development. We are a reactive festival. We react to the artists’ interests.”

To move forward with the audiences, Maren Witte introduced a “Workshop for Spectators,” as part of the festival programme in 2009, where registered spectators met before and after the performances.  Witte selected 3 shows of different dance genres that were discussed with 20 audience-participants.  In the process, she also made them move.

As far as the funding is concerned, the federal government allocates an annual budget of 400,000 Euro for the festival in a form of “regelförderung” (which literally translates to “financing with regularity).  This, however, does not exempt the festival organisers from going through the process of funding application both from the federal and city government, as there remains an absence in the policy to support long-term programme[xxi].  There is always a lingering thought and possibility that funding may or may not be given in a particular year. As result, the programming is only confirmed until April.  When the veteran programmer was asked whether this is nerving? Thériault’s response was simply “You stay calm after a number of years. Indeed after 22 years, we still do not have the political support. The growing number of our audiences is the dance festival’s gesture of political lobbying.”

One would assume that funding would be secure for such a festival that has built a strong reputation and influenced the development of contemporary dance both locally and internationally over the years.  Tanz Im August, which approximately costs 900,000 Euro to have a two-week run that has an extensive dance programming featuring the most prominent names in the contemporary dance world to young and avante-garde makers, have yet to find a solution to the sustain itself.

So what is there to expect for Tanz Im August in the next 5 years? “I have no idea what will happen in 5 years. People can expect continuation and development.  We see no need to change our programming approach.  Artists follow us, as we follow them,” remarks Thériault.


[i] The writer conducted the interview in Berlin, Germany with Nele Hertling in September 2008, and Andre Thériault on two occasions: September 2008 and January 2010.

[ii] Trisha Brown Company, Visit<

[iii] Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Visit <

[iv] The Nederlands Dans Theater, Visit<

[v][v] William Forsythe, Visit<

[vi] La La La Human Steps, Visit<

[vii] Sasha Waltz & Guests, Visit<

[viii] Meg Stuart, Visit<

[ix] Akademie der Kuenste, Visit<

[x] Hebbel am Ufer  (HAU), Visit<

[xi] Tanzwerkstatt, Visit<

[xii] PODEWIL, Visit<…berlin/podewil/…/podewil/

[xiii] Deutsche Opera, Visit<

[xiv] Jiri Kylian, Visit<

[xv] Halle Tanz Buehne, Visit<http://

[xvi] Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Visit <http://

[xvii] RADIALSYSTEM V, Visit<

[xviii] Sophiensale, Visit<

[xix] Dock 11, Visit<

[xx] Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Visit<

[xxi] Bundeskulturstiftung (German Federal Cultural Foundation) and Hauptstadtkulturfonds (Capital Cultural Funds in Berlin) are the primary cultural funding agencies that provide support for artists/institutions on a project basis.  For more information, visit< and

Links to the past programme of Tanz Im August (1999-2010)

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