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Amsterdam wants to, does not want a Dance House. Rotterdam makes a Dance House

The Amsterdam Fund for the Arts would love a central 'vibrant dance venue' in Amsterdam. But surely such a Dance House has just been torpedoed?

It was striking: in the Introduction to Dance at the allocation of grants by the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts (AFK) for the 2017-2020 grant awards, they noted a "fervent need" for a "dance house": a central place for development, production and showing of dance. And what a pity the fund thought it was that there isn't one. The committee advises the dance field 'to take a fresh look at what is needed to develop such a place in the coming period.'

Such a thing is called a goof. Because such a plan has been looked at for 20 years. Indeed, in 2014, it was supposed to be there. Until one of the participants pulled the plug.

Learning from previous plans for a Dance House

The idea for a Danshuis in Amsterdam arose in 1993, when Ger Jager (Danswerkplaats Amsterdam, later Dansmakers Amsterdam) and Gary Feingold (Henny Jurriëns Foundation) were having coffee in the café of the then dance cathedral Artemis. Amsterdam needed a dance centre for contemporary dance, with national and international appeal. After all, there was a fragmentation of dance institutions and an exodus of talented dancers and makers abroad.

Big news finally followed in 2013. The municipality of Amsterdam was going to support a 'Danshuis Amsterdam' with 1.8 million euros where ICKamsterdam, Dansmakers Amsterdam, the Henny Jurriëns Foundation and freelance dancers and choreographers could go. The Dance House was to be housed in the former Stork factory in Amsterdam-North, where Dansmakers Amsterdam was already located. But as it turned out, Dansmakers Amsterdam withdrew from the project at the last minute. It would involve too many financial risks.

Some 500 dance lovers signed a petition to support the arrival of the dance house, and a committee (including Hans van Manen, Ted Brandsen, Krisztina de Châtel and Hedy d'Ancona) recommended the plan. But to no avail.

How so: 'too bad there is no central place for dance in Amsterdam now'?

The morning after of the Dance House failure

We are now three years down the line. Dansmakers Amsterdam (DMA) is still in the (converted) former Stork factory with dance company ISH, the DAT school and CINEDANS. An interesting combination in itself. But DMA applied for a subsidy for the period 2017-2020. And not so little too. Indeed, it may have overestimated itself a bit.

The institution that called off years of preparation for a Dance House in close collaboration with other partners because of "financial risks" is now treading on shaky ice financially. Indeed, that is what the application assessors say. DMA petitioned the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts for a whopping €700,000, while it received €399,570 a year for the 2013-2016 period. The AFK, however, granted it €155,000. So Dansmakers asked for almost double that and now gets back less than half.

To the Performing Arts Fund, DMA asked for €185,000. It got €0 there. But it also got that for the 2013-2016 period. All in all, then, DMA had big plans. As a development and production house with a stage in Amsterdam-Noord, it asked for a total of €885,000. Then €155,000 is a bit of a bummer.

Why was DMA awarded so little? Several reasons: the committee does not consider the overall management to be strong; the feasibility of the budget is largely dependent on substantially more grant income; executive costs are "heavily deployed" and out of proportion to overall costs.

Executive costs heavily deployed? What does that mean? The annual accounts of 2015 mentions €55,000 for management (general manager is Suzy Blok) and €50,000 for business management (Ger Jager). Pretty nice (part-time) annual salaries but not exorbitant amounts. How the management costs when applying for €700,000 from the AFK are 'out of proportion' according to that same fund cannot be mentioned by the Fund on enquiry.

No bustling dance house for now

Former collaboration partners ICKamsterdam and the Henny Jurriëns Stichting are now spread across the city. ICKamsterdam passed the new subsidy round 2017-2020 well and receives praise (and money) for its location in the Meervaart and the Henny Jurriëns Foundation also receives praise (and money) for its location in the former Chassé church, a dance centre founded by headstrong, self-employed entrepreneur Lenny Balkissoon.

Still, these parties feel somewhat cheated. After all, they would have preferred to be in a dance house together with Dansmakers. That a day before the deadline set by the municipality (the leases for a beautiful new building had already been signed) everything fell through was hugely frustrating. Strangely, politics did not budge, even though as much as €300,000 had been invested by the municipality in the development of the house. Burnt-up money, in other words.

And now?

There is no central dance venue in Amsterdam. And certainly not a vibrant one either. Even Dansmakers did not manage to find a 'vibrant place for creators and audiences' to formulate. Let alone a ''connect' with the other dance partners in the Stork building. An insular culture is a persistent affliction that unfortunately prevails throughout the dance world.

But Benien van Berkel (then business leader of ICK and co-chair of the Theatre and Dance Consultation in Amsterdam) disagrees. Of course, each dance company (often linked to one creator) has its own blood group and signature, and everyone fights when distributing subsidies. But in recent years, cooperation between dance institutions in the capital has only improved. See a joint stand and stage at the Uitmarkt and the dance platform BAU.

The real reason why Dansmakers pulled out of the plans for a central dance venue, she can only guess at. Before the Dutch National Ballet and De (then still) Nederlandse Opera turned their backs and really started working together, it also took a while. Moreover, the plan for the Stopera - now Muziektheater - was there back in 1960, only to be completed in 1986.

So Van Berkel is an optimist. For to what extent structural cooperation between dance partners in a building in itself can succeed in Amsterdam remains to be proven. Especially when a lot of construction money is needed outside the institutions' regular budgets. Add to this the new subsidy allocations that chopped into a number of dance institutions, and the prospect of a new dance house is extra cloudy.

In 010, it is possible

In Rotterdam, at least, they are a lot less fussy about dance houses. At the end of 2018, Conny Janssen Danst will move into a new home in the former Fenix sheds on Katendrecht at the initiative of nota bene the municipality of Rotterdam. According to the application, 'The Conny Janssen Danst House' should become a breeding ground where all kinds of activities and encounters take place around dance. A simple formula that will hopefully succeed.

View here is the advice from the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts and here from the Fund for the Performing Arts

Also have an opinion on a central dance venue in Amsterdam? Post it below this article or in social media when we share it!

Update: There was also contact with Dansmakers Amsterdam after this article. A conversation was eventually postponed due to changes and board discussions.

Ruben Brugman

writing ex-dancerView Author posts

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