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Ronald Wintjens: 'More face for youth dance and performance art at Dance Days'

'Not only work has disappeared, but also knowledge and craft - the whole perspective is disappearing. While the Netherlands as a dance country was renowned in the world precisely because it had the luxury to research, to build, to stimulate.' Ronald Wintjes, the brand-new director of De Nederlandse Dansdagen, worries. What about the future of dance? After all, things are rumbling in dance country: the production houses Korzo and Dansmakers, festival Holland Dance and companies like Leine & Roebana and Aya were allocated little or no structural subsidy.

Next weekend, from 7 to 9 October, the Dutch Dance Days (NDD) will take place in Maastricht. [hints]The festival arose in 1998 from a conglomeration of television (NPS), theatre (a/h Vrijthof) and VSCD (the lobbying club of theatre and concert hall managements) and aims to 'open up' current developments in Dutch dance to a wide audience. In addition, it is also the country days of Dutch dance. The audience includes countless officials and advisers, administrators, directors and producers, PR and press people, domestic and foreign programmers and, finally, dance artists - for those who can afford the nights in Maastricht. NDD, now part of the Basic Infrastructure (BIS) for the first time, is thus also a industry-meeting[/hints] New director Ronald Wintjens succeeded Peggy Olislaegers in June this year. It was short notice for Wintjens to already be working on his own policy. The 2016 edition does notice, however, that relatively more youth dance is programmed. That is the area in which Wintjens has manifested himself as a choreographer over the past decade with his group Project Sally.[hints]Ronald Wintjes was born in Sint Geertruid, southeast of Maastricht. He worked as a dancer with Itzik Galili and Connie Janssen and created his first choreography in 1996. In 2005, he made TIM, commissioned by the Dutch Dance Days. The cast of this performance was a mix of professional - and amateur dancers, and marked the beginning of Project Sally, a 'platform' for youth dance that Wintjens runs with colleague Stefan Ernst. In 2013, Project Sally established itself in Maastricht with support from the municipality and the Performing Arts Fund[/hints].

Polder

Last year wrote me that the polder division of the festival followed a rather threadbare pattern: companies were gathered into programmes not because of artistic interest or topicality but because of their place on the subsidy ladder. This division into 'first, second and third circuit' was also maintained this year. But for the first time, all dance companies currently still in the BIS and structurally subsidised by the FPK are represented. During the opening programme, therefore, only fragments of work will be shown, as normally happens during the BIS gala on Saturday. Seven companies the review is otherwise not possible.

I spoke to Ronald Wintjens on the eve of his first Dance Days as director.

Ronald Wintjens. Photo: Harry Heuts
Ronald Wintjens. Photo: Harry Heuts

How do you see the future of the Dutch Dance Days?

"The Dance Days is a public festival, but it can also be instrumental for the dance sector. I could only add some nuances this year. The performances for young audiences and family on the Sunday, for example. I really think youth dance belongs there, and not just because I happen to believe in it very much myself. And the fact that all structurally subsidised companies can be seen? I won't do that every year, but once every four years it should, I think.

Constructive dialogue

'Looking ahead, and I may be a bit idealistic, I think that during the Dance Days you can not only seek dialogue and connection with the audience, but also bring the industry together. I feel a tremendous urgency to bring in a certain collectivity and engage in a constructive dialogue that moves dance forward.

'I am going to do that not only by giving youth dance more visibility, but also, for example, by paying attention to its historical perspective. We have a very rich tradition in this country, but it is now tucked away in a box somewhere. Or look at the conceptual makers: ultimately they develop the things you see afterwards in the mainstream. That work should be shown at Dance Days. I have therefore created a vacancy plotted for an editorial board member performance art.

'I am also not averse to the more commercial makers, to involve them more. Hip-hop is also worming its way into the mainstream. You can see it in the youngest generation of dancers. That language will become commonplace in five or 10 years' time. That should be shown at Dance Days. Or dance makers who no longer want to be on a stage at all, I'm also working on that. You can't separate all these practices that exist in dance. You have to bring it together. That's why I'm definitely also going to do my best to expand Dance Days."

What role can Dutch Dance Days play?

"It's about visibility, evoking discussion and providing context, but also a constructive approach to the sector as a whole, because there are real problems. Dance is very popular on television, but in theatres, programming is declining because audiences don't always know how to find dance in the theatre anymore. There is ageing.'

Merge, Ernst Meisner, HNB. Photo: Hans Gerritsen
Merge, Ernst Meisner, HNB. Photo: Hans Gerritsen.

Image

'And then on top of that came these huge cuts. Of course, the art sector as a whole suffered enormously from that, also from the image damage caused by the cuts. We are now climbing out of that very slowly. I don't believe that the decline in programming necessarily has to do with the quality of Dutch dance. But there is something about the mediation of dance, both towards the public and in policy and in the sector among colleagues. It's about image, which needs to be better and sometimes just more popular.'

Is imaging the only problem and more visibility the solution?

'If we as a sector do not collectively focus on the next policy period, from 2020 onwards, dance is in danger of losing even more institutions and companies. We really need to ask ourselves together how we can remain part of the policy to be pursued. Otherwise there will be fickle policy, which means you will no longer be able to set long lines. Consequently, then there is no more money to develop the craft in dance, to do the research you need as an artist, to be given room to fail and make such a bad performance that it contributes to your development. All that is actually hardly possible anymore, the margin for that is getting smaller and smaller.

Cardboard residents, The Silence. Photo: Claudette van de Rakt
Cardboard residents, The Silence. Photo: Claudette van de Rakt

Craft

'There is so little production left in the Netherlands that freelance dancers can hardly be found. At the same time, when you hold an audition, there are 500 people on the doorstep, from all over the world, because they no longer live in the Netherlands. So not only work has disappeared, but also knowledge and craft - the whole perspective disappears. Whereas the Netherlands was renowned in the world as a dance country precisely because it had the luxury to research, to build, to stimulate.'

'Take for example one of the nominees for the Dansdagenprijs, Marina Mascarell, who danced at NDT and made her first performance at Korzo in 2011. Abroad, she works on big stages, but in the Netherlands, as a beginning maker, she no longer has that opportunity. Young creators grow up in what is left of the production house function, which is not at all geared towards the big stage in terms of budget. The companies that do function there cannot possibly handle all those young or new makers. Those companies themselves perish in obligations. In short, as in other sectors, say companies or healthcare, something substantial has happened in dance too. The question now is: how can we ensure that vitality returns to the dance field?'

Do you have any suggestions for that?

'On Friday afternoon, prior to the opening, there will be a debate with the sector during Dutch Dance Dialogues. I want to facilitate that conversation, but as director of Dance Days, I am not going to determine the content of that conversation. I do think we can determine values together as a sector, regardless of whether you are a classical maker or a conceptual one, whether you work commercially or for youth or whatever else. I want that voice of dance to be strengthened so that we can take action in a certain collectivity. If we don't do that, a lot more will soon disappear in 2020.'

The Statement, Crystal Pite, NDT. Photo: Rahi Rezvani
The Statement, Crystal Pite, NDT. Photo: Rahi Rezvani

Needed

'What I fear is that as an industry we don't voice that importance loud enough, don't put it on the table and then it won't be reflected in policy. I hope people in the dance world will start to realise that not only are they very different from each other, but they need each other.'

'Of course, it's also about audience development. You cannot indiscriminately put people who like classical or aesthetic dance in a different experience. Also remember, you need the big companies, with their more conventional approach. They have huge commitments, so they take less risk. They are also hugely sought after by audiences, which is much needed.'

'I think if the programming of the dance days becomes sharper, you can do persuade people to do other things. That in those bubble of a few days can entice people, audiences and colleagues, to make more adventurous choices. For my part, that involves a certain naivety, a dose of idealism, because otherwise you just can't do this."

M, Samir Calixto, NDT/KORZO. Photo: Joris-Jan Bos.

As an artist, do you have to become an entrepreneur, as you call yourself?

"Maybe I am not that now, but that is how I have developed over the past 20 years. I have never been just a dancer or a dance maker. I did a lot of teaching and education. I worked on commission. People could call me for coaching young dancers or makers to education projects in education.'

Benefit

'I was convinced that no one needed to help me and that I had to go out on my own to shape my own practice. I didn't fill my gaps with unemployment benefit either, but came up with projects and went door-to-door peddling. While building Project Sally, I also consciously focused on the region, stayed outside the Randstad. I saw that there was a gap in the market there."

Did you do that because you had to earn a living?

"No, it's something that belonged to me. Not everyone has to do it. You have to want and be able to educate, because otherwise it's quickly too much. For me, it's connected to the power of dance, that it goes beyond reason. I see what it does to people, to children, and I believe in that enormously. It has nurtured me enormously: to understand people, how to get my message across. The diversity of those activities takes you somewhere very different from focusing on one point.'

'It is still important to me that I was once allowed to make a travelling exhibition for Krisztina de Châtel's 30th anniversary. I was allowed to see all the photos and all the videos in her archive. I was able to attend rehearsals and try to discover who she was as a woman and as a creator. That research fed me enormously. At Noord Nederlands Dans, with Itzik Galili and later under Shropshire, I had weekly coaching meetings with young dancers. It also helped me enormously in my own work.'

The Square, NBprojects. Photo: Anja Beutler.
The Square, NBprojects. Photo: Anja Beutler.

Virtual

'But, and this may be what you mean, at some point you have to start building expertise somewhere. You can't stay broad, you have to go deeper. And that's where I am now. If I want to achieve anything, it's that greater visibility with the public. Next year, therefore, the Dance Days will last not three, but four days. And I will also look for other locations. The stage doesn't have to be inside the theatre. It can be on location, it can be virtual, or through lectures the stage can be in your head."

But then you are talking about local audiences, whereas these are Dutch dance days.

"60% is Limburg audience, 40% is from the rest of the country."

And these are all professionals?

"No, of that there is only about 10% incrowd. The audience has really grown tremendously in the years under Peggy."

Does it matter to the festival that now a Limburger is director? Are you going to cancel the Amsterdam office?

"I do think there will be a slight shift, in terms of being rooted in the region. I think I can make more connections because I see them daily. But I will continue to have offices in Amsterdam. It's a national festival, so I'm not going to cut that connection.'

What No One Expected, Lara Wakelkamp, ISH. Photo: Studio Breed.
What No One Expected, Lara Wakelkamp, ISH. Photo: Studio Breed.

Maastricht

'On the other hand: the Netherlands is a very small country. It is of course very special that the whole sector travels to that region. That is important. I also think that the Dansdagen brand, if you can call it that, is connected to Maastricht. And can also do things in Maastricht that you wouldn't easily manage in the Randstad. People in the region are aware of the urgency of doing things together to make it flourish. You see people going for the same goal together instead of fighting each other. That is why it is also important to me to bring all the companies and all the independent makers together at the Dance Days.' '

And will you then also do something about the after party, with the disco in the Vrijthof's concrete tank? Since drinking is no longer allowed on the steps in front of the theatre, informal exchanges have to take place in an impossible cacophony ...

"Mmm, that's indeed a problem I can't 1,2,3 do anything about. '

Schönheitsabend, Florentina Holzinger & Vincent Riebeek. Photo: Karolina Miernik
Schönheitsabend, Florentina Holzinger & Vincent Riebeek. Photo: Karolina Miernik

And the gala evening, which so many professionals have gradually grown tired of because there is nothing new under the sun? And at the same time, it is the 'pièce de milieu' of the festival ...

"Look, the Feest van de Nederlandse Dans - as the gala is called by now - it has to be. There are then 900 people in the hall who want to see those wonderful performances by the big companies. Those four on one stage, that's really unique. But I was already planning an alternative programme for the Saturday evening this year, by programming Florentina Holzinger with her last performance in parallel. It was too short notice, it just didn't work out in terms of schedules and location. But next year I will really try to organise different audience streams on that night. Then I will put an alternative programme opposite the established companies. I really want to look for sharpness in the programme, so that different audience groups can be served at the same time. But you can't force this kind of process, you have to build it up. But it is what I stand for.'

Good to know

The Dutch Dance Days will take place from Friday 7 to Sunday 9 October in Maastricht at Theater a/h Vrijthof and at various other locations in the city. For more information see the NDD website. The Dutch Dance Dialogues industry talk will take place on Friday 7 October between 14:00 and 16:00 at De Brandweer - Capucijnenstraat 21, Maastricht. RSVP via info@nederlandsedansdagen.nl.

 

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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