Remembering the Future

  • 1987
    Terra Incognita
    Performance by Claudia Feest, Dieter Heitkamp
  • 2014
    Performance by Dewey Dell
  • 1991
    Secret Correspondance
    Performance by Dieter Heitkamp, Kurt Koegel, Ka Rustler
  • 2013
    Performance by Karol Tyminski
  • 1994
    Die Nacht
    Performance by Helge Musial | Performer: Sabine Lemke, Norbert Kliesch
  • 2016
    The way you look (at me) tonight
    Performance von Claire Cunningham, Jess Curtis
  • 1989
    Performance by Jacalyn Carley
  • 2008
    danse (4)
    Performance by Rosalind Crisp
  • 1993
    Der Tunnel
    Performance von Claudia Feest
  • 2018
    Limitation Piece 2
    Performance by Suddenly
  • 1983
    Performance by Jacalyn Carley, Dieter Heitkamp | Performer: Riki von Falken
  • 2016
    The Bony Labyrinth
    Performance by Julian Weber
On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Tanzfabrik Berlin in 2018, the book Remembering the Future - 40 Jahre Tanzfabrik Berlin was published, from which the following articles are taken. It contains further articles, contributions by artists and a detailed picture section.

The book is available at the Tanzfabrik for 5€.

The first 25 years

↪ Bunkbeds and postage-stamp stages. 25 years of Tanzfabrik Berlin. 

By Irene Sieben

They were the first. And they had the staying power and brilliance to survive through all the ups and downs and drastic changes: that motley crowd of dancers, musicians, visual artists, and students of sports, biology and religion, who founded Berlin’s Tanzfabrik a quarter of a century ago – no, not at Monte Verità, but at the foot of Berlin’s ‘Mount Cross’, Kreuzberg. They were the pioneers of a movement in Germany that radiated global appeal. Indeed, independent contemporary dance had been an international phe- nomenon from the start. And so, in a disused backyard factory – for a dream rent of 1.76 deutschmarks per square metre – everything came together: History, multi-culturalism and intermedia were woven into one fabric. And the people at Tanzfabrik – specialists in spanning ideas, styles and ideologies – have been giving the most ephemeral of art forms both stability and latitude ever since; providing a space for it to emerge and then dissipate, free of dictates of technique, and make way for something new.

“Experimenting means getting into something you don’t yet know,” said Dieter Heitkamp, one of the most innovative of the team. This pithy remark summed up his philosophy of exploration, which bore wild, colourful, and delicate fruit in the Tanzfabrik. And his credo still applies today, although life has become tougher on all levels, and the Tanzfabrik no longer has its own company. The collective dissolved. The bunkbeds went. The former factory turned into a rehearsal and experimentation centre. Since Claudia Feest assumed the post of sole artistic director in the mid-nineties, the Tanzfabrik has focused primarily on professional training, children’s and youth classes, and network-building, alongside its artistic and educational work. Feest is now handing over to the next generation; to Tanzfabrik dramaturge Eva-Maria Hoerster. Taking stock, Hoerster estimates that over the last 25 years, the Tanzfabrik gave roughly 500,000 classes to some 10,000 students, made 86 independent productions and gave over 160 guest performances. 74 choreographers used the rehearsal spaces in 2002 alone. Christoph Winkler, Kazue Ikeda and Martine Pisani have the honour of being artists in residence. But now, with a meagre 125,000 Euros funding, the Tanzfabrik is forced to take smaller steps.

The story of the Tanzfabrik is closely linked to the emergence of the independent dance and theatre scene and its search for the roots of the modern tradition. Ten years after the youth rebellion and student protests of ’68, people behind the scenes were redefining society, culture and politics. The left-wing newspaper taz and the alternative life-work project UFA-Fabrik were born. The German Green Party emerged as a force, and the revue act known as the 3 Tornados, luminaries of [West] Berlin’s Tempodrom circus venue, was its political satire equivalent. Some ten years after the closure of the Mary Wigman Studio – Berlin’s last remaining school for modern dance – and the relocation to Philadelphia of Motion – the first independent dance company – Wigman’s youngest former students were showing their interpretations of the German avantgarde to the United States. In 1977, Christine Vilardo, the driving force behind the first Tanzfabrik team, returned to Berlin – back to the roots – for a guest performance at the Akademie der Künste with Zero Moving Dance Company, led by Hellmut Gottschild, Wigman’s last assistant. Zero Moving had broken away from Motion in Philadelphia, where Gottschild made, and continues to make, a considerable impact on the dance scene through his work at the university. Vilardo brought Contact Improvisation to Berlin. An intrigued sports student, Reinhard Krätzig, wanted to know more and asked her to give a seminar. The primal cell that was to become the Tanzfabrik was germinated and pulsating with new life. It was the summer of 1978.

The early days of the Tanzfabrik breathed the principles of the Wigman tradition, a Kei Takei-influenced inquiry into nature, and the improvisational techniques of the Living Theatre. The young Tanzfabrik was a place where wide-eyed adventurers experimented with ideas that the Judson Church generation had wrested from life. Jacalyn Carley was one of the Philadelphians there. She had worked with Motion alongside Tonio Guerra and Rick Schachtebeck, with whom she founded the trio Tripticon in Berlin. She continues to fly the flag for professionalism. Petra Kugel and Leanore Ickstadt were the last Wigman students to join the collective, albeit temporarily. The rest of the team were unformed, curious, receptive. The spirit of collectivism – chaos and enthusiasm – characterized the early years. The utopian goal of fusing art and everyday life united the group; they lived and worked together, performed and taught together, made love and contact improvised together. From the outset, solos, duos and group pieces of various formats, colours, appeal and sophistication reflected the basic idea of the collective: lots of people and opinions, styles and tastes, all united under one roof. An alternative way of life and art.

The aesthetic mix was quirky and inspiring. It ranged from flying costume changes by Roger Pahl, who made a living with drag shows for Romy Haag, via Fred Holland’s kinetic art, reminiscent of Bauhaus in its timescale and geometry, right up to the identity-seeking of Folkwang students Heidrun Vielhauer and Sygun Schenck, showing the colours of German Tanztheater. Jacalyn Carley’s witty, virtuoso choreographies combining dance and text (about Gertrude Stein, Raymond Federman and Dada poets) were juxtaposed – not without conflict – against whatever the release technique freaks Dieter Heitkamp, Ka Rustler and Kurt Koegel brought to Kreuzberg from the broad field of experimental movement research that was the Body-Mind Centering universe. Bodies were dissected – skin and bones, lungs and lymph nodes – for subject matter. Rooted in the mystical as well as the muscular, Helge Musial and Sabine Lemke sparred, and Musial and Heitkamp paired up in the legendary duet Zwei Herren und ein Saxophon.

In 1980, the Schaubühne’s Peter Stein donated a third of his government arts funding to the Tanzfabrik, enabling it to finance productions for the first time. And more money came in from the lottery funds. It was the start of a sustained period of good fortune, a golden era. The influx of funding, including generous subsidies from the Berlin senate, made it possible to thoroughly renovate the premises. And It made the Tanzfabrik’s professional aspirations grow. But the community shrank. The remaining hardcore of high-calibre dancers and choreographers gave repertoire performances and guest performances and fought tooth-and-nail for their share of Berlin’s arts funding.

Just about everything imaginable in the field of dance, performance and installation was tackled at the Tanzfabrik: the gender debate (Mann tanzt, 1983; Buddy Bodies, 1984); feminism and women’s liberation (... drin und Gewinn, immer so hübsch, 1983; Medeas Töchter, 1995; Wild wie Milch und zobelsüß, 1990); tributes to Dadaism and Bauhaus (Jandl Gedichte, 1981; Schwitters Ursonate, 1982; Der Riss, 1991); the fusion of dance and painting (Der Maler des Raumes wirft sich in die Leere, Principle of Moment, 1994); poetic reflections on the sports world (Sieg der Körperfreuden, 1985) and the Holocaust (Projekt X, 1992); experiments with gravity and physicality (Fields in Fluency, 1990; Zerfall der Schwerkraft, 1992; Das Auge im Ohr, 1994). More and more dance-film projects were conducted: Der Gehängte im Garten der Venus, Kontakt Triptychon, Gabriels Gang, Gliederschleudern, Augenblicklicht, Waiting for the Miracle.

Through collaborations with musicians including Klaus Staffa, Friedemann Graef, Michael Rodach, Sebastian Hilken, Bob Rudman’s Steel Cello Ensemble and, most frequently, singer-performer Gayle Tufts, the Tanzfabrik was able to accumulate a fund of compositions and avoid the conventional practice of cobbling together pre-recorded sounds. It was easy, back then, to build and sustain a loyal following. People came who were thirsting for dance. And they not only wanted to see it but do it themselves; to contribute their own personal touch. The Tanzfabrik expanded within its premises to offer up to 50 classes per week to over 500 students at its busiest point. It made Joseph Beuys’s slogan “culture for everyone” reality. And put Laban’s credo “everyone is a dancer” into practice.

Stirring up the audience and luring them out of their seats – when Sasha Waltz achieved this in Berlin’s Jewish Museum and her Schaubühne projects 17-25/4 and insideout, she was not the first to do so. The Tanzfabrik had already broken down the stage’s confines in 1980, leading the public up and down stairs and on to the roof at 68 Möckern Straße. Here, human statues crouched immobile on the ledges. The figure hanging across a bicycle was later seen rolling down the stairs. Bodies were presented as pulsating elements of an outlandish backyard architecture. With 1987’s Terra Incognita, Claudia Feest and Dieter Heitkamp once again launched an expedition to unfamiliar territories. Cushions in hand, in stockinged feet, participants set off for the subconscious and the realm of physical biology; just as scientists were launching experiments with cloning, the Tanzfabrik explored genes and chromosomes.

In the year 1988, Berlin was European Capital of Culture. The independent dance scene was booming. As the Tanzfabrik celebrated its 10th anniversary, the newly founded TanzWerkstatt, offering a plethora of courses, and the European Contact Teachers Conference were filling its studios. But then the Berlin Wall came down and the plan to institutionalise the Tanzfabrik, to turn it into a kind of private-theatre project, or perhaps even get it established as a centre for dance, turned to dust as funding diminished. Contemporary dance made the leap into the classical camp. Dieter Heitkamp and Helge Musial created choreographies for the Berlin State Opera; Jacalyn Carley worked with dancers at the Komische Oper. The competition from the East, previously behind the Wall, was not resting. Many young dancers were drawn to the districts of East Berlin, Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. Marameo, Dock 11, fabrik Potsdam – they all learned from the Tanzfabrik concept. The struggle for survival on a fragmented scene was tough, but the Tanzfabrik rose to the challenge, proving to be a small but extremely flexible and efficient guiding light on the independent scene. It kept the debate going with its Tanz & Text series. And it fought to become a production venue again.

Some of those who are now in key positions working for dance, or promoting it as an art form, were once supported by the Tanzfabrik or used it as a testing ground for their own dance aesthetic. Founding father Dieter Heitkamp now passes on his broad knowledge to younger generations as Professor of Contemporary Dance at the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts. André Thériault continues to draw on his experience of organizing the Tanzfabrik as head of the TanzWerkstatt Berlin. He knows how to build infrastructures. Jacalyn Carley, formerly the team’s specialist for Dance and Text, is a successful writer, placing her ironic focus on dance. Riki von Falken, once part of the collective’s nucleus, has devoted herself entirely to the starkly reduced solo. Sasha Waltz tried out as a guest here, as did Xavier Le Roy, when he was still conducting research into acceleration. To mark its 25th anniversary, the Tanzfabrik is juxtaposing reConstruction against newProduction. So even those who are too young to have been there originally can follow Carley’s smart approach to moving texts in Ernst Ernst-Jandl Gedichte vertanzt, can experience the once legendary partnership of Dieter Heitkamp and Helge Musial in Rapid Eye Movement, and witness the hit production with the unutterable, snake-like title whodidwhattowhomwasneverreallyclearandisn’tittheawfultruth, which caused a sensation on the postage-stamp stage of the Akademie der Künste in 1987. A thriller made up of 45 one-minute dances, presented like a crazy comic, it is so tumultuous even the establishment critics cheered hurrah. Pure Heitkamp, as he always was and still is. How nice that he is cheating cruel transience and still going strong.

Originally published in ballett intern 5, December 2003, p. 10-12. ballet intern was a supplement to Das TanzJournal and was published again 2018 in the documentation Remembering the Future – 40 Jahre Tanzfabrik Berlin.
[translated from the German by Charlotte Kreutzmüller] 

1995 - 2005

↪ Tanzfabrik Berlin, reconfigured: 1995 to 2005 

In the mid-1990s, the Tanzfabrik went thrugh a phase of artistic re-orientation. The collective model had been replaced by various individual choreographic propositions. The fall of the Berlin Wall and German unification on 3 October 1990 had far-reaching political and practical consequences for the arts in Berlin. Although the Tanzfabrik was acknowledged and established both among audiences and political actors as a significant force on the dance scene, it was not considered eligible for institutional funding. Classified as a self-administrating association of choreographers, it was awarded production funding for their work only. “From about the mid-80s on, we were always on the verge of getting some kind of regular subsidy as an institution,” says Claudia Feest. But in fact, new institutionalisations were not feasible during this period of historical change, especially in West Berlin. Keeping the original structure – a collectively run company with several in-house choreographers doing four to eight productions a year – was no longer possible either. When the Tanzfabrik’s state subsidies were slashed in 1995, it was forced to redefine itself and respond to the changed political and financial circumstances. The same year, Claudia Feest took over as artistic director on behalf of the Tanzfabrik’s then in-house choreographers Dieter Heitkamp, Ka Rustler, Helge Musial and Sabine Lemke. And Eva-Maria Hoerster joined the Tanzfabrik as production manager, succeeding Gisela Göttmann. In autumn 2003, Hoerster became artistic director. By that time, the Tanzfabrik had evolved into a choreographic forum for the work of many different Berlin-based dancer-choreographers, both long-time res- idents and newcomers to the city.

Claudia Feest: The major change in 1995 was that the group of ‘in-house choreographers’ now produced pieces under my overall artistic direction, and Eva-Maria took charge of the organisation. That was an important transitional phase when a lot of changes happened. Until 1995 we had been a three-person team of director-choreographers: Dieter Heitkamp, Jacalyn Carley and me. But when Jacalyn, one of the Tanzfabrik’s main choreographers, left due to artistic differences, the production funding was cut by 40%. The senate probably saw it as a welcome opportunity to save money. Later, in 1998, Dieter Heitkamp left to take on a professorship at the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts.

Eva-Maria Hoerster: When I arrived in Berlin in 1995, the big news was that the city’s basic funding had been slashed – severely limiting the Tanz- fabrik’s scope for creativity. The senate argued that the Tanzfabrik was no longer a choreographers’ collective but just a venue and didn’t need its own production funding any more. Contemporary dance was booming in Berlin; the scene was growing and the competition for funding was stronger. In any case, from 1999 on, we only received a venue grant from the Berlin senate, without any production funding.

Claudia: That was one reason to reconfigure the Tanzfabrik. When negotiating guest performances in the '80s and '90s, organisers would often ask what exactly the Tanzfabrik was. The senate and some of those event organisers would obviously have preferred a choreographic signature by one distinct choreographer, a company, and not this collective idea with several artists on an equal footing. Other places, like Tanzwerkstatt Düssel- dorf (which later became tanzhaus nrw), had far more success applying for basic structural support. Anywhere with a principal or director was awarded structural funds far more willingly and on a scale that remained completely beyond the reach of the Tanzfabrik with its collective organisation.

Working methods

During this period, the Tanzfabrik was about changing the way it shared and shaped developments in contemporary dance in Berlin and doing it differently than it had in its first twenty years. It gained a new profile; it became an enabling space for very many dancers and choreographers. It reflected contemporary tendencies, concerns, needs and requirements and placed its infrastructure at the disposal of others. In this way, alongside its official function as a state-subsidised venue, the Tanzfabrik became a laboratory and worksite for people exploring a wide range of themes and research topics in contemporary dance, from improvisational art to different formats of presentation, exchange and dialogue. Meanwhile, the Tanzfabrik’s school, offering professional training, weekly dance courses and regular workshop programmes for professional and amateur dancers, remained an important pillar of the reconfigured Tanzfabrik.

Claudia: In the Tanzfabrik’s twentieth-anniversary publication, I described what I regard as the Tanzfabrik’s special trademark: versatility and diversity. They are both concepts and terms that are in common use in the field of dance today. But we weren’t thinking just of stylistic, aesthetic and thematic diversity or of different identities but also of encounter between professionals and non-professionals. Through our school, we always had an everyday connection to people who were interested in dance but not necessarily artistically active themselves. And interdisciplinary work was also very important to us. Exchange with artists from other genres was a crucial concern of the early phase of Tanzfabrik, too.

Eva-Maria: And we were always very open to international artists who wanted to find their feet in Berlin. We were the first port of call for newcomers – from France, Australia, Japan, Canada, Estonia... We provided a platform for young artists just starting their careers. It was an important launchpad for some.

Claudia: The Tanzfabrik never worked with a strict hierarchy; with one person at the top, calling the shots. It was always part of our identity to interact directly and immediately with the scene in Berlin, the choreographers, dancers, performers, improvisation people. As a directorial team, we were always in very close contact with the artists. Our themes arose from this close vantage point; they weren’t highhandedly decided upon. We always kept our ears to the ground of the dance scene, listening and watching. What are you doing? What are you up to right now? What are you interested in? The Tanzfabrik saw itself as a platform for dance, for the acute concerns and needs of the dance scene. We were always looking to see if any tendencies could be discerned, new ideas, new aspects, which we should pick up on.

Eva-Maria: The Tanzfabrik didn’t have its own artistic budget anymore; only its infrastructure was financed. But that at least allowed us to provide working and rehearsal space to artists. We devised a quite complex system for allocating space. There were the artists in residence, some of whom stayed with the Tanzfabrik for several years. Then there were those with no production funding of their own; they only had to pay a very low rent, just a symbolic fee really. And lastly there were those with their own production budget; they paid a little more. It was a kind of tariff system, based on the art- ists’ level of funding. The senate’s Department of Culture is currently using the same principle for its own programme of subsidised work and rehearsal spaces. With the Tanz im Studio 1 series, we created a forum for Berlin-based and international artists. The people who showed their work there got no fee, just a share of the box office takings – as is still common practice at many independent theatres – but we did give them support in the form of rehearsal time in the studios, access to technical support, publicity work, and alongside dramaturgical assistance, if possible and desired, what you would now call mentoring and feedback. We didn’t have any production funding, but occasionally managed to get third-party funds, from the capital city arts fund (Hauptstadtkulturfonds) after 2000, when it was set up, or the French embassy’s Bureau du théâtre et de la danse, the performing arts fund Fonds Darstellende Künste, and later from EU projects, especially the apap network, which still exists today.

Claudia: Project work became the bread-and-butter of all dance centres and venues during that period. Now, we are starting to notice that project work, with its short life span and curatorial requirements, has hit a wall. But 20 years ago, it was an arts-political innovation and perhaps an expedient stopgap, considering the dire financial situation the city was in.

Cultural policy and dance training

From the outset, the Tanzfabrik was not only an artistic laboratory and centre of creativity but also politically committed to the arts, especially in the field of instruction. Its ongoing daily courses for professional training and instruction on all levels, workshop-weeks addressing international participants in the spring and summer, workshops and master classes accompanying “Tanz im August”, and the Choreographische Werkstätten, a yearly professional training format held from 2001 to 2004, were and still are important elements of the Tanzfabrik’s artistic and educational work and its identity as an institution.

Claudia Feest: The question of a state-approved contemporary dance school was a constant source of discussion and controversy. In the foreword to 1998’s anniversary brochure, I wrote: “In the future, the Tanzfabrik, with its expertise and facilities, will play a part in the long-demanded school for contemporary dance in Berlin.” It was a demand we regularly voiced in talks with the Berlin senate. The senate resisted, especially after the fall of the Wall, saying: “We’ve got the State Ballet School, that will have to do. There isn’t enough money for an independent contemporary dance school.”

Eva-Maria Hoerster: We two, together with Gisela Müller, completed a paper on 12 July 2004, proposing a model we had devised for “an interdisciplinary course of dance at Tanzfabrik Berlin”. This was before the Tanzplan project had been launched. In the paper, we wrote: “The Tanzfabrik plans a course of training in several stages. A five-month course of advance training, to provide orientation to those considering studying dance, began on 15 February 2004. Another advance course of training is due to start in September 2004.” That is what became the Dance Intensive course. A few lines previously, we had written: “For contemporary dance and contemporary choreography to continue to develop in Germany, it is essential to have an adequate, qualifying educational site. The need for such an institution in Berlin, if the city is to remain a hub of dance, has been frequently pointed out in cultural-political debate.” We continuously refined the concept, later also in connection with our application for Tanzplan funding. Ultimately, it formed a keystone for the founding of the HZT.

Claudia: We kept on demanding a contemporary dance school, and then with Tanzplan Deutschland as a federal funding instrument, we seemed to have a real chance of putting our idea into practice. But the idea and the concept had existed since long.

Eva-Maria: The call for proposals for Tanzplan vor Ort was issued in 2005; we submitted the paper with our concept, and so did others of course, such as Dock 11. First a round table was held in the senate administration, where we put our case to Hortensia Völckers, head of the Federal Cultural Foundation, and Madeline Ritter, director of Tanzplan Deutschland. Everyone on the scene agreed that the question of a school should be focal. There was no argument over that. The senate administration asked us to write a draft paper on what Berlin needs to provide contemporary dance training and what the main points to consider are. Barbara Kisseler, then Berlin’s Undersecretary of State for Culture, really supported our demand and significantly promoted it, and Claudia was then appointed coordinator of the founding project for the Inter-University Centre for Dance by the Senator for Culture and Science.

Claudia: Overall, a lot was done for dance in Berlin and across Germany during that period. A new course in cultural politics was set and many organ- isations were founded. And Eva-Maria and I, representing the Tanzfabrik, were very much involved. In 2000, for instance, we set up the arts council Rat für die Künste with the participation of some major cultural institutions in Berlin; we initiated it right after the first Tanznacht in the Akademie der Künste in December 2000, together with many others. The year 2000 also saw the founding of the ztb, Verein Zeitgenössischer Tanz Berlin. And in 2004, I became involved in setting up the umbrella organisation Dachverband Tanz Deutschland (formerly Ständige Konferenz Tanz), which was officially founded in March 2006. It became increasingly important to fight for dance’s autonomy on a political and national level.

This interview was published 2018 in the documentation Remembering the Future – 40 Jahre Tanzfabrik Berlin.
[translated from the German by Charlotte Kreutzmüller]