Preserving and Promoting Dance Heritage in Berlin

Madeline Ritter

Managing Partner, Diehl+Ritter


DIEHL+RITTER gUG Crellestr, 29-30 D-10827 Berlin Germany

Berlin, Germany
EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award 2016


A Cure For Dance Loss




The Initiator

DIEHL+RITTER is a Berlin-based non-profit organisation with an international reach specialising in the strategic design of change processes and the initiation of new funding formats in the fields of art, culture, cultural policy and education. Both the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media and the German Federal Cultural Foundation are long-term funding partners. By developing and driving forward new funding policies for dance, DIEHL+RITTER acts as a catalyst for the German dance scene and creates ground-breaking models for a sustainable cultural practice.

/Dance Fund Heritage – an innovative strategy to foster a diverse and lively cultural memory of dance

In 2011 DIEHL+RITTER launched Tanzfonds Erbe (Dance Fund Heritage), with an overall budget of 6 million Euro provided by the German Federal Cultural Foundation to initiate artistic projects dedicated to the cultural heritage of dance. Funded projects range from stage works to films and exhibitions, to festivals and websites. Selected artists are encouraged to fully research their projects and work closely with experts in the fields of history, dance studies and choreography. The rediscovery of material has led to the reconstruction of historical dance pieces, thus ensuring the preservation of an ephemeral art form all too easily lost. All results have been documented and are freely accessible to the general public via a well-designed website that charts the history of 20th-century and contemporary dance. It is a rich resource preserving our dance heritage for future

The cultural and political context of an intangible art form

The dance sector has always been fragile. Dance is an all-consuming, tough profession with a short career span and little public recognition. Too often, dance is considered to be a frivolous past-time rather than a serious, meaningful art form. It lacks the public support that music or the visual arts have long held. In Germany out of government spending for culture, 80% is invested into the safeguarding of cultural heritage but close to none of it is allocated to the preservation of dance heritage.

Each town has a museum and the German National Library keeps a copy of every single book that has ever been published. But there are only a few – mostly private – dance collections and archives with very limited public exposure. This reflects the situation in Europe. In most European countries there exists no substantial support for dealing with the intangible heritage and knowledge of dance, and there are hardly any public memory spaces for this art from.
Other obstacles, aside from the public funding situation, include the intrinsic problems of dance as an intangible, ephemeral art form. In the dance world, many lament the fact that too many of its achievements – including and maybe even principally the works of dance and performances themselves – are being forgotten. While Google or Facebook operate gigantic real-time historiography projects and attempt to store the entire world on their servers, these social networks can only show what they have been told. Unlike the other arts, dance has developed no definitive method of recording itself. And although there are dance writings, choreographic notations, and of course images and video material, the actual dance event disappears as soon as it is performed. What stays behind is the experience now living within the bodies of the dancers - and the audience. The main consideration for Dance Fund Heritage was that losing this knowledge means missing out massively on the cultural value of dance.

/Practical methods of awareness-raising

> Involve many people from many diverse backgrounds
In other art forms, groups of experts are routinely asked to select a canon – listing and celebrating the ‘most important’ art works. The effect of this is that certain works are forced into the foreground, sometimes unduly. The same images, films or books are continually shown, published, discussed.

We decided on an alternative strategy. We invited the dance scene to discover – in their way – their own heritage, using their own contemporary artistic methods. The aim was to allow as many different approaches as possible: reconstruction, reenactment, re-inventing, films, exhibitions, and festivals.

As Giorgio Agamben stated: “The only place where the past can live is in the presence.” In connecting directly with the needs and ideas of the dance scene itself, the subject of heritage became part of a contemporary artistic praxis. Artists and organisations started to conceive heritage-related projects even beyond the scope of Dance Fund Heritage.

> Make it easy to access available funding
Everybody could apply: students, universities, individual artists (both emerging and established), independent companies, municipal theatres, archives. Funding was available for up to 100,000 Euro and 100% of a project’s budget. The Dance Fund Heritage team travelled through Germany and offered individual and intensive consultations for the application procedure, as well as seminars on how to fulfil the somewhat demanding federal funding rules. People applied who had never dared to access federal funds before. After receiving the funds, they proudly used the federal grant as leverage, asserting their importance at the level of local cultural politics.

> Talk about it frequently and to as many people as possible
To secure public visibility of the initiative, all funded projects were obliged to add the subtitle “A Dance Fund Heritage Project” to their project name in all publications – online and offline. This had the effect of media reports referring not only to the artistic outcome of the individual projects, but also to the overall heritage and funding strategy.

DIEHL+RITTER organized many public events and discussions in collaboration with theatres, museums, festivals and conferences, thus substantially enlarging the circle of dissemination for the project. Universities offering studies on intangible heritage were contacted to include seminars on dance.

Participants in all funded projects were regularly invited to share their experience with each other, thus enlarging the field of knowledge about dance heritage.

Last but not least, the funded projects were encouraged to develop innovative strategies for audience participation e.g. performing the “Nelken-line” by world-famous choreographer Pina Bausch on public squares all over Europe.

> Document the results and create free public access

To ensure the initiative’s long-lasting effect, DIEHL+RITTER documented all the projects and published the results on a dedicated website. It cleared and paid for all copyright charges, including very expensive music rights to allow the general public to openly access the history of 20th-century dance. The current website now holds a rich archive of videos of rehearsals, interviews and performances as well photographs, artworks and articles relating to dance.
One striking example might best explain the importance of the initiative’s virtual visibility: The Jewish Expressionist dancer, Viennese-born Gertrud Bodenwieser, fled the Nazi regime for the safe haven of Australia in 1939. So it seemed an unlikely twist of fate that 74 years later, her choreographies would be reintroduced to Europe by the grandson of a Nazi SS Officer, Jochen Roller. When word spread in Australia that a young German choreographer was collecting material about Bodenwieser, Eileen Cramer, a former dancer with her company, went into a studio and danced – at the age of 102 years – her memory of Bodenwieser. She then sent the video to Jochen Roller with a request: “Please publish this on your website. I wish for my memory not to be lost.”


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