Hans van Manen, born in Nieuwer-Amstel, the Netherlands, is internationally recognised as one of the grand masters of contemporary ballet. To date, he has created more than 150 ballets, including those he has choreographed for the television. Van Manen’s signature style and aesthetic shine through in all his choreographies, characterised as they are by clean lines, refined simplicity, and an aversion to frills and frou frou. His innate musicality is revealed in all his works, which centre on human relationships without ever being anecdotal.
Van Manen started taking ballet classes in the late forties with Sonia Gaskell. He then joined her company Ballet Recital in 1951, and later went on to dance with the Netherlands Opera Ballet and Roland Petit’s Ballets de Paris. In 1955, he made his debut as a choreographer with Olé, Olé, la Margarita. His third creation, Feestgericht, received the State Award for Choreography. From 1960 onwards, Van Manen primarily worked with the two most prestigious companies in the Netherlands. He was joint artistic director of the Nederlands Dans Theater for ten years, and then became resident choreographer of Dutch National Ballet (1973–1987) and Nederlands Dans Theater (1988–2003). In 2005, he returned to Dutch National Ballet as resident choreographer, where he has remained to date. Those two companies together with Introdans are the Dutch ‘guardians’ of the Van Manen repertoire, but they are not the only companies to perform his work. His ballets have been staged by over ninety companies across the world. Years ago, he staged four of his ballets with the company of the Teatr Wielki in Warsaw: Adagio Hammerklavier and Twilight (1986), Bits and Pieces (1987) and Three Pieces (1988).
Van Manen has had many muses that have inspired his work. His most important muses at Nederlands Dans Theater and Dutch National Ballet include (in chronological order) Gérard Lemaître, Marianne Sarstädt, Alexandra Radius and Han Ebbelaar, Coleen Davis, Rachel Beaujean, Fiona Lummis, Sol Léon, Sabine Kupferberg and Igone de Jongh. He has also worked with countless international stars over the years, including Anthony Dowell, Marcia Haydée, Natalia Makarova, Rudolf Nureyev, Ulyana Lopatkina and Diana Vishneva.
The title of Commander of the Order of the Netherlands Lion was conferred upon him during the Hans van Manen Festival in 2007, which was organised by Dutch National Ballet. Then in 2000, he was awarded the Erasmus Prize, and in 2013 he received the Golden Age Award. That same year he was appointed patron of the Dutch National Ballet Academy (part of the Amsterdam University of the Arts) and in 2015 he became a member of the Society of Arts. In 2017, in Montpellier, Van Manen received the distinction of Commandeur des Arts et Lettres. A year later, he was awarded the Medal of Honour for Arts and Science of the Order of the House of Orange for his ‘enormous contribution to the arts in the Netherlands and to ballet in particular’.
In June 2022, Dutch National Ballet launched its second-ever Hans van Manen Festival, created especially to celebrate his 90th birthday. In a period of just three weeks, eighteen of his choreographies were performed by Dutch National Ballet, Dutch National Ballet’s Junior Company, Nederlands Dans Theater 1 and 2, Introdans, the Vienna State Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet and Ballet am Rhein Düsseldorf-Duisburg.
Outside dance, Hans van Manen is also a well-known photographer, having enjoyed huge success in the ten years he was active in this field. His work has been published in books and shown at international exhibitions.
(photo: Roland Gerrits / ANEFO)