Hans van Manen (Nieuwer Amstel, 1932) is the master of simplicity. The greatest choreographer of the Netherlands with an oeuvre of 120 works, he is not only the most productive Dutch choreographer but also the most consistent. His work has its own unmistakeable signature: clear, uncomplicated, tightly composed – elements which have brought him the nickname ‘the Mondrian of dance’. In Van Manen’s case, ‘less’ is always ‘more’ and although he likes to quote the adage ‘dance expresses nothing else than dance’, his ballets do indeed have various themes. They are about people, about human relationships. Amidst all the apparent simplicity, Van Manen is able to conjure up a world of emotions with a single glance or gesture.
At the age of seven Van Manen was already dancing for himself, but he had no idea about how or where one could become a dancer: to him the circus seemed the most likely place. Then in 1946 the fascinating world of dance came a step closer when he became a pupil of the make-up artist and stage hairdresser Herman Michels. Van Manen then received his first ballet lessons from Sonia Gaskell, who recruited him for her group Ballet Recital in 1951. A year later he moved to the Ballet of the Netherlands Opera, where in 1957 he made his debut as choreographer with the work Feestgericht, which received the State Prize for Choreography. Van Manen also had a brief engagement at Roland Petit’s Ballets de Paris. But in 1960 he returned to the Netherlands when he was asked to start work as a dancer and choreographer at the recently formed Nederlands Dans Theater. A year later he was also appointed as artistic director of this company.
Over the last fifty years Van Manen has worked alternately at the Nederlands Dans Theater and Het Nationale Ballet. He has been the resident choreographer at this latter company since 2005. Besides this, Introdans is the third company in the Netherlands that also has an extensive Van Manen repertoire, now consisting of over twenty choreographies. Many of his ballets are excellently suited to young audiences as well, and so it’s no surprise that Introdans has put together several Van Manen programmes since 2000. The last of these, the family show HOERA VOOR HANS, was specially presented to mark the 85th birthday of the master choreographer in 2017.
Looking abroad, Van Manen’s work has been performed by over fifty companies, including the Stuttgarter Ballett, Bayerisches Staatsballett München, the Ballett der Deutschen Oper am Rhein, Wiener Staatsballett, Ballet Zurich, the English Royal Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and The National Ballet of Canada. In recognition of his major significance to dance Van Manen has received many Dutch and foreign awards, including the Sonia Gaskell Award, the Choreography Award of the Association of Theatre and Concert Venue Directors, the Deutsche Tanzpreis, the Music Award of the City of Duisburg, the Erasmus Prize and the Benois de la Danse Life Time Achievement Award. In 2007 he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the Netherlands Lion, a royal distinction for ‘highly exceptional services’.
In 2017, Hans van Manen was appointed Commandeur des Arts et Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture, this being France’s highest possible state honour in the field of arts and literature. In addition to his work as a choreographer, Van Manen also spent ten active years as a photographer. His work has been published in book form and exhibited in the Netherlands and abroad.