As a dancer at William Forsythe’s renowned Ballett Frankfurt, Regina van Berkel (The Hague, 1969) discovered that ‘creating it yourself’ was something she was actually very good at.
“Billy’s work is always made in close collaboration with his dancers. He was constantly giving us assignments, asked us to develop themes and philosophical ideas in dance, and as I was doing this I noticed: hey, this is really up my street.”
The first person to pick up on this quality was Samuel Wuersten, artistic director of the Holland Dance Festival. In 1998 he asked Van Berkel to make a solo for the festival and this immediately led to her being awarded the Silver Theatre Dance Prize of the Association of Theatre and Concert Venue.
From this moment on her choreographic development really took off. Van Berkel began making work for colleague dancers and in collaboration with her artistic and life partner, stage decor and lighting designer Dietmar Janeck, she soon produced a complete programme. In 2000 she took the next big step: she said farewell to Ballett Frankfurt in order to devote herself fully to choreography. Since then she has made productions for groups such as Pretty Ugly Dance Company, Ballett Augsburg and Delattre Dance Company in Germany, the Portuguese Gulbenkian Ballet, the Swiss Cathy Sharp Dance Ensemble, the Swedish Gothenburg Ballet, the New York Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater 1. Moreover, in recent years she has built up a close bond with artistic leader and choreographer Martin Schläpfer, which has led to various creations for ballettmainz and, following Schläpfer’s move in 2009, the Ballett am Rhein in Düsseldorf. And in 2005 Van Berkel created Snakesense, with which the Dutch dancer Milou Nuyens won the European Young Dancers competition in Warsaw.
Besides all this, Van Berkel has made productions for various dance academics and for many art platforms and dance and music festivals in countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Canada and the Netherlands. She has created several choreographies for both Holland Dance Festival and for the Gelderland NJO Summer Music Festival. In 2012 she also made On Royal Ground for the ‘Kingdom Concert’.
In her work, Van Berkel never takes a specific formula or style as her starting point. In each new project she draws her inspiration and challenges from the space – which in her case is usually not a standard theatre auditorium –, from the dancers with whom she works and from the public for whom she is making the choreography.
“I’m open to what the dancers have to offer, be they very young or highly experienced, technically hugely gifted or very strong as personalities. I like to tempt them out of their comfort zone, to discover new dimensions.”
She finds it liberating that her public is certainly not always a typical ‘dance audience’.
“In recent years I have often collaborated with orchestras and musical ensembles and thus often made choreographies for people who usually mostly visit concerts. In these cases I always aim to provide added value, to create a production in which music and dance truly complement each other. Afterwards in conversation afterwards with members of the audience it’s great to hear that they – through the dance – have experienced the music in a very different way.”
Van Berkel designs all the costumes herself for her productions and when developing the stage decor and lighting she works together with her partner Dietmar Janeck.
“He also has a dance background. We always exchange ideas and like to be inspired by each other. I find it challenging to see how a decor design can influence the movement and sometimes even limit it.”
One of the most important new developments for Van Berkel is her work with the composer Louis Andriessen. In 2015 she created Workers Union for the NJO Summer Music Festival, a full-length production set to eight works by Andriessen which are performed live. In addition she has regularly collaborated with multimedia artist Bill Seaman, sound designer Hans Peter Kuhn and the composers Gerard Brophy and Theo Verbey, both of whom have written various new compositions for her. Verbey also composed the music for Memory of a Shape, the monumental, virtuoso and complex work for a large ensemble of dancers that Van Berkel created for ballettmainz in 2009 and which Introdans will be including in its repertoire in February 2017. This is the first time that one of Van Berkel’s successful choreographies is being danced by a different company than the one for which it was originally made.
Van Berkel received her dance training in the former young talents class of the Nederlands Dans Theater under the direction of Ivan Kramer and at the Rotterdam Dance Academy. Before taking up the position of soloist at Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt from 1993 to 2000, she danced with Djazzex in The Hague, Jan Fabre in Antwerp and Saburo Teshigawara in Tokyo. In addition to the Silver Theatre Dance Prize she also received the Incentive Award of Stichting Dansersfonds ’79 in 1992.