Not only a life devoted to dance, but a life devoted to Introdans. That’s probably the best way of describing the dedicated life career of Roel Voorintholt (Enschede, 1961). For over thirty years he has been working at the company that he already hugely admired as a young dance student. It was in the 1982/83 season that he joined the group as a replacement for an injured dancer, and since 2005 he has been the artistic director. Over the past three decades and more he has seen, and above all helped, Introdans to grow from a small group that transmitted the passion for dance mostly in community centres and sports halls in the eastern Netherlands to a thriving organisation that, as the third dance company in the Netherlands, now occupies an important position in the cultural life of the Netherlands itself and far beyond.
As a teenager Voorintholt was captivated by the film Saturday Night Fever (1977) and, with the aim of becoming a second John Travolta, he decided to learn jazz ballet. His talent quickly became evident and, riding his mother’s Solex powered bicycle, he was allowed to attend the preparatory programme at the conservatory, which provided dance lessons in a former monastery in Glanerbrug. He later transferred to the Dance Academy in Arnhem, where he immediately became a big fan of Introdans. Once he had joined the group himself he quickly became one of the company’s most striking dancers. In particular, his role as King Ludwig of Bavaria in Ton Wiggers’ The Dream King was tailor-made for him. In 1989, two years after this ballet received its premiere, Ton Wiggers and Hans Focking – who were the directors of Introdans at that time – gave Voorintholt the job of setting up an independent youth department. This was renamed Introdans Ensemble for Youth in 1997. Under Voorintholt’s leadership this youth dance company (which is still unique throughout the world) and the educational department (which later received independent status and since 2009 has been known as Introdans Interaction) both grew into organisations that are leaders in their fields.
In 2001, following the departure of Hans Focking, Voorintholt was appointed as joint artistic director of Introdans alongside the original artistic director Ton Wiggers. Four years later the duo reassigned their tasks: from this point on Voorintholt has taken on the artistic responsibilities, and Wiggers the commercial ones. In this situation the company remains true to its original ambitions – ‘Introdans stands for accessible, non-elitist dance of high quality’ – but Voorintholt is nonetheless steering his own, revised course. This has meant a noticeable shift from a repertoire of narrative works towards contemporary, more abstract choreographies.
This also involves programming based on three separate pillars: under the heading ‘Old Masters’ Introdans preserves and presents the work of famous European and American master choreographers, while also entering into exclusive collaborations with young, already successful creators of dance, and furthermore the company invests in the development of new choreographic talent. “One goal of Introdans,” says Voorintholt, “is to let its audiences become acquainted with the greatest treasures of 20th-century dance, but the group aims to be more than a history book: the new Van Manens and Kyliáns don’t just fall from the sky. As a group you also have to invest in the future of dance.”
The three-pillars policy receives a special interpretation at Introdans Ensemble for Youth. As is also confirmed by the aforementioned master choreographers, Voorintholt has an excellent feel for what appeals to children. Here he considers it vital that children be presented with top-quality dance. “Children can handle much more than you think. You don’t have to go down on your knees for them, you don’t have to make it all Pipo the Clown or hip hop in order to connect.” In the early days this vision met with some sceptical reactions in the dance world, but now Introdans Ensemble for Youth is viewed as a shining example of how one can reach children with theatre that is ‘adult’ – but also colourful and varied. And with his huge charisma, Voorintholt manages to get even the greatest choreographers on board. As Hans van Manen says: “Roel is simply so engaging, you just can’t refuse him anything.”
In 2013 Roel Voorintholt suffered a stroke. Following a year of rehabilitation treatment he then returned to Introdans. On 11 October 2014, exactly one year after his stroke, he addressed the audience during the 25th jubilee of the Introdans Ensemble for Youth. After his recovery he told the newspaper de Volkskrant: “I’d find it terrible if I could no longer do this work after 32 years. I live for dance.”
In 1993 Voorintholt received an Arnhems Meisje award for his service to the City of Arnhem. In 1997 his work for Introdans Ensemble for Youth brought him the Perspektiefprijs award and in 2008 the Dutch Society of Theatre Critics honoured him for his ‘upgrading of youth dance’ with the Critics’ Award. In the same year Voorintholt published his book Van ballenbak en Bolshoi (‘Ball Pit and Bolshoi’) in which he recounts, in a very personal manner, his experiences during 25 years of international tours with Introdans, from Appelscha to Peking. In 2004 Voorintholt was made a Knight of the Order of Orange Nassau. In 2012 Voorintholt was awarded the Arnhemse Piet prize for the way that he has put Arnhem on the map. At the start of 2015 he received the Oeuvre Prize of the Dance Audience Award 2014, and later that year Voorintholt was honoured with the Golden Swan for his important contribution to dance in the Netherlands. This prompted the Dutch public-service broadcaster NTR to make the documentary ‘Een leven lang Introdans’ (‘A whole life with Introdans’). In January 2016, Ton Wiggers and Roel Voorintholt were jointly awarded the Jiří Kylián Ring for their dedication to and major contribution to Dutch dance.
In November 2019, as the crowning glory to his work, Roel Voorintholt received the Special Award of Dansersfonds ’79 during the Dutch Ballet Gala.
The jury said the following about him: “Voorintholt is an artistic director for whom the words ‘that’s not possible’ don’t exist. (…) He has been able to convince renowned choreographers that their work is highly suitable for ‘his’ company, he has taken Introdans far beyond the national borders, he has become artistic director of all departments of Introdans (…) and thanks in part to his efforts, Introdans is now one of our country’s leading dance companies.”