"Our connection with contemporary dance is absolutely unique."

An interview with Bettina Welzel, who is responsible for dance at Bayer Arts & Culture, on sponsoring talented youngsters, highlights from the program and the long tradition of dance at Bayer Arts & Culture.

Bettina Welzel

As part of the newly established stARTacademy Bayer Arts & Culture will be cooperating with Germany's National Youth Ballet. What is the backgroand to that?
Dance has had a firm place in our program since the early days and the Erholungshaus has hosted excellent guest appearances by German and foreign dancers. I think that is one of the things that sets the Erholungshaus apart. And I believe it is equally important to foster dance today. Dance education and support for young dancers play an important part in that. There is also a tradition of cooperation between Leverkusen and Hamburg. The Hamburg ballet ensemble often gave guest appearances in Leverkusen in the 1970s and 1980s, so we kept a close eye on the establishment of the German National Youth Ballet by John Neumeier in 2011.

What exactly does the National Youth Ballet do?
Its members are aged between 17 and 22 and have already completed their training. They have learned a lot but need to find their way outside ballet school. The National Youth Ballet gives these young people an opportunity to spend two years enhancing their professional skills, self-assurance and experience of performing on stage before applying to join a dance ensemble. In this time, they perform at a wide variety of venues, including many unusual ones, get to know a range of choreographers and artistic styles, and have to learn to form new groups as half of the dancers leave each year and are replaced by new ones. We see that as an approach that is entirely worthy of support.

Do Bayer Arts & Culture and the audiences benefit from that?
We get the opportunity to work with a group more intensively and for a longer period than is usual for a venue like ours and our audiences get an insight into the the dancers and choreographers and the way they work over a longer period. For example, in fall 2016 the National Youth Ballet will be in Leverkusen for four consecutive days. They will spend three days rehearsing and training and then give a full evening performance on the final day. People can register to watch the dancers at work and see them learning the works. Maybe there will also be an opportunity to talk to them. We are still working on ideas with the National Youth Ballet.

Another group of young dancers, the Bavarian State Ballet II will be performing in Leverkusen again this season.
Yes, and one of the works they will be performing has already been decided: Pictures from an Exhibition, but not Mussorgsky’s version. Many other composers have taken up this theme, inspired by various artists including Picasso, Lichtenstein and Beuys. The work that will be performed in Leverkusen is a mixture of dance, music, art and interpretation - short pieces that are combined to form a whole and allow the young dancers to demonstrate their full range of skills. Ivan Liška, Director of the Bavarian State Ballet, will be giving a short introduction so that the audience can easily follow what is happening.

So Bayer Arts & Culture is offering another ambitious program of dance.
Even so, there are still too few people who are aware that dance has had a firm place in our season of cultural events for such a long time. The first guest performances were back in the 1930s, before the war. Maurice Béjart danced here before going on to make his career in Brussels, and Pina Bausch performed here when she was a student at the Folkwang University of the Arts. Our connection with contemporary dance is absolutely unique.

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