Latest Developments at Ballett Frankfurt

by Petra Tschiene

November, 2003

William Forsythe in rehearsal with Ballett Frankfurt
Image by Dominik Mentzos


We have been covering the various stages of the crisis at Ballett Frankfurt for over a year now and we have a series of topics on this theme:

Ballett Frankfurt Crisis

Ballett Frankfurt Crisis - from August 2002

Ballett Frankfurt - from June 2003

Here is a brief summary from The New York Times (August 2002) of the position prior to the current developments:

William Forsythe, the American choreographer who has led the Frankfurt Ballet since 1984, announced this week that he would leave the company when his contract expired in 2004.

Mr. Forsythe, 52, who has turned the Frankfurt Ballet into one of the most admired experimental dance companies in Europe, had been seeking guarantees of his artistic freedom from the city government in Frankfurt, which largely finances the troupe. He avoided pointing an accusatory finger at the municipal officials in announcing his decision.

Mr. Forsythe, a Joffrey Ballet School graduate, indicated through a company spokeswoman today that he would not elaborate for the moment. "It's too early to speak of his future plans," the spokeswoman said. "He doesn't want to talk about it right now. But he wants to change, not to work in these kinds of organizations."


The latest news from Germany

The German online press has been covering the latest developments in the attempts to set up William Forsythe’s new company. I have prepared a summary of the main points from reports by FAZ, TAZ, Frankfurter Rundschau , hr-online and tanznetz.de.

The basic idea is to found the new company as Ballett GmbH with four stakeholders contributing: the Bundeslaender Hessen and Sachsen, the City of Dresden and the City of Frankfurt. Hessen and Sachsen have pledged a yearly contribution of 1.3 Million Euro each to the company that would consist of approximately 16 dancers. Dresden will, among other contributions, renovate the Hellerau Hall, in the past a very important performance space for avant-garde dance in Germany. This alone will cost approximately 8 million Euro. Frankfurt’s share of the yearly contributions would be approximately 600 000 Euro which includes a financial element of 200 000 Euro plus the performance space Bockenheimer Depot.

Now Frankfurt has pulled out of the negotiations just before the contract was due to be signed by all concerned parties on 14th October. According to a legal analysis there is a danger that Frankfurt’s contributions to the Ballett GmbH after making the 33 dancers of Ballett Frankfurt (technically the City’s own ballet company) redundant could be interpreted as continuation of the company which could enable dancers to sue for continuation of their employment contracts. If this were to happen Frankfurt could face an additional personnel cost of 1.5 Euro every year. For this reason the City refuses
to accept the contract in its current form.

Bernhard Freiherr Von Loeffelholz the Head of the Culture Senate of Sachsen who first made the offer to Forsythe to come to Dresden and who had been in charge of the contract negotiations has voiced his deep disappointment about the City of Frankfurt’s withdrawal. He accused Frankfurt’s Kulturdezernenten Nordhoff of unconstructive behaviour and disinterest in cooperation. Now a new partner to join as a stakeholder would have to be found.

It seems like the City of Frankfurt would like exactly this solution of another partner taking on the continuos financial support of the new Ballet GmbH which would enable the City to buy between 20 and 30 performances per season. This would be the cheapest way to still show Forsythe’s work in Frankfurt without causing too much strain on the tight budget. It has been said that if this kind of attitude towards dance was to spread in Germany dance would at some point simply become extinct and disappear from the German cultural landscape.

While all these problems are going on with getting his new company off the ground Forsythia is being showered with awards for his choreographic accomplishments which have resulted in new dance language. He has been awarded the German Culture Institute’s ‘Kulturgroschen 2003’ and the ‘Deutscher Tanzpreis 2004’.

An afterword:

Trouble continues I am told...the dancers are very unhappy with the treatment by the city of Frankfurt and are using all means possible to draw attention to their situation. This includes leafleting audience members after performances and a street demonstration with placards.


Edited by Stuart Sweeney

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