Arts: Dancing in the time of Corona
2021-02-16 | By Daphne Vlachojannis
The Nederlands Dans Theater extends its reach. An interview with Willemijn Maas, managing director.
Speaking with Willemijn Maas, one is under the impression that she’s been Managing Director of Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) all her life. It has actually only been since May 2019. “Before that I did all kinds of different jobs,” she says, from CEO of the Faculty of Economics at the Hogeschool of Amsterdam, to Director of HR at Volksbank, to CEO of the public broadcasting company AVRO. “I shift all the time. When I was a lecturer I used to tell my students, ‘just finish your study – it’s not the end of the world if afterwards you want to do something else.’” Willemijn herself studied speech and language therapy in Amsterdam. “I grew up with the performing arts – I play the flute,” she says. “When I moved from Zeeland to Amsterdam for my studies, for me the world opened up to music and art.” She recalls already closely following NDT as a student and attending many performances. Apparently sometimes where you study is even more important than what you study in terms of forming your career.
The position Willemijn held at AVRO led to her current position with NDT. “In the Netherlands, public broadcasting companies are also production houses,” she explains, “and AVRO was profiled by art and music, so I built up a network in the performing arts and fine arts.”
NDT was founded in 1959 by, in Willemijn’s words, “a group of rebels”. Certain dancers and other staff from the Nederlands Ballet (now known as The National Ballet) in Amsterdam wanted to bring change to the company in the form of modern dance. When the company refused to implement that change, those dancers and staff broke off and formed their own company, which would eventually become NDT. The first year was tough as they endured heckling by audience members who were not impressed with the change. Slowly though, the tide started to turn and little by little, people began to understand the new approach. Fast-forward a few decades and that group of rebels is now one of the most famous international dance companies in the world.
NDT in corona times
2019/2020 marked NDT’s 60th anniversary. A huge production called Kunstkamer was planned in celebration, with a Europe-wide tour scheduled for June 2020. Due to the pandemic the entire tour was cancelled, and performances only took place in the Netherlands.
Even in non-anniversary years, NDT’s dance troupe normally performs about 70 performances per year outside the Netherlands. Now, most of the performances have been presented via live streaming. In June 2020 NDT made a “corona-safe” film. There was no touching between the dancers, who had to keep 1.5 metres of distance between each other. The film got over 180,000 views on Youtube. For the first programme of this new season starting in September, NDT has sold tickets for its livestream performances in 38 countries – some of which they had never travelled to before for live performances.
Willemijn is confident that NDT, and the performing arts in general, will eventually get back to physical performances. “We would love to travel again, the audience is asking for it,” she says, “but now we have gained some experience with livestreaming, and we can reach even more people from other countries.
“Even if we travel a lot again, this livestream is here to stay. We have also been invited by other artists to experiment with virtual reality, so we are only at the beginning of what is possible with livestreaming, but it of course will never replace the live experience on stage. We will come back to physical performances, but with innovative experiences added.”
The NDT is funded by the Ministry of Culture and receives a subsidy from the city of The Hague. Additionally, 40% of the earnings comes from its own income, i.e. selling tickets, touring abroad, and private funding from Friends of the company, sponsors and other private donors. Friends of NDT donate annually, and with the current crisis, NDT has gained more Friends than ever before. People who bought tickets for shows that were cancelled due to the measures were given the choice to either get a refund or to donate the amount to NDT. 50% of those people chose to donate the money, and in exchange were offered a Friendship for one year. In a heart-warming gesture of support, many of those chose to pay for the Friendship despite the offer.
In addition to its impressive global presence, NDT is active locally, in particular with youth. Its Talent and Education Department conducts various programmes in primary schools throughout the Netherlands, including summer schools. A new programme is currently in the making that will involve talent development and dance lessons for youth in general, not only in connection with schools. The goal is to do more outreach with students from secondary schools and young adults, to boost their awareness and enthusiasm about dance through dance apps, and various interactive programmes and projects.
Innovative, relevant and collaborative
It is NDT’s purpose to connect people and to inspire them, to enrich people’s lives, give them new experiences, let them open up to new ideas and perspectives. NDT creates and presents relevant and innovative contemporary dance and is committed to high quality and collaboration in different ways. NDT connects to large and diverse audiences and communities in The Hague, the Netherlands and all over the world.
NDT believes art is like oxygen for the spirit. Every human being needs to experience the pleasure of different forms of art. NDT believes that art can help people to understand each other better. Art opens the mind and heart for the unknown and helps to become more creative in finding new ways or new solutions. Art shows a broad and diverse perspective on the world.
NDT is a role model in the world of contemporary dance by promoting diversity and inclusion in and through all that we do. Therefore, NDT gives room to many different voices and artists.
NDT is an internationally renowned creation house. Its signature is built on quality and creativity and it strives for diversity and innovation. Two companies NDT 1 and NDT 2 perform, develop and create contemporary dance in The Hague, the Netherlands and the rest of the world. Two different professional companies; NDT 2 for talented young professionals and NDT 1 for mature dancers at the top of their career.
NDT for newcomers
As a starting point for those interested in getting to know a bit more about dance, Willemijn recommends watching, in January and February 2021, the new ballets from Imre van Opstal & Marne van Opstal, two siblings and former NDT-dancers. Also, the new pieces by Dimo Milev and Alexander Ekman that just premiered on 6 November in the programme Dare to Say are worth seeing. To find out more about NDT, to purchase tickets or to support the company, all information can be found on their website, on Instagram and on Facebook.
In this uncertain and difficult time: take home this beautiful lesson from our Nederlands Dans Theater that even in times of difficulty and uncertainty, we can still dance.
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About the author
Daphne Vlachojannis is a New York-qualified international human rights lawyer who has worked around the world. In 2013 she settled in The Hague where she lives with her husband and three children. Daphne is passionate about languages and creative writing.