The dance sector in Luxembourg
The number of people involved in Luxembourg’s dance sector has grown in recent years, in terms both of spectators and of creatives. There has been a marked increase in the number of dance shows scheduled in theatres and cultural centres all over the country. This increase relates to shows written in the country, to coproductions with foreign production companies, and to residencies by artists from in- and outside Luxembourg.
Contemporary dance is the most significant form of choreography in Luxembourg, in relation both to shows written in the country and to shows scheduled as part of the dance programming of cultural organisations. Admittedly, the occasional classical dance, flamenco or urban dance productions by international companies tend to be very successful, but contemporary dance remains Luxembourg’s largest form of choreography. It has taken a long time and a great deal of work for the sector to become as strong as it currently is.
A bit of history
There is actually no real tradition of choreography in Luxembourg. Although dances for popular entertainment and the traditional dances performed at balls and fêtes have been around a long time, it is really only in the 1970s and 1980s that performances by professional dancers from abroad started to appear in the programmes of municipal theatres. Guest choreographers like Béjart, Kylián and Neumeier bear witness to the quality of these foreign professionals, but also to that era’s conformist tastes.
The Festival Cour des Capucins was first held in 1985, on the initiative of, Marc Olinger, the Director of the Théâtre des Capucins (Luxembourg City), of Christiane Eiffes, then dance teacher at the Luxembourg City Conservatoire, and of Normando Torres, founder of the Festival de la Grand-Place in Brussels. The Festival Cour des Capucins bravely tried to open the door for contemporary dance, which was then new, unusual and often misunderstood. Daring to question gestural vocabulary, young choreographers presented their vision of another culture for choreography. Tentatively, works by the Grand Duchy’s own choreographers were introduced into programmes, enabling audiences to get to know a style of dance that was made in Luxembourg.
In 1994, on the initiative of the Ministry of Culture, the non-profit Théâtre Dansé et Muet (TDM) was created, bringing together different associations, conservatoires and private schools, and festivals under a single umbrella organisation. The intention was to foster synergy between the various people and organisations involved in contemporary dance and physical theatre, and to consolidate the development of choreography within a government-funded organisation.
The first productions of 1995 to 2000 each bore the stamp of one of these choreographers: Malou Thein, Bernard Baumgarten and Jean-Guillaume Weis. The following years would see Annick Pütz, Sylvia Camarda, Anne-Mareike Hess, Gianfranco Celestino, Hannah Ma, Anu Sistonen and Yuko Kominami come onto the scene.
In 2005, after 10 years’ existence, TDM took the step that was required towards the professionalisation of dance: a change of status and a new form of contract with the Ministry of Culture, with TDM becoming the Centre de Création Chorégraphique Luxembourgeois, usually known as “TROIS C-L”. A space dedicated to the creation of new contemporary dance productions, TROIS C-L is now pursuing two key objectives, above all: supporting choreographers and companies based in Luxembourg in their creation processes, and raising public awareness of contemporary dance.
The dance sector today
In the same vein, further proof of the sector’s growth comes from the fact that the major theatres and cultural centres, such as the Luxembourg City Theatres, Esch Theatre, the Kinneksbond in Mamer, Neimënster Abbey, the Mierscher Kulturhaus, the Multi-Disciplinary Cultural Centre (CAPE) in Ettelbrück, the Opderschmelz Regional Cultural Centre (CCR) in Dudelange, Kulturfabrik in Esch-sur-Alzette, Rotondes in Luxembourg and Cube 521 in Marnach, have significantly increased the amount of choreographed shows they put on. This means that over 100 choreographed shows are staged every year, and the list of guest choreographers and companies from outside Luxembourg demonstrates how interested the centres and the public are: Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Josef Nadj, Sascha Waltz, Hofesh Shechter, Akram Khan, Mourad Merzouki, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Lloyd Newson, Angelin Preljocaj, Peeping Tom and William Forsythe, among others. As well as all those names, there are also shows by new choreographers from in- and outside Luxembourg. Many of these companies from outside Luxembourg are invited to take up residencies, during which they can finalise their creations, before presenting either a premiere or a preview on Luxembourg stages.
Although the big names in choreography who guested in the Grand Duchy did initially draw most of the public’s attention away from national scene, that is no longer the case. Luxembourg’s choreographers and companies have multiplied and increasingly become professionalised. Many of them have also made names for themselves outside the country.
There are now no fewer than 25 Luxembourg choreographers active in- and outside the country, with an average of 150 performances per year staged outside the country by its choreographers. New generations of choreographers are coming up with ideas for productions outside Luxembourg, and then developing them and putting them together there too. Choreographers such as Anne-Mareike Hess, Simone Mousset, Sarah Baltzinger, Léa Tirabasso, Jill Crovisier, Élisabeth Schilling, Annick Pütz, ou Valerie Reding have built up bulging address books. The increasing numbers of shows and residencies outside Luxembourg bears witness to how talented and invested they are.
Not to be outdone, the latest generation of choreographers are very committed to building their networks. Of these choreographers, Baptiste Hilbert and Catarina Barbosa, Jennifer Gohier and Grégory Beaumont, Giovanni Zazzera, Tania Soubry, Annick Schadeck, Rhiannon Morgan, William Cardoso, Saeed Hani and Georges Maikel are all names to look out for.
This fertile terrain, which has been developing for over 25 years, also is also attractive to young foreign choreographers, who choose to settle in Luxembourg.
It is interesting to note that women predominate in Luxembourg’s contemporary choreography scene. In addition, the aesthetics presented in the country’s artistic landscape are very varied and demonstrate a huge wealth of styles, techniques and influences, all marked by a strong commitment to interdisciplinarity. Within the choreography scene in Luxembourg, it is not unusual for choreographers to work with artists from other disciplines and you often see productions that have been created jointly by several people from different backgrounds. When creating their productions, choreographers also work with composers, set designers, costume designers, lighting and sound designers, administrators, etc. As such, there are a wide variety of professions involved in the sector.
Theatre directors, public bodies and private organisations support the search for more varied and personal aesthetics. The number of productions created by Luxembourg choreographers is some 15-20 per year. On top of those, there are international co-productions funded by several theatres.
Although Luxembourg still cannot be said to have a genuine national choreography repertoire, the efforts made in that regard need to be emphasised, in particular those relating to the creation of the Luxembourg choreography archives: within the Centre national de littérature / Lëtzebuerger Literaturarchiv (CNL), in Mersch, the Scientific Collaborator Daniela Lieb has tasked herself with compiling all the CNL’s information on the history of dance in Luxembourg.
Luxembourg has three conservatoires: Luxembourg City Conservatoire, the Music Conservatoire of Esch-sur-Alzette and the Northern Music Conservatoire. In parallel, several schools of music, private schools and dance associations carry out a great deal of top-quality dance teaching.
Nevertheless, there is not currently any professional training. The dance teaching in the conservatoires’ higher division provides students with pre-professional training. This means that many dancers who have graduated from the conservatoires choose to continue their professional training at the major professional training centres in Europe and elsewhere, assuming that they pass the demanding selection exams.
Following this training abroad, either they start working as dancers/actors, or they pursue careers in teaching. Some will be hired by choreographers or companies abroad, while others will return to Grand Duchy to dedicate themselves to teaching or to join the Luxembourg scene.
Efforts are made to help young people with making their decision. Consequently, the National Dance Confederation (CND) plays an important role in supporting these young dancers of the future. In November 2020, CND Luxembourg created a Junior Company, made up of 10 talented young dancers, aged 13-16, who will be able to work with choreographers from Luxembourg or other countries, while staying in the school system and at their dance school.
In addition, TROIS C-L tries to stay in contact with young dancers who are starting professional training abroad, in order to support them as they start their professional lives. This support takes the form of various grants and programmes, in particular to help them to develop their own choreography work, in particular through the Les Émergences and Les Nouveaux.velles Créateurs.trices programmes.
Institutions and support programmes
Apart from cultural organisations that produce or co-produce works of choreography, several institutions make available financial and/or organisational support for choreographers. The most important of these is the Ministry of Culture, which offers grants for creatives and some other specific grants. The Luxembourg choreography landscape is also characterised by the fact that there is no dance company which receives regular monthly payments from the State. However, in response to the extraordinary growth of creativity in Luxembourg, the Ministry of Culture recently created a programme to help choreography companies with organisational matters. It is a three-year pilot project intended to set up of professionalise companies’ administrative offices, so giving them the tools necessary for exporting their productions to other countries.
What is more, the Luxembourg National Cultural Fund (Focuna) and TROIS C-L offer numerous artistic residency opportunities abroad, mechanisms delivering mobility support to artists, and grants to support creativity, research and restarting the staging of productions. The Œuvre Nationale de Secours Grande-Duchesse Charlotte and numerous private foundations offer one-off financial support for some projects. Lastly, THEATER FEDERATIOUN also offer support on a one-off basis, in particular with the coordination of some events in- and outside Luxembourg.
Some Luxembourg organisations have set up systems whereby a choreographer based in the country can become an associate of that organisation, so that the choreographer’s work can become incorporated into the cultural and artistic action taking place in the venue that they operate. Notable cases of this are Neimënster Abbey, Esch Theatre, Trifolion (Echternach) and the Kulturfabrik cultural centre. Other cultural centres make their spaces available for research work, rehearsals and performances.
In 1985 the Festival Cour des Capucins was first held; it became Danz Festival Letzebuerg in 2005. Since then, several festivals in Luxembourg have been building and strengthening the public’s interest in contemporary dance. One of these is Aerowaves Dance Festival Lëtzebuerg, jointly organised every two years since 2015 by TROIS C-L and Neimënster Abbey; it is the result of these two institutions working closely with the Aerowaves – Dance across Europe network. Supported by the European Union programme created in 1996, which now has a total of 45 partners in 33 European countries, this network for dance seeks to present the most avant-garde and promising suggestions of European choreographers. Then there is TalentLAB. Organised jointly by the Luxembourg City Theatres, the Théâtre du Centaure, Enoa and TROIS C-L, it has been designed with a view to finding a formula for best helping, supervising and supporting emerging theatre, dance and opera talents in Luxembourg. TalentLAB takes the form of a festival that combines a creativity lab, a platform for debates and discussions, and the performance of shows. Another noteworthy event is FlamencoFestivalEsch, which is held annually in Esch-sur-Alzette and Luxembourg City. Organised by Kulturfabrik and Círculo Cultural Español Antonio Machado, this festival seeks to raise awareness of the art of flamenco in its various aesthetics. Reserved for amateurs, the Intra-Urban Festival – organised by the Luxembourg City local authority and the Luxembourg City Tourist Office – showcases the various styles of urban dance. Other multidisciplinary festivals, such as the Festival de Wiltz, the Fundamental Monodrama Festival and the Blast Furnace Festival in Esch/Belval offer dance shows in all styles. Countless shows put on by the cultural services of different towns, by private organisations, and by museums and galleries put the spotlight on dance from in- and outside Luxembourg.
National and international recognition
The international mobility of dancers and choreographers is one of the priorities set by the Ministry of Culture, through Kultur | lx, TROIS C-L and Focuna, among others. Major events in which Luxembourg seeks to promote and highlight its contemporary choreography scene abroad include internationale tanzmesse nrw, the Festival d’Avignon, the Lyon Dance Biennale, and the events run by the Aerowaves and Grand Luxe networks. The country also had a presence, albeit a more marginal one, at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, the Luxembourg pavilions at which presented the work of the country’s choreographers and other artists; the same will be true in October 2021, at the rescheduled 2020 World Expo in Dubai.
In addition, the residencies offered by Focuna to Ufer Studios of Berlin at to Chapelle Sainte-Marie of Annonay, France represent major vectors for raising the profile of Luxembourg contemporary dance outside the Grand Duchy. Several residency exchanges set up by TROIS C-L with its international partners also offer choreographers numerous opportunities to present their work outside Luxembourg. TROIS C-L’s membership of several international networks enables it to showcase the work of Luxembourg choreographers.
Some Luxembourg choreographers have been awarded numerous national and international prizes. Every two years since 2011, the Ministry of Culture has been awarding a dance prize called the Lëtzebuerger Danzpräis, which is intended to reward the artistic merit of choreographic work by a choreographer or dancer. The winners of this prize have been Sylvia Camarda in 2011, Giovanni Zazzera in 2013, Anne-Mareike Hess in 2015, Simone Mousset in 2017 and Jill Crovisier in 2019.
Media coverage, audience interaction and outreach
Thanks to the high quality of the works staged in the various theatres and other venues, dance has gained a prominent place in the national press. Luxembourg choreographers’ growing success outside the country has also increased media interest. Organisations give members of the press numerous exclusive opportunities to ask questions of artists. There are a great deal of independent journalists and bloggers writing on art and culture who are interested Luxembourg choreographers’ work. That is particularly true for the blog La Glaneuse, which is dedicated to contemporary dance in Luxembourg.
There is also audience interaction through conferences and events. Several theatres offer after-show talkbacks, so that the audience can learn about the approach taken by the choreographer(s) and discuss the performance.
All organisations and theatres do a large amount of work through schools and out-of-school dance clubs to raise awareness of the performing arts among young people. Rotondes and the Luxembourg City Theatres are the venues that do the most work to engage with young people. Although efforts are made and young people are very interested in dance, there is not yet a programme along the lines of “Dance in School”. However, discussions between the institutions, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of the National Education System, Childhood and Young People leave room for hope of progress in this field.
In conclusion, dance is an integral part of Luxembourg’s national cultural scene. Luxembourg benefits from the richness of this sector, in which both the artists and the cultural organisations demonstrate openness to the most diverse and innovative aesthetics, to varied influences and techniques, and to a mixture of genres and ideas from across the board. The international impact of the contemporary scene in Luxembourg illustrates the high quality of the work done by the creatives involved.
(TROIS C-L – Centre de Création Chorégraphique Luxembourgeois)