Theater as a meeting place, not as a form of representation
It all started with backyard multipurpose rooms and a factory hall.
Today, DOCK 11 is an important dance stage with an attached studio complex and a guest house. It stands for one thing above all: diversity of style.
An inventory by Astrid Kaminski
Whether flooded with water, filled with earth, emptied or with a tribune, every weekend the theater hall of DOCK 11 is transformed into a different biotope. There are no season breaks. The demand is too big. Hundreds of artists have performed at our stage. With a maximum of 99 seats, it offers a rather intimate setting that is not only used by newcomers. Rather, the stage space and its possibilities accompany many dance artists over many years of their careers.
Ideas can emerge that are not necessarily aimed at a form of representation, but rather emerge from encounters or are designed as encounters. The universally praised team of technicians is an important factor. Already in 1996 Felix Ruckert transformed the space for his research on dance and encounter ("Hautnah") into 1:1 stagings. Such formats were still very rare at that time and postdramatic theater was more theory than practice. Choreographer Amanda Miller created a work at the contemplative opposite pole of the process-oriented when she invited Buddhist monks - with the consent of the Dalai Lama - to place sand mandalas in the space (OT, 2004).
Later, Nir de Volff, who now leads the first inclusive German dance company in Leipzig, developed the various stages of his successful Wir-schaffen-das choreography "Come as you are" (2017) with Syrian refugees at DOCK 11. During the first year of Corona, 2020, Peter Pleyer and Michiel Keuper were able to found their company Cranky Bodies. And therefore produced a durational performance. They are one of the very few Berlin initiatives in recent years to take responsibility for a group over a longer period of time.
Wibke Janssen and Kirsten Seeligmüller, the founders and managing directors of DOCK 11, started shortly after the german reunion. After it, the two, originally from Hamburg, were drawn to the eastern part of the city. They were interested in what would ideally remain positive from the East: a different relationship to work and money, the role of the woman. At first, they rented one room, a backyard loft at Kastanienallee 79, in Prenzlauer Berg. It seemed, they recall, as if the place, previously used for offices and various trades, had been sort of abandoned..
Phone calls were made in the phone booth on the corner of Oderberger Straße. Standing in line was part of it. Those who had no luck with the phone communication used notes that were slipped under front doors. This did not have a negative effect on the energy of the group. In the backyard they gutted and renovated, rehearsed with their own company in the morning, held classes in the afternoon. During weekends they held performances and legendary parties on the decrepit site. The Rainbirds played, as well as Bob Rutman in combination with musicians from Einstürzende Neubauten.
But soon the community became too big and the space too tight. In 1996, the factory building in the courtyard was converted into a theater. In order to be ready in time for Tanz im August, the internationally important Berlin summer dance festival, they held a public event to install the windows. The hall is held simple and spacious. The original building fabric will be preserved and carefully restored using ecological materials. The rest of the loft was then grown to three large studios for the approximately 15 daily dance classes and a café. They managed to find companies to make advance payments. The installation of the remaining windows and the heating system are not paid off at the bank, but at craftsmen's businesses.
It wasn´t that easy to convince the banks. The rental contract expired and the owner wanted to sell the building. Fortunately, he remained fair with his demands. The DOCK 11 GbR managed to buy the building and found a partner in the GLS Bank that made the purchase possible.
In 2009, after many years of effort, the EDEN***** branch was opened in Pankow, where several studio buildings were built on a park-like site. It is funded with funds from the Stiftung Deutsche Klassenlotterie (German Lottery Foundation), offering rehearsal rooms, residency apartments and a flexible stage for up to 300 audience members. Artists, as well as universities and foreign cultural institutes, rent space there.
The quality of the studios is undeniable. Peter Pleyer, the trainer and choreographer who directed the event Tanztage at Sophiensæle from 2007 to 2014 and also acts as an advisor to DOCK 11, is happy for the scene: "Together with the Uferstudios, we now have two excellently equipped rehearsal venues in the north of the city.“ Pleyer doesn´t see the danger of a competitive situation, the demand is too big for that. For the constantly growing Berlin dance scene being able to rehearse under good conditions has become an important component of international connectivity. The ability to act flexibly between rehearsal, research and showings is also geared to the needs of new presentation formats.
The studios are fully booked all year round. Those who have been there once usually come back. Depending on the budget of the productions and the status of their own turnover, the managers can react flexibly to requests and also give the studios to artists who are less well equipped financially. Meg Stuart, Laurent Chétouane and the Dance On Ensemble rehearse at EDEN*****, many praise the atmosphere and the clear, breathing spaces.
EDEN***** is recalling a scene from Wim Wenders movie about Pina Bausch. In the movie the dancer Damiano Ottavio Bigiin dances in a completely glassed-in studio in the forest and it seems as if a common energy emerges between the movements and the presence of the trees and the dance. This is also the case in Pankow. The buildings there were practically pushed between the trees - not a single one had to be felled. Together with them, the dancers experience the seasons and the movements of the weather, such as the wind and the play of light. The well-made spaces still seem atypical for Berlin - so generously conceived, grown out of the DIY post-reunion aesthetic, that it feels as a trip to Scandinavian generosity and expansiveness.
Or to put it another way: in these studios, which can also be transformed into performance and exhibition venues, the dance scene becomes connectable to the international cosmopolitan flair of today's Berlin. Kirsten Seeligmüller's and Wibke Janssen's studio dance park in Pankow and the charismatic factory hall in Prenzlauer Berg connect the city's history and present in this way.
The even more connecting essential, is: the element of encounter. As a theater hall, DOCK 11 is unthinkable without the adjoining areas. The mixed financial situation is one factor, but more important are the opportunities for encounters through the (professional) training courses. They emerge through the common breaks of rehearsing choreographers or through the exchange in the café and garden between Berlin-based artists and international ones who rent the guest rooms. In the process, an exchange about ideas, new techniques, aesthetics, jobs, touring opportunities, or even the desire to collaborate, develops. Spaces, which stand for more than a shift system, were missing in Berlin for years.
On this point, it's worth looking beyond the city's borders to Vienna, to Europe's largest dance festival, ImPulsTanz. In the worldwide scene, it is considered a place where art and technology, conversation and experimentation, night-long dancing and discourse come together in a very large space for four weeks each summer. The organisers try to make it possible for artists to be guests at the festival for as long as possible. The guests have different functions, this guarantees an atmosphere full of encounters and togetherness. In Berlin, where there is yet no state-supported dance venue, it is DOCK 11, EDEN****, Tanzfabrik and the Uferstudios that offer such important meeting spaces.
It is important to us that the dance which is produced in Berlin, is also shown here. The changeable character of DOCK 11 which oscillates between showcase, rehearsal stage and stage theater therefore continues to form an important constant of dance creation. To this day, the hall is Berlin's only stage dedicated primarily to dance. Thanks to the Senate funding since 2006, which has been transformed into conceptual funding until 2024. The stage can be offered to artists without additional payment and each production can rehearse for an entire week in the performance spaces. These are conditions that hardly exist outside the ensemble sector. Often there is only one stage rehearsal at independent venues.
It is important to us that the dance which is produced in Berlin, is also shown here. The changeable character of DOCK 11 which oscillates between showcase, rehearsal stage and stage theater therefore continues to form an important constant of dance creation. To this day, the hall is Berlin's only stage dedicated primarily to dance. DOCK 11 is funded by the Senate funding since 2006, which has been transformed into conceptual funding until 2024. Through this funding the stage can be offered to artists without additional payment and each production can rehearse for an entire week in the performance spaces. These are conditions that hardly exist outside the ensemble sector. Often there is only one rehearsal stage at independent venues.
Festivals and thematic focuses arise not on paper but, like the dance film festival Pool or the neighboring country showcase "Un/polished," through the synergies of the locations and their possibilities as well as the meeting place character of the location. For example, the research and performance festival b12 - initiated and organized by Johannes Wieland and Evangelos Poulinas - has since developed into an internationally recognized magnet. The location has also become important for the independent Israeli scene. For years, there has been a lively exchange between the MASH dance house in Jerusalem and DOCK 11. During regular mutual visits, a festival program and a network for artists with a focus on work in the two countries is formed.
At this point, another bridge between the past and the present appears: the studios of the theater emerged in rooms that were built in 1895 as an antique and oak strip factory. Dr. Kurt Rosenfeld, the son of the building owner at the time, became known as the criminal defense attorney for Rosa Luxemburg, Walter Bullerjahn and Carl von Ossietzky. His piece of the site was confiscated by the Gestapo in 1933.The confrontation with Jewish history, which is in permanent revision in Berlin, is thus also strongly felt in DOCK 11 - it was and remains the subject of energetic debate and research.
The diversity of the orientation and the scope of DOCK 11's network are essential for the theater's program in every aspect - in terms of content as well as aesthetics. Butoh is shown next to contemporary concept dance, neoclassical influenced dance and postmodern dance, Eva-Meyer-Keller's space art oriented to visual art or the dream research world of Anna Novicka. The Polish, Israeli and Greek independent scenes are regular quests at DOCK 11 as well as the international dance film festival Pool - which is also known for the long guest dinner tables. Organic growth, the nourishment of the existing, commonality and shared experience are more important to the makers than curatorial mottos or a best-of selection.
Nevertheless, there is a selection process. It is necessary to review all the applications. This is done by the managing directors and by a network of curatorial advisors. Staff members also have the opportunity to support artists they consider important by making themselves available for consultation or writing grant applications. Within the framework of the current concept funding, co-production contributions can also be given to artists.
"Diversity of style" is a declared desire of Dock 11. With all the space for relationships and encounters, openness for the not yet perceived and surprising should remain. In addition to the respectful coexistence of aesthetics, the effort to create equal, non-hierarchical working relationships motivates the managing directors in their now 30-year collaboration. High ideals and pragmatism - does not seem to be a contradiction at DOCK 11.
Geschäftsführerinnen: Wibke Janssen, Kirsten Seeligmüller
Programm: Wibke Janssen, Peter Pleyer
Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit: Katja Karouaschan
Künstlerische Produktionsleiterin: Anna Bergel
Kommunikation: Kerstin Böttcher
Text: Jette Büchsenschütz
Graphik / Layout: Kirsten Seeligmüller
Produktion: Ayako Toyama
Social Media: Harriet Meyer
Buchhaltung: Cornelia Conrad
Technische Leitung: Asier Solana
Technische Betreuung: Fabian Bleisch, Naia Burucoa, Roy Carol, Julian Hoffmann, Daniel Paiva de Miranda, Yoann Trellu
Technische Assistenz: Thiago Rosa d Santos Olivera
Vorstellungsbetreuung / Abendkasse: Frieda Hicks, Harriet Meyer, Jella Nonnenmacher, Pauline Payen, Dora Sasvari