Sonntag 21.04.24
From: Danse Suisse

Following our 1st Milestone, the Founding of Danse Suisse, discover the 2nd edition of the history of our organization. An interview between Gianni Malfer, former Managing Director and our President Kathleen McNurney gives insight into the continuing process of unification and the founding of the first official Danse Suisse office. The story goes back to Berne…

Kathleen: I know that you have always been involved in dance, both as a dancer and a dance organizer. But what I don't know is how you came to be involved in Danse Suisse?

Gianni: The journey began with a collaborative effort among dance stakeholders, led by Pro Helvetia. They convened on several significant occasions to address various issues within the dance community. One of the outcomes of these discussions was a paper titled "Project Tanz". This document outlined the need for unity and strategic planning within the dance sector, namely the fusion of the three major associations (see 1st Milestone Danse Suisse), which ultimately led to the formation of Danse Suisse. I was interested in that because I worked in Germany on similar projects. Most of my projects were with the Landesbüro Tanz, a very strong organization who created the Tanzmesse, and the Tanzplan. Dance needs to be strong, and we must have one common voice. The profession as such, dancing and all the related professions, were not really estimated or valued, or they didn't even exist at that point. Oliver Dähler and Theres Messerli asked me if I would like to work on the task of bringing the three associations together. I said yes, and they asked if I would be interested in becoming the president afterwards. And I said, by no means. That I don't want to do. At the time they did not ask me if I wanted to become managing director. That came later.

Kathleen: What were the primary objectives behind consolidating the three separate dance associations into Danse Suisse?

Gianni: The primary objective was to streamline the fragmented dance community into a unified entity, Danse Suisse. This was crucial because it was anticipated that from 2010 onwards, the Swiss government, specifically the BAK (Federal Office of Culture), would start subsidizing artist associations by law. By consolidating the three associations, we aimed to create a stronger, more organized front that could effectively represent the interests of dancers and secure necessary funding from the government.

Kathleen: How did this process lead to the first official office of Danse Suisse?

Gianni: Well, the process of unification and professionalization was relatively swift, spanning no longer than four months. It went fast. We transitioned to an office in Bern, located in a historic house, once owned by C.C. Jung's daughter, which was also next to a psychiatric practice. I found it very dark and a bit moist; complete with wallpaper and wall-to-wall carpeting. It was quite strange.

The last half year in Bern was already with Liliana Heldner Neil. As we commuted from Zürich, we ended up sitting in the train at 8 o'clock, opened our laptops and started to write, and answer and discuss things. We closed them, went to the office, and opened the laptops again. Nobody came, nobody rang, so we continued working. At the end of the day, we put the laptops away, and then in the train, continued with the laptops. Eventually we realized, that this was ridiculous!

So, Liliana came to my place in Zürich for half a year and that's where we worked.

However, the subsequent move to a private office on Kasernenstrasse in Zurich was facilitated by the Schweizerische Interpretengesellschaft (SIG), who purchased the property and extended an invitation to other associations. Reso decided to go there, and then, immediately Christoph Reichenau jumped on the train, and said, yes, we must go to Zurich. This move marked a significant step in centralizing operations and enhancing professionalism within the dance community.

Kathleen: How did Danse Suisse develop after the move to Zurich?

Gianni: Once Danse Suisse was unified, we had to start professionalizing all these projects: Talentscouting Days (at that time Berufberatungstage) the competition in Solothurn and summerdance. And, of course, summerdance was in Saignelégier. It took me three years to get to where I had wanted to be after one year. It was not easy at the beginning and lots of work. I particularly remember the many meetings called “Ständige Konferenz Tanz”, where we had to lay the legal foundations.

Kathleen: Does that also include the foundations of establishing the EFZ?

Gianni: That’s correct, but it was difficult because we had to bring Geneva and Zurich under one roof and include them both. And then it was even more complicated because Lausanne and Geneva both wanted the EFZ. Chirstoph Reichenau, president of Danse Suisse has been a huge help in this challenging process.

Kathleen: And now back to you Gianni. What was your strategy as managing director of the association?

Gianni: My experience helped me realize the importance of advocacy and collaboration in addressing the systemic issues in the dance industry. I recognized the need for a unified voice that could speak up for the recognition and support of dance as a profession. By working with stakeholders and leveraging strategic partnerships, we aimed to make the voices of dancers and choreographers heard and advocate for their needs at a regional and national level. In addition, through initiatives such as the Transition program, we emphasized our commitment to the professional development of dancers and the elimination of systems-based inequalities in the field.

Kathleen: Your dedication to advancing the dance profession in Switzerland is truly inspiring. How do you envision the future of Danse Suisse, particularly in terms of addressing the ongoing challenges and fostering growth within the dance community?

Gianni: Looking ahead, I believe Danse Suisse has a pivotal role to play in shaping the future of dance in Switzerland. This includes fostering collaboration with educational institutions, policymakers, and cultural organizations in order to secure funding and resources for dance initiatives, as well as prioritizing the professional development and well-being of dancers and choreographers. With a proactive approach and collective effort, I am confident that Danse Suisse will continue to serve as a vital catalyst for positive change within the Swiss dance landscape.

Kathleen: Thank you, Gianni, for sharing your insights and experiences with us. Your dedication to Danse Suisse and the Swiss dance community is truly commendable.

Gianni: It's been my pleasure!

Biography Gianni Malfer

Gianni Malfer began his dance studies in Zurich before completing his dance training in classical and contemporary dance at the Rambert Academy in London.

This was followed by engagements in Reggio Emilia (1983) and with Ballett Schindowski, Gelsenkirchen (1984-93).

He studied cultural management at the FernUni Hagen and managed various international dance festivals in North Rhine-Westphalia for ten years. Among other things, he worked for many years at the Landesbüro Tanz in Cologne and, as managing director of the Choreographisches Zentrum NRW (now PACT), developed a comprehensive training concept for dancers and aspiring choreographers in Essen.

In 2001 he became Heinz Spoerli's assistant at the Zurich Ballet. From 2007 to 2008 he worked as a material collector for the mediathek tanz.ch. In 2008, he took over the management of the restructured professional association of Swiss dance professionals, Danse Suisse, until April 2014.