The city of peace, justice and dance

Interview Emily Molnar & Samuel Wuersten

The eighteenth Holland Dance Festival will open on 3 February 2022 with a grand, festive premiere program by Nederlands Dans Theater, in the new cultural temple of The Hague: Amare. It is the result of the almost immediate connection Emily Molnar, artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theater since last year, and Holland Dance Festival Director Samuel Wuersten felt upon meeting. As audience members, we can look forward to more collaborations in the future. Molnar: “I hope it will lead to a lot of vibrancy. That together, we’ll be able to make new and unexpected things happen.”

Text: Astrid van Leeuwen

They had run into each other from time to time, at festivals in Israel and Canada, among others. And they knew each other’s reputations. Emily Molnar: “I visited the Holland Dance Festival a long time ago and know many of the productions that were staged during the festival these past years. It’s an important, very international festival, but what makes it particularly unique is that it’s so unbelievably diverse, with productions from all over the world and from extremely varied genres. While many festival directors are focused on a specific niche within dance, Samuel has a more holistic view of the art of dance, sets out to fulfill today’s needs of both dancers and the audience.”

Samuel Wuersten: “Emily is praised, and rightly so, for everything she achieved during the six years she was artistic director of Ballet BC in Vancouver. She managed to guide the company out of a difficult impasse (financially and artistically – ed.) and put Ballet BC on the map internationally. When it came out that she would come  of Nederlands Dans Theater in The Hague, I received all sorts of worried and jealous phone calls from Canada: they would have preferred to keep her there, and many Canadian companies and institutions saw her as their next director. I’m flattered that she chose ‘us’. And what’s more, I think it’s very brave that she took a leap into a completely new situation and, for her, new country – all in the midst of a pandemic.”


The connection was almost immediate during the meetings Wuersten organized to welcome Molnar to the Netherlands, one of which was a welcome lunch with the directors of the other three big dance companies in the Netherlands. Wuersten and Molnar, in unison: “We should turn that one into an annual tradition.”

Wuersten: “Especially now, with the opening of Amare, I believed it was important to see whether or not we could collaborate more closely. Due to various circumstances, the Holland Dance Festival hasn’t opened with a Nederlands Dans Theater production since 2009, despite the fact it would be obvious for a big international dance festival in The Hague to open with the biggest international dance company The Hague has. But even without taking that into consideration, I very much wanted to intensify the contact with Emily. I was ready by now to meet someone with new, fresh ideas within the Dutch dance world, to hear someone of whom I didn’t already know all the words and opinions. That’s why I invited Emily to urate the upcoming edition of the festival with me.”

Molnar: “I also felt a natural urge to strengthen the connection between Nederlands Dans Theater and Holland Dance Festival (which used to be very intense, under the leadership of NDT director Jiří Kylián – ed.). As a big dance organization, I believe it is our responsibility: we need to be open to what the public, the dancers, other dance organizations and the artistic community around us have to offer and to what we can learn from them. And when I say the public, I mean not just the regular dance audience, but the non-dance audience in particular.”

Wuersten: “That was one of the biggest points we agreed on right from the start: we want our performances and activities to reach more people than just the loyal dance lovers. In the Netherlands, people often speak about the term ‘accessible’ with a hint of condescension. That makes me angry sometimes, because when you present an accessible performance, it doesn’t have to mean that you compromise on quality – i  contrast to what many people believe. I for one continue to be endlessly fascinated by how you can create a menu that has something for everyone: from small, exquisite dishes to abundant multi-course dinners, or from intimate gems for a select audience to large-scale productions that also enthrall young people and other, new audiences.”


In the opening program of Holland Dance Festival you can see those different elements: the work of old masters, permanent partners, and new names. The program consists of a performance of Jiří Kylián’s intriguing, almost staccato Toss of a Dice, a new creation by associate choreographer Marco Goecke, and former NDT star Marina Mascarell’s first work for NDT 1.

Molnar: “I think it’s an absolute pleasure that NDT and Holland Dance Festival are joining forces for this. We can show the Netherlands – and far beyond – that when it comes to dance, this is what The Hague is capable of. And we can create an exchange in audiences: people who used to only attend the festival might come back to us later and, on our part, we can point the audience to the wonderful, unique offerings of Holland Dance Festival. What’s more: the beauty of being part of a festival is that you create momentum, a vibrant atmosphere, a feeling of absolutely needing to be part of it!”

Wuersten: “And thanks to the perfect tip from Emily, we are presenting the Ballet de Marseille, for example, which is going in a completely new and exciting direction under the leadership of the idiosyncratic theater collective (LA)HORDE.”

From left to right: Leontien Wiering, managing director Amare, Jan Zoet, director Amare, Samuel Wuersten, general & artistic director Holland Dance Festival, Emily Molnar, artistic director Nederlands Dans Theater and Geesje Prins, head of programming Amare. Photo: Sjoerd Derine

Wuersten and Molnar will continue to work to get the greatest, most sensational, and most striking dance productions to The Hague, also outside the parameters of the festival. Together with Amare director Jan Zoet, they recently founded FIND, a new promotion fund for international dance, of which the program council consists of Molnar, Wuersten, and – on behalf of Amare – managing director Leontien Wiering and head of programming Geesje Prins.

As such, the three organizations are following in the footsteps of the guest programming department of Het Muziektheater Amsterdam, who brought the biggest, most important international companies to the Netherlands from their opening in 1986 until the 2009/2010 season. Wuersten: “One of the problems Het Muziektheater faced, apart from a lack of funds, was that De Nationale Opera and Het Nationale Ballet needed the stage for themselves most days, for rehearsals and performances. In that respect, our chances are better: Amare has plenty of space for extra programming. Now  it’s time to get the ball rolling.” Molnar: “Our aim is to bring four or five big productions to The Hague every season.”

Molnar and Wuersten each have their own wish lists for that, and they turned out to match pretty well. Wuersten: “Unlike they did in the guest programming department, we don’t go for specific companies as such, but instead we choose special productions. An exception to that rule is Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s famous Rosas from Brussels, who we’ve invited for May 2022, but there’s a good reason for that: the group has never performed in The Hague before.”

Molnar: “In any event, we’re focusing on companies who have their own spectrum or approach, like – apart from Rosas – the Flemish Peeping Tom, for example, or the French choreographer Yann Bourgeois. Apart from that, we mostly want to offer additional programming, we’re looking closely at what Amsterdam is already offering, for example. One of the genres we’re particularly interested in, is the multidisciplinary production; there’s so much going on in the world right now.”

Photo: Rahi Rezvani

Wuersten hopes that The Hague will be able to strengthen its reputation as dance city of the Netherlands even further. He says, firmly: “To me, The Hague is ‘the city of peace, justice, and dance’, period! And at Holland Dance Festival, we’ve always tried to contribute to that reputation, I’ve always seen that as a responsibility we have toward the city of The Hague.” That’s why it’s his dream that the collaboration with Nederlands Dans Theater will turn out to be ‘successful, productive, and enriching’. “That people will say, later on: that collaboration between Nederlands Dans Theater and Holland Dance Festival, wow, yes, that truly changed something, it really resulted in something.”

Molnar most of all hopes that their collaboration will lead to a lot of vibrancy. “That there will be excitement, that together, we’ll be able to make new and unexpected things happen. Performances and projects people don’t just respond to with ‘I liked it’ or ‘I hated it’, but events that do something, that touch people in their hearts and make them talk to each other. So that there’s truly something special happening in The Hague, and that you’ll feel it throughout the city.”