The branch of the Venice Biennale dedicated to contemporary dance was established in 1998, after which for some years the shows had been included as an integration of the music sector.
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First director was Carolyn Carlson, a famous American dancer and choreographer who worked so much in France and Italy as creator of important shows related to the dance of the past century. Carlson remained in command of the fledgling institution until 2002, and the shows presented over the years were developed in specific thematic sections held between May and October as part of the "dance music" season.
In 1999 the Green Theater was reopened on the Island of S.Giorgio on the occasion of the Parabola production created by the director of the Venetian festival and Gianni De Luigi, while between September and October of the same year thirteen shows were made during the "Solo Donna - only woman”, at the Goldoni Theater of the lagoon city. At the Cini Foundation, on the other hand, the training of new dancers from the Academy of Dance was carried out, the first of modern and contemporary dance in Italy.
On June 28, 2000 the shows opened at the Green Theater, which went on successfully until September 7 with the Sacred Dances of the Tibetan Monks, the Padmasambhava Ceremonies and the Tcham Dances. The work of training the new stars of contemporary dance was carried out within the Academy of dance, with the help of international names such as Ptatrick King, Henry Smith up to our own Caterina Sagna, Michele Abbondanza and Antonella Bertoni.
In March 2001 there was the festival "Shakespeare & Shakespeare", a project that involved various sectors of the Venetian Biennale. The actual program of the Dance Festival was developed starting from June 5th, with productions by Carolyn Carlson and J.Bauys Song, until July 13th, with the show by André Simard. Great success for the Dance Academy, with 300 requests for insertion and auditions of 175 dancers from all over the globe.
On March 15, 2002, the presentation at the Malibran Theater of the show "Waltz thru Time", created by the director of the dance Biennale in collaboration with Larrio Ekson, and with music by Gavin Bruyars and René Aubry, was exceptional.
The following year, a new formula for setting up live shows was tested: each sector should have been chaired annually by different artists, thus leading to no more four-year programming. In addition, the programming was inserted within a specific period of time, no longer in the summer months. The dance Biennale thus had its new director, specifically the Belgian Frédéric Flamand who presented a program aimed at investigating the urban path of the human body through fifteen cities around the world and with different modus vivendi. The International Contemporary Dance Festival thus opened on 12 June 2003 at the Teatro alle Tese, with the city of Charleroi, while between 14 June and 16 July six events were presented dedicated to the theme of the metropolis, specifically Tokyo, Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Montreal and New York.
In 2004, the American Karole Armitage was appointed director, who presented a work program focused on the language of dance. The dance Biennale was thus entitled "ABC ... The universal grammar of the body", and was divided into two sections, Old and New World. On 11 June there was the first show dedicated to the Old World, while the one dedicated to the New World was completed on 9 July with the show by Sarah Michelson.
The director of the following Biennale of contemporary dance was Ismael Ivo, an Afro-Brazilian dancer and choreographer eager to focus the theme of the Venetian festival on body language capable of expressing the greatest disturbances of the soul: between 8 and 2 July it was carried forward the "Body Attack" theme. Ivo was also director in 2006, thus managing to continue his analysis of the human body with the theme "Under Skin". The shows were staged over three weeks, starting with the world premiere of "Illuminata", by the director himself. On June 25, the final day of the Festival, the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement was awarded to Carolyn Carlson.
"Body & Eros" was the main theme of the 2007 Biennale, always directed by Ismael Ivo: fifteen companies and 31 international choreographers were invited, while a photographic exhibition by Guuy Delahaye accompanied the entire festival through images related to love and the strength of the bodies in intimacy. Two were the Golden Lions assigned: Pina Bush received the one for her career, while the best show of the festival was the one made by Chris Haring, "The Art of Seduction - Posing Project B".
In 2008 Ivo carried out his research on the body through the analysis of beauty in all its facets. Starting from June 14th, a path developed through shows, workshops, meetings and video installations began. The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement was the Czech Jirì Kyliàn, the main figure of the Nederlands Dans Theater.
On the occasion of the ten years of the International Festival of Contemporary Dance (2009), Ismael Ivo created the "Grado Zero" project, not a canonical festival but a series of study, show and reflection appointments. The formation of contemporary dance was the basis of the edition. On June 21, at the Piccolo Arsenale Theater, "A Vida Enorme" was staged, while on June 28 at the Teatro alle Tese the performance of the director himself, "The Waste Land" was made known.
The title of the 2010 contemporary dance Biennale was "capturing emotions": between May 26 and June 12, 36 performances, 5 world premieres, 7 European premieres were carried out with the participation of twenty choreographers and sixteen companies. A choreography laboratory, Choreographic Collision, was also inserted, with related meetings with the major exponents of international dance. Leone d'Oro was the American naturalized German choreographer William Forsythe.
The great protagonist of the 2011 Biennale was the Arsenal of dance: 25 dancers who participated in the 7 masterclasses directed by extraordinary names of the protagonist artistic form, such as Mario Ballester, Francesca Harper, Plimio Ferreira dos Santos, Ismael Ivo himself helped by Franca Pagliassotto and Luca della Corte. Six specific shows were also presented between 11 May and 25 June, including Ivo's new project entitled "Babylon - the third paradise" and the work of Emanuel Gat, "Brillant Corners".
Between 8 and 24 June 2012 there was the 8th International Contemporary Dance Festival: the title was "Awakenings", focused on the celebration of life and creativity. There were various venues in the lagoon city: Arsenale, Teatro alle Tese, Teatro Malibran and the unusual space of the city's Anglican Church. Countless shows, installations, conferences, workshops and master classes with very important names in contemporary dance were the basis of the 2012 Contemporary Dance Biennial, with inauguration at the Teatro alle Tese with the new choreography by Ismael Ivo, entitled "Body Library". The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement was delivered to the French Sylvie Guillem, protagonist, since 1976, of world dance and capable of redefining the figure of the dancer with incredible extraordinary and sensual virtuosity.