Hans van Manen (Nieuwer Amstel, the Netherlands) had his first ballet lessons in the late forties from Sonia Gaskell, who engaged him as a dancer in her group Ballet Recital in 1951. Van Manen went on to dance with the Netherlands Opera Ballet and Roland Petit's Ballets de Paris.
In 1957, he made his debut as a choreographer with the ballet Feestgericht, which received the State Award for Choreography. From 1961 onwards, Van Manen has worked alternately with the two main dance companies of the Netherlands. After co-directing Nederlands Danstheater, he became a resident choreographer – first with the Dutch National Ballet, then with Nederlands Danstheater. Since 2005, he has once again held the post of resident choreographer with the Dutch National Ballet.
Van Manen's international fame is widespread, illustrated by the fact that his ballets are performed by more than fifty companies worldwide. His ballets have been performed by many of the great international stars, including Anthony Dowell, Marcia Haydée, Natalia Makarova and Rudolf Nureyev.
Van Manen is one of the few choreographers to have succeeded in bringing modern ballet – as a fusion of classical ballet and modern dance and other movement techniques – to a wide audience. Much of his work, particularly for Nederlands Danstheater, is experimental in character, with Solo for Voice I (1986) and Mutations (1970) among the most striking examples.
With the Dutch National Ballet, Van Manen's choreographic style became more classical. Among his most lyrically romantic works are Adagio Hammerklavier (1973), Four Schumann Pieces (1975), Grand Trio (1978) and Piano Variations III (Trois Gnossiennes) (1982). The most striking of the more experimental ballets that Van Manen created for The Dutch National Ballet include the duet Twilight and the video ballet Live (1979). Recent works by Hans van Manen include Frank Bridge Variations (2005), Six Piano Pieces (2006), Tears (for the programme In Space in 2008) and Without Words (2010).
Van Manen has now created more than 120 ballets. The many awards he has received include the Sonia Gaskell Prize, the VSCD Choreography Award, the Deutsche Tanzpreis, the Benois de la Danse Lifetime Achievement Award and the City of Duisburg Music Prize. In 2000, he was awarded the Erasmus Prize for his special services to Dutch dance. In 2103 he was awarded a Benois de la Danse for his choreography Variations for two couples, created for the programme Present/s.
In 2007, the Dutch National Ballet organised the Hans van Manen Festival, dedicated to the choreographer and his work on the occasion of his 75th birthday. For three weeks in September, the company presented 25 ballets in 6 different programmes, performed by 8 leading international companies. During the festival, Hans Van Manen was made a Commander in the Order of the Netherlands Lion.
In july 2012 Van Manen celebrated his 80th birthday.