Hans van Manen (born Nieuwer Amstel, 1932) had his first ballet classes in the Amsterdam Studio of Sonia Gaskell, who engaged him as a dancer in her group Ballet Recital in 1951. He went on to dance with, among others, the Netherlands Opera Ballet and Roland Petit's Ballets de Paris. In 1957 he made his debut as a choreographer with the ballet Feestgericht. From 1961 to 1970 Hans van Manen was co-artistic director of Netherlands Dance Theatre, and from 1973 to 1987 resident choreographer of The Dutch National Ballet. In 1988 he returned to Netherlands Dance Theatre also as resident choreographer. Van Manen has created almost one hundred ballets, 36 of which have been in the repertoire of The Dutch National Ballet. Van Manen is one of the few choreographers to have succeeded in popularizing modern ballet — as a fusion of classical ballet and modern dance and other movement techniques — across a wide audience. He also ranks as one of the groundbreaking dance-makers who, particularly in the 1960s, helped formulate the now commonly accepted synthesis of academic and other dance techniques. Certain aspects of Van Manen's choreography have gone on to become trademarks of his style: clarity and apparent simplicity, and the extremely balanced, almost mathematical, structure of his dance compositions. Generally speaking Van Manen's oeuvre is governed by formal and structural principles. Much of his work, for Netherlands Dance Theatre in particular, is experimental in character, with Solo for Voice I (1986) and Mutations (1970) as some of the most striking examples. With The Dutch National Ballet Van Manen's choreographic style became more classical and the atmosphere of his ballets, particularly in the 1970s, more courtly and romantic in their mood-imagery. The romantic element of his works always focuses on human relationships, coloured by the erotic interplay of attraction and repulsion. Among his most lyrically romantic works are Adagio Hammerklavier (1973) — for many one of his artistic highpoints — 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 0979).
Van Manen's international fame is widespread, as is borne out by the forty-odd companies around the world with his works in their repertoire. His ballets have been danced by many of the great international stars, including Anthony Dowell, Marcia Hayde, Natalia Makarova and Rudolf Nureyev. In 1991 Van Manen was awarded the Sonia Gaskell Prize for his whole oeuvre, and in particular for the three pas de deux he created in the 1990/1991 season: Two, Theme and Andante. Also in 1991 the ballet Two was awarded the VSCD Choreographic Prize. Quite early in his career Hans van Manen achieved wide recognition in Germany, and in 1993 he was awarded the German Dance Prize. In 1997 he received the GinoTani International Prize and 3 november 2000 the prestigious Erasmusprize. Laureat of the Benois de la Danse-2005.