This year, the grand master of Dutch dance Hans van Manen will turn ninety years old. To honor him, The Dutch National Ballet will present an extensive and diverse program of his work. Alongside, the exhibition Dance in Close-Up at Galerie Ron Mandos celebrates a forty-year friendship between Hans van Manen and Erwin Olaf. The project includes a series of photographs and videos in which Hans van Manen directs moments from thirteen different choreographies, captured in detail by Erwin Olaf himself.

Olaf was only 24 years old when he first met Van Manen working on a photoshoot for the Dutch magazine Sek – the official publication of LGBTQ+ activist organization COC. At the time, Van Manen was not only one of the world’s leading choreographers, but also a celebrated photographer. Taking Olaf by the hand, Van Manen introduced him to the world of fine art. The American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe was one of their biggest inspirations. This influence reappears in the series, exemplified in the square photographs shot with a Hasselblad camera – the same camera Olaf brought with him when first photographing Van Manen in 1983.


As the title suggests, Dance in Close-Up is a detailed series of dance poses captured on film – each of them exuding the singular language of Van Manen’s oeuvre. The photos show fragments of bodies, athletic motions, sculpted torsos, outstretched limbs and searching hands. Olaf brings us closer to the performers than any theatre. Yet, his photographs are not merely capsules – capturing dance’s inherent fluidity and motion: a perfectly balanced pirouette or dramatic leap through the air. Instead, Olaf captures dance’s kinetic opposite: stillness. In freezing these bodies we are drawn away from an expected dynamism – towards the rich subtleties in the gestures and emotions of the dancers themselves.

For the exhibition, designers Tom Postma and Mihaela Radescu have translated elements of Van Manen’s choreography into space. Here, curved walls represent bodies in pose, like the arched backs or angled limbs of the dancers. This new architecture performs as a delicate guide to the visitors’ experience. Postma and Radescu have composed a new atmosphere, shaped to bear all the intimacy and vulnerability that unfurled during Van Manen and Olaf’s lifelong friendship – a friendship that now informs this new collaboration, birthing Dance in Close-Up.

For this project, we work closely together with the Dutch National Ballet, Holland Festival, NTR, and Hannibal Books.

The Dutch National Ballet celebrates the birthday of Hans van Manen lavishly with a Hans van Manen Festival. From June 8 to June 29, the international dance world gathers at the Dutch National Opera & Ballet in Amsterdam to perform a selection of ballets from Van Manen’s extensive oeuvre. The festival is part of the Holland Festival program. More information and tickets: operaballet.nl

Joost van Krieken and cameraman Thomas Kist of NTR followed Hans van Manen and Erwin Olaf during the making of Dance in Close-Up. The five-part documentary series Erwin Olaf eert Hans van Manen is broadcasted every Sunday from June 5 to July 3 on Dutch television NPO 2. An excerpt from the documentary series is included in the exhibition. It shows us the artists’ friendship and makes us marvel at the beauty of dance. Read more about the documentary here.

Hannibal Books published the catalogue of Dance in Close-Up, which contains the photographs by Erwin Olaf, and essays by Michael James Gardner and Nina Siegal. The book can be purchased via the website of Hannibal Books or at Galerie Ron Mandos.


ABOUT Erwin Olaf

Erwin Olaf (1959-2023) was known for his diverse practice that centered around society’s marginalized individuals, including people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. In 2019, Olaf became a Knight of the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands after 500 works from his oeuvre were added to the collection of the Rijksmuseum. Taco Dibbits, Rijksmuseum director, called Olaf “one of the most important photographers of the final quarter of the 20th century”.

In 2018, Olaf completed a triptych of monumental photographic and filmic tableaux portraying periods of seismic change in major world cities, and the citizens embraced and othered by their urban progress. Like much of his work, it is contextualized by complex race relations, the devastation of economic divisions, and the complications of sexuality. Olaf maintained an activistic approach to equality throughout his 40-year career after starting out documenting pre-AIDS gay liberation in Amsterdam’s nightlife in the 1980s.

A bold and sometimes controversial approach earned the artist a number of prestigious collaborations, from Vogue and Louis Vuitton, to the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. He served as the official portrait artist for the Dutch royal family in 2017, and designed the national side of the euro coins for King Willem-Alexander in 2013. He was awarded the Netherlands’ prestigious Johannes Vermeer Award, as well as Photographer of the Year at the International Color Awards, and Kunstbeeld magazine’s Dutch Artist of the Year. In 2023, His Majesty the King Willem-Alexander awarded him the Medal of Honor for Art and Science of the Order of the House of Orange.

Erwin Olaf exhibited worldwide, including Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga, Málaga, Spain; Museu da Imagem e do Som, São Paulo, Brazil; Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany; Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA; and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Santiago, Chile. In the spring of 2019, Olaf’s work was the subject of a double exhibition at Kunstmuseum The Hague and The Hague Museum of Photography, as well as a solo exhibition at the Shanghai Center of Photography. In 2021, Erwin Olaf had his first solo exhibition Im Wald at Galerie Ron Mandos and mounted a large survey exhibition at Kunsthalle München, Germany.

Olaf’s work is included in numerous private and public collections, such as the Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museum, both in Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, Paris, France; Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany; Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, The Netherlands; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, United States; Art Progressive Collection, United States; and the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia.

Visit the artist’s website here.