In 1983, the City of Lyon sounded out various cultural-institution chiefs to breanstorm for a new project in order to replace the waning Summer Festival, held at the Roman theatre of Fourvière. Guy Darmet, recently appointed to head of the Maison de la Danse (established in 1980), whose first seasons in the old concert hall of the Croix-Rousse quarter had met with great success, made a proposal – which was accepted – to stage a dance festival. From the start, he proposed to “biennialise” the event in order to maximise the public subsidies of each editions; and, most importantly, to create an event that truly complemented the Maison de la Danse, expanding its offering and attracting new audiences.
The first and superb edition of the Biennale was held in June 1984 – drawing 30,000 spectators, but generating a loss of one million francs for the non-profit body in charge of the event (the Association pour la Biennale Internationale de la Danse). The Mayor of Lyon, Francisque Collomb, was however keen to pursue the project, and decided that the Dance Biennale should alternate with the Hector Berlioz international Festival (founded by the Orchestre National de Lyon in the late seventies). The non-profit bodies behind each biennale merged, and Guy Darmet took advantage of this initiative to move the Dance Biennale in September.
The year 1986 saw the first edition of the Lyon Dance Biennale as we know it today. From then on, the event was built upon a simple idea: sweep away stylistic and geographical frontiers and offer, to the largest possible audience, every kind of current dance, whether rooted in ancient tradition – like butoh or flamenco – or emerging genres such as hip hop. Resulting in a Biennale that includes an initiatory journey, helping audiences to discover the century’s essential choreographic movements and fostering interaction and encounters with the new, and refusing to solely address an audience of aficionados.