Hans van Manen began his ballet career in 1951 as a member of Sonia Gaskell’s Ballet Recital. In 1952 he joined the Nederlandse Opera Ballet, directed by Françoise Adret, where he created his first ballet, Feestgericht, in 1957. He later joined Roland Petit’s company in Paris. He began to work with Nederlands Dans Theater in 1960, as dancer (until 1963), and choreographer, and from 1961 until 1971 also as artistic director. For the following two years he worked as a freelance choreographer, until his appointment, in 1973, as choreographer/regisseur to Het Nationale Ballet in Amsterdam.
Abroad he has staged his ballets for amongst others the Stuttgart Ballet, Bayerisches Staatsballett München, Berlin Opera, Houston Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada, Pennsylvania Ballet, the Royal Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, the State Opera in Vienna, Tanzforum in Cologne and for Alvin Ailey.
In September 1988 Hans van Manen rejoined Nederlands Dans Theater as resident choreographer. In all he has made over fifty choreographies for this company.
In 1991 Van Manen received the Sonia Gaskell Prize for his repertoire and in particular for the three duets he created during the season 1990/91: Two, Theme and Andante. For his choreography Two, he received the choreography prize from the VSCD, the society of Dutch theatre directors, again in 1991.
In 1992 the year of his 35th anniversary as choreographer the Queen of the Netherlands awarded him with a Knighthood in the Order of Orange Nassau.
In 1993 Hans van Manen was awarded the German Dance Prize, for his influence in the German dance world over the past twenty years.
In 1996 he received the ‘Bob Angelo Penning 1996’ from the COC, the Dutch society for the integration of homosexuality, for ‘the way he portrays the images of men and women, human relations and sexuality in his ballets and photography, considered as liberating in many ways’.
In 1997 he was awarded the Gino Tani International Prize in the category ‘Dance’.
The Edinburgh International Festival 1998 presented a Hans van Manen retrospective with programmes by Nederlands Dans Theater and Het Nationale Ballet. In Edinburgh he was awarded the ‘Archangel’, the Critics Award for dance 1998.
From 1987 to 1988 Hans van Manen was the first Anton van Duinkerken Professor for Art and Culture at the University of Nijmegen.
Hans van Manen is also a photographer; his work can be admired in exhibitions all over the world.