Hans van Manen began his career in 1951 as a member of Sonia Gaskell's Ballet Recital. In 1952 he joined the Nederlandse Opera Ballet, where he created his first ballet, Feestgericht (1957). Later he joined Roland Petit's company in Paris. He began to work with the Nederlands Dans Theater in 1960, first as a dancer (until 1963), next as a choreographer, then as Artistic Director (1961- 1971). For the following two years he worked as a freelance choreographer before joining Het Nationale Ballet in Amsterdam in 1973. From 1988 – 2003 Hans van Manen was a resident choreographer of NDT, in 2003 he joined the Dutch National Ballet as a resident choreographer.
His body of work counts more than 120 ballets, each carrying his unmistakable signature. Clarity in structure and a refined simplicity are the elements in his work which have earned him the name ‘the Mondriaan of dance'.
Outside of the Netherlands, he has staged his ballets for such companies as the Stuttgart Ballett, Bayerisches Staatsballett München, Berlin Opera, Houston Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, Pennsylvania Ballet, English Royal Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, State Opera in Vienna, Tanzforum in Cologne , Compañia Nacional de Danza and Alvin Ailey.
Hans van Manen has also been awarded numerous prizes. In 1991 he received the Sonia Gaskell Prize for his entire body of work and the Choreography Prize from the Dutch Theater Guild for Two. In 1992, his 35th year as a choreographer, he was knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands in the Order of Orange Nassau .
In 1993 he was awarded the prestigious German Dance Prize for his influence on German dance the world over during the past twenty years. In 1996 the Dutch COC awarded him the Bob Angelo Medallion for “the way in which he portrays men and women, human relations and sexuality in his ballets and photography… which can aptly be named liberating in every way.”
In 1997 he received the Gino Tani International Prize in the category of Dance. In August of 1998, at the Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland , Hans van Manen was honored with a retrospective; his oeuvre was crowned with an Archangel, the Edinburgh Festival Critics Award 1998.
In November of 2000 he received the much-heralded Erasmus Prize for his outstanding achievements in Dutch dance. In November 2004 Hans van Manen received the Music Award of the German city Duisburg. In May 2005 Hans van Manen was awarded the Benois de la Danse for Lifetime Achievement; he also received the Grand Pas award. At the occasion of his 75th birthday Hans van Manen was appointed as Commandeur in de Orde van de Nederlandse Leeuw. The insignia were presented to him by Amsterdam's mayor Job Cohen, concluding the gala premiere of the Hans van Manen Festival. These special decorations are awarded to Van Manen, among other things because of his genius.
Along with Nederlands Dans Theater and Het Nationale Ballet, the Introdans Ensemble also has several of his ballets in their repertoire. Alongside his choreography work, Hans van Manen is also an acclaimed photographer, his work was being exhibited all over the world.