Battery Dance Company (BDC) was awarded a grant via RFP from the U.S. Embassy Beijing to conduct the first full company Dancing to Connect program in China. The 1-week tour in Guangzhou was characterized by a two-pronged approach with highly attended marquee performances coupled with outreach programs targeting undeserved youth and older community members.
Participating Schools and Community Centers
Over the course of 5 days, 105 students and adult community members came together in the workshops for approximately 4 hours each day. In each workshop group, 1 translator, 1 teacher trainee, and 1 group coordinator ensured that activities ran seamlessly. The highly organized program was matched by highly focused and dedicated participants. Many of the workshop host institutions taped the workshop activities, with the Lie De Community Center recording the entire process from start to finish. A common perspective among workshop participants was that the workshops made them feel “free”.
All of the workshops, workshop venues, transportation, student snacks, and translation needs were arranged by a local organizer. Performance venues, technical equipment, and technical staff were provided by the Guangdong Dance Festival. The program was planned in detail and was implemented meticulously, with little facilitative support required from the U.S. Consulate or the U.S. Embassy. By relying on local partners for coordination, Battery Dance Company was able to achieve every element in its goals and objectives, plus additional activities that were previously unplanned, without impediments or interference from local authorities.
Battery Dance Company first performed outdoors on Wednesday, November 12th, at the Xhinghai Garden to an enthusiastic audience of 150. Local festival organizers provided a backdrop and high quality projector specifically for Battery Dance Company’s performance. The company performed a number of pieces from its repertoire, including one that included socio-political imagery, and one that included the use of traditional Chinese incense. The performance was well received with the highest approval given to a work that incorporated live music (performed by the dancers and composed by the dancer/choreographer.) After the performance a number of audience members asked how they could purchase CD’s of the music. Local festival organizers indicated that this was the first time an American dance company had performed outdoors in Guangzhou.
The Dancing to Connect final performance took place on November 14th at the Guangdong Song and Dance Theatre to an eager audience of 650 that filled the auditorium to capacity. Community members, family, friends and a large contingent from the U.S. Consulate came to support the 95 Dancing to Connect participants as they showcased their original creations. After the performance, participants hugged and kissed the Battery Teaching Artists and posed for group pictures for an extensive amount of time. Audience members also took part, taking group pictures of the dancers with their participants.
On November 15th, Battery Dancer Clement Mensah conducted a site specific performance, in collaboration with Xhinghai Conservatory dancers, at the EMG Arts Gallery before an audience of 100. The artwork displayed in the gallery, by a Chinese artist who lived in Brooklyn, examined the intersections of New York and China, and provided for wonderful interaction with the dancers.
Throughout the workshop week, BDC members interacted with other visiting dance companies and dance professionals from Asia, Europe, and Australia via Festival networking sessions, social events, and the DanceX Symposium. That interaction has led to possible future collaborations for Battery Dance Company’s Downtown Dance Festival and future program partners in a number of countries.
BDC dancer Clement Mensah, taught a master-class for 15 adult dancers. They have indicated their desire to have Clement come back to teach a series of intense classes next time the Company is in China.
BDC dancer Robin Cantrell and Vice President Emad Salem visited the Guangzhou Children’s Hospital and interacted with young terminally ill cancer patients. Meeting with children’s’ parents and volunteers, the pair discussed life in New York City. Afterwards, Emad Salem was asked to speak to hospital volunteers on the values of volunteerism, the culture of volunteering in the United States, and to encourage them to continue with their work.
A contingent of Battery Dance Company members participated in Tai Chi exercises in a local park, practicing the ancient Chinese art form alongside Chinese locals. After initially being guided to the location by Janice Englehart, the dancers led a contingent of Festival participants later in the week.
GD Song&Dance Theater
Xinghai PA Garden
Brochure for Dancing to Connect p. 5-7
Program Specifics: Beijing, China 2010
Lessons Learned: China 2010
Adaptability: We had to reconfigure and downgrade our China program from what had been envisioned as a full company tour to a two-person program due to lack of funding. However, the results proved valuable and we were grateful to have had the opportunity to touch the lives of 50 youth in Beijing and Liuzhou.
Beijing – Marketing: we were disappointed in the lack of audience for the final performance. We only realized too late that neither the U.S. Embassy nor the host institution has taken responsibility for promoting the performance and as a result, the small theater was only half full.
Beijing – We took too much for granted in terms of building rapport and understanding with our professional counterparts; Whereas we insist on voluntary participation by the students in Dancing to Connect programs, the same should be true, even more so, with teacher trainees. Communication was strained at times due to language and cultural barriers.
Translation – interpretation – When working in a country such as China where English fluency cannot be taken for granted, it is critically important to have translators and/or interpreters who feel in harmony with the program and are familiar with dance and its special language. Also, having the same translator throughout a program is an important support. Changing on a daily basis is a struggle.
Liuzhou – adaptability – the students had to be in school for many hours a day; so our work had to fit into a time slot in the afternoon, after morning classes and before evening classes. We were worried about the students’ ability to concentrate on our program; but they proved up to the challenge.
Performance venue – Our only choice of venue for the final performance was a gym without any technical support because there were no stages available. We accepted conditions as they were. Even so, the Mayor and officials from City Hall attended and clearly the student participants were proud of their achievement.
Narrative: China 2010
Battery Dance Company initiated a cultural education and exchange program that took place in China in December, 2010. The program grew out of a relationship and on-going discussions between BDC Artistic Director Jonathan Hollander, Willy Tsao and Sarabeth Berman. Willy founded the Beijing LDTX dance company (as well as several others in China); Sarabeth was a Luce Fellow in China, had studied dance and urban studies at Barnard; and joined forces with Willy for three years, helping to manage the dance company and co-creating an international contemporary dance festival in Beijing where BDC had made its China debut in 2008. The three came together again in 2009 at the Aspen Institute’s Global Forum in Spain, where Hollander chaired a panel on Dance Diplomacy and invited Tsao and Berman to participate. This is where the plan was hatched to bring BDC’s Dancing to Connect to China.
After a year of planning, funding was acquired from the Henry Luce Foundation and a team was assembled by Hollander and Berman, integrating the efforts of two Battery Dance Company teaching artists, four LDTX teacher trainees and the staff of CAI (an NGO that worked with schools catering to Migrant Worker youth). Later, when Alison Friedman of Ping Pong Productions took over the local reins from Berman, Liuzhou was added to the schedule with two personnel from Guangzhou and a grant from the US Consulate in Guangzhou. The project had two goals: 1) to create an opportunity for disadvantaged Chinese youth to engage in the Dancing to Connect program with visiting American artists and 2) to train Chinese dancers and dance teachers in the skills of working with students with limited prior dance experience.
BEIJING: Two different groups of students from Xiwang Zhixing School, one of Beijing’s schools for Migrant Workers’ children, took part in Dancing to Connect workshops (one in the morning and one in the afternoon, as the only suitable room for the workshop had to be shared.). Four professional dancers, veterans of the LDTX Company, were chosen to participate as teacher trainees. They observed at first and gradually took over the leadership role, mentored and guided by Tadej Brdnik and Carmen Nicole, BDC’s veteran teaching artists.
The program produced remarkable results though there were various hurdles, small and large, that had to be overcome:
Though the hotel arranged for Carmen and Tadej was conveniently situated, the staff didn’t speak English and the condition of the rooms was not acceptable. After two days, attempting to navigate in a non-English speaking environment, it was deemed best to move to an international standard hotel. Through a contact made in 2008 with the former General Manager of the JW Marriott Hotel, discounted rooms were located at a nearby Marriott.
Various misunderstandings arose which are described below. Some became apparent as early as the first day of orientation; others later, into the process of the workshops. The misunderstandings can be traced to language, cultural and philosophical differences; and all of them related to the peer-to-peer communication between the BDC teaching artists and the Chinese dance teachers; none related to the teenage participants in the workshops. Lost in Translation: Before interaction with the students began, two days of orientation meetings with the LDTX teaching artists took place. With the help of two very gifted translators, Tadej and Carmen explained the creative development process and goals for the week and led their Chinese counterparts through some of the exercises that they would utilize with the Migrant Worker youth. Members of the CAI staff presented information about the Xiwan Zhixing School during these preliminary workshops explaining the cultural and governmental differences that contribute to the circumstances under which migrant workers live and work. It was an opportunity for everyone to learn about cultural differences and to develop ideas for effective cooperation during the week.
Unfortunately, despite extensive advance preparation and communication, it became clear that there were different expectations on both sides. Despite having been alerted in advance that they would need to be present for each and every hour of the orientation and training sessions, one of the translators and one of the LDTX teaching artists were unable to meet for debriefing sessions after each workshop day to discuss and plan for the next day. Having the translator absent made it difficult to communicate with the one remaining teaching artist and resulted in canceling the afternoon of meetings on that first day. Additionally, there was no experienced managerial presence coordinating the program. The local organizers had obligations out of China during the length of the workshop and the LDTX studio administrators had offered to take over this role, but they proved unequipped to do so.
Throughout the week, the program progressed and the smiles of the youths showed their joy and excitement, helping to counteract the tensions that were building on the administrative and pedagogical sides.
Entrance and exit surveys offer some insights into the participants’ expectations, perceptions and results. The data shows an overwhelming interest by the students in future participation in another dance program, as well as an increased interest in learning about the arts and improved body image. One particularly touching development was with an autistic boy who did not make eye contact and was too afraid to show his work in front of the group by himself. When the group was given the task to create a “name solo” by spelling out the Chinese characters of their names with their bodies, this boy was completely overwhelmed. After coaching and working on the task together with Carmen and the translator Jyingi, he not only performed his solo, he also laughed and integrated with the group for the rest of the day.
The final performance offered an opportunity for the participants to showcase their hard work. The students had had scant prior opportunities to experience art or attend a performance, much less participate in a presentation of something they had made themselves. The circumstances of their families’ struggles meant that very few parents were available to attend the final performance. Neither the U.S. Embassy nor LDTX promoted the event, resulting in a very low turn out to support the week’s work by the children.
Fortunately, there were many photographers present throughout the workshop and photo books were given to each child as a souvenir as well as costume T-shirts. Additionally, certificates of completion were awarded to each child.
LIUZHOU: After completing the Beijing leg of the tour, Tadej returned to the U.S. while Carmen traveled to Liuzhou where an add-on program had been arranged by Alison Friedman through her regional contacts and enthusiasm for spreading dance exchange beyond the capital. The U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou made a grant to support the program and identified Liuzhou Nationalities High School as the local partner. The high school was ethnically and economically diverse. Some students commute and others live on the school grounds. The schedule for Chinese students in a typical high school is grueling with classes beginning at 8 am and extending well into the evening. Despite their very full schedule, the participants and teachers were energetic and fully committed to the Dancing to Connect workshop. There were no problems with the program preparation nor the accommodationsth and students had different interests and concerns then the children from Beijing. They were older and working to perform well in school with the hopes of attending a competitive university program. Some of them had previous exposure to traditional Chinese dance. Their pride in the landscape and local culture was inescapable and became the theme for the piece made during the Dancing to Connect workshop. The students developed movement phrases inspired by nature, the elements and Chinese symbols found in local arts and crafts. Karmen Li from Guangdong Modern Dance assisted administratively and within the classroom as an interpreter. Her enthusiasm and focus was invaluable. She also involved a local modern dancer and beginning teacher Fung-Pu Xing to accompany her as an assistant in the studio and as a performer for the final project. It was lovely to have him as part of the program and he expressed interest in learning to teach the program in the future.
The Consulate staff arrived the evening before the final performance and in addition to assisting with the final performance, led a presentation about soft diplomacy and educational outreach for the Liuzhou teachers. The workshop was a great success and the performance was attended by an overflow audience which appeared to be the entire student body of the school. VIP attendees included the mayor of Liuzhou, the school’s principle and several other city officials as well as the Consulate officers. Although it all transpired without a formal theater or special lighting, it was a wonderful event and resulted in loud applause and school support. The participants received certificates of completion and gave Carmen, Karmen and Fung Pu a special farewell gift of photos and individualized messages in English. Goodbyes were difficult with many tears, hugs and hopes for another Dancing to Connect project in the future. A final dinner with the Mayor to celebrate the program’s success was a lovely close to a wonderful stay in Liuzhou. Similar to the Beijing survey results, Liuzhou students also showed a marked improvement in body image, a unanimous desire to work with Americans in the future and desire to participate in Dancing to Connect again.
Program Specifics: Liuzhou, China 2010
Please see Beijing, China 2010
Narrative: Liuzhou, China 2010
After completing the Beijing leg of the tour, Carmen traveled to Liuzhou, China in the south near Hong Kong. The program there was sponsored by the Guangdong State Department and the Henry Luce Foundation with administrative support by Guangdong Modern Dance Company and the Liuzhou Nationalities High School. Liuzhou is an amazing and beautiful city located on the Liu Jiang River. The high school was interesting because of its ethnic diversity. It is a mixed income mid-level high school with some students that commute and some that live on the school grounds. The schedule for Chinese students in a typical high school is grueling with classes beginning at 8 am and extending well into the evening. It is not abnormal for students to be leaving classes as late as 9 pm.
Despite their very full schedule, the participants and teachers were energetic and fully committed to the workshop. The program and accommodations were smooth and wonderful. The students had different interests and concerns then the children from Beijing. They were older and working to perform well in school with the hopes of attending a competitive university program. Many of them had previous exposure to dance through their school and social activities as well as the traditions of Southern Chinese music and dance. Their pride in the landscape and local culture was inescapable and became the theme for the piece. Taking inspiration from the beauty of the surrounding mountains, river and parks, the students developed phrases about Nature, the elements and Chinese symbols found in local arts and crafts. Karmen Li from Guangdong Modern Dance was an assistant administratively and within the classroom as an interpreter. Her enthusiasm and focus was invaluable. She also organized a local modern dancer and beginning teacher Fung-Pu Xing to accompany her as an assistant in the studio and as a performer for the final project. It was lovely to have him as part of the program and he expressed interest in learning to teach the program in the future.
The State Department staff did a wonderful job of organization and support. They arrived the evening before the final performance that took place in the school badminton arena. Additionally, they led a presentation about soft diplomacy and educational outreach for the Liuzhou teachers. The workshop was a great success and had full attendance. All were thrilled by the performance of the students that included the school’s vocal group that sung two traditional southern Chinese songs in their local dialect. They wore the traditional costumes of Liuzhou and created a stunning image and glorious sound. VIP attendees included the mayor of Liuzhou, the school’s principle and several other city officials as well as Ms. White and Ms. Wong. The entire school of students, parents and teachers made up the audience with a group of about six hundred people. Although it all transpired without a formal theater or special lighting, it was a wonderful event and resulted in loud applause and school support. The participants received certificates of completion in front of their school and gave Carmen, Karmen and Fung Pu a special farewell gift of photos and individualized messages in English. Goodbyes were difficult with many tears, hugs and hopes for another Dancing to Connect project in the future. A final dinner with the mayor to celebrate the program’s success was a lovely close to a wonderful stay in beautiful Liuzhou. Similar to the Beijing survey results, Liuzhou students also showed a marked improvement in body image, a unanimous desire to work with American’s in the future and majority desire to participate in Dancing to Connect again.
May 7– 11, 2008
Having the flexibility to barter - understanding and activating the concept of quid pro quo in the corporate as well as the non-profit dance sectors -- these are important techniques and strategies in the realm of international touring. In building our China program, we demonstrated to our local hosts at the Beijing LDTX Dance Company that we were willing and able to reciprocate, in recognition of their generous support. Likewise, when bargaining with our hotel sponsor, we made ourselves available to perform for guests and important clients at a corporate cocktail party.
From the moment we landed in Beijing, it's been a jolt into the future: arriving at the newly opened airport: huge, magnificent; checking into the JW Marriott, our hospitality sponsor: sparkling new, palatial yet gracious; meeting Sarabeth Berman and Willy Tsao of the Beijing LDTX Dance Company, our hosts for the First Beijing International Dance Festival: warm, welcoming, and impeccably organized. Over the past 4 days, we've taught two master classes, given a performance on the terrace at the hotel, attended the opening night performance of the Festival presented by the stunning Hong Kong City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC), indulged in great food while spending time comparing notes with our Chinese colleagues, and tonight is the big night: OUR PERFORMANCE AT THE FESTIVAL! Nerves are running high.
Last night's performance at the Tian Qiao Theater was the grand finale of our Asia Tour, and the dancers and Barry held nothing in reserve. Over 1,000 people came out to see what the American dance company was all about, and judging from the ultra sophisticated and very complimentary comments we heard in the audience talk-back session at the end of the performance, they liked what they saw! Viewers told us that they appreciated the musicality of the program, paying special attention to the fact that three out of the four musical scores were composed for us and that the dance and music meshed in a way that "isn't usually seen in China". Two speakers talked about Shell Games and gave their interpretations -- showing that they had excavated deeply into the piece and had mined very rich meaning from it. We were glowing with excitement to be so thoroughly rewarded, especially since it was clear that this was an audience of cognoscenti.
Sarabeth Berman, a young American dancer who has taken up residence as Festival Manager for the Beijing LDTX Dance Company, was a complete delight. Though she was stepping out for the first time in her very responsible role, she carried it off with grace and expertise. Willy Tsao, the Johnny Appleseed of modern dance in China (he has established no less than 3 dance companies - in Hong Kong, Guongzhou and Beijing) is a charming and open-minded artist. He made us feel so comfortable and welcome in his home territory. We were very disappointed not to be able to see the Beijing LDTX Company in action -- but hope that we can help them find performance opportunities in New York before long!