During the month of April, 2015, BDC engaged in a cultural diplomacy project in Amman, Jordan entitled Dance Across the Divides. The project draws together performing artists and dance students of Jordanian, Iraqi, Libyan, and American backgrounds, underlining their common values, creativity and aspirations.
Key elements of the program include a performance at the Amman Contemporary Dance Festival, A performance of the Amman Jazz Festival, a collaborative workshop with BDC member Sean Scantlebury and Iraqi dancer Adil Q, as well as outreach activities including master classes taught by BDC teaching artist, Mira Cook.
Over the past 6 months, Battery Dance Company has mentored Adil Q. Adil, an extrememly talented Iraqi dance artist via Skype. Because of the conditions in Baghdad, no formalized dance training is available and even practice outside of his home is considered a security risk. We arranged for Adil to secure a temporary Jordanian visa, with the help of the Embassy of Jordan in Washington D.C, and received a grant from the Prince Claus Frund o the Nederlands to cover his flights between Baghdad and Amman.
Battery Dance Company worked and performed here in 2005
Master Classes & Workshops
Take-aways: Multi-disciplinary projects are good! Incorporating musicians as well as dancers in a cultural diplomacy program allows an expanded outreach, particularly in a country such as Jordan where cultural norms present barriers for dance and not for music. We reached many different populations in Amman and saw progress and development from our first exposure in 2004. This is the other take-away -- repeated visits to a particular country multiply the impact exponentially. Achieving this goal, however, is problematic for performing arts groups because it is hard enough to get the support needed for one tour; but convincing the State Department and other funders to set aside money for repeated visits is much harder. The State Department, like all USG agencies, has a phobia against “sole sourcing” which means working with the same contractor (in this case, yes, you are a contractor) over and over again. Fortunately, some Foreign Service Officers who experience the growing effectiveness that derive from repeated visits embrace the added value -- but whether they are willing (or permitted by their superiors) to skirt the rules is another question.
Cultural Adaptation: At the time that we visited Amman, it was thought necessary for us to adjust the women’s costumes – covering bare arms and legs. Our costume designer, Sole Salvo, handled this problem imaginatively without compromising the silhouette and impression of the costumes, by using silk chiffon to create sleeves in one case, and tights and/or unitards that maintained the body lines but covered the bare skin that would have offended some in the audience.
Political Issues: 2005 was a difficult time to be performing as a representative of America in parts of the world where administration foreign policies met with grave opposition. Most of the time, we occupied a bubble of blamelessness – after all, we were artists and not politicians – but occasionally we ran into trouble. Our event at the University of Jordan stands out as the most blatant example: the auditorium was half-empty for a free lunch-time lecture demonstration that would ordinarily have been packed. During the Q/A with the audience, several students expressed their apologies for the lack of response on campus. They said that student groups had circulated flyers urging people to boycott our event as an expression of disapproval for the Bush Administration and the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We were sad but understanding and appreciated the kindness and warmth shown by those who broke ranks to attend our performance.
Bureaucracy: The obtaining of visas and performance licenses was facilitated by the very capable staff at the U.S. Embassy, so we encountered less issues than we would have expected in this conservative country.
In 2005, BDC sent Lydia Tetzlaff to teach dance to a large cross-section of dancers based in classical ballet, contemporary and modern dance techniques. Her goals were to teach both aspiring dancers and non-dancers new techniques that are otherwise unavailable to them, and to open much needed lines of cross cultural communication between America and the Middle East.
BDC's goals were met beautifully- the entire trip was more successful and rewarding than BDC could have hoped for. Lydia taught up to 50 students of extremely diverse religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.
The overall format of the program was effective, and the scheduling was appropriate for the time allotted on this trip. Lydia taught three or four classes a day, and had two days off per week. Two weeks in Jordan was more or less sufficient, although she says that more time would have permitted her to work more intensively with each group. The responses she received from each group were that they would have appreciated quite a bit more time, and are all extremely interested in her returning for a continuation of the program.
In Jordan Lydia spent most of the first week in Amman working with students of the Noor/Hussein Performing Arts Center under Director Lena Attel and Deputy Director Rania Kamhawi. They have an outstanding school where they train local students in dance and theater, and work directly with the community in order to expand the acceptance for and appreciation of the arts. Lydia taught 15 classes to Jordanian students ranging from 10-30 years of age. One thing of note is that the families of the students ordinarily do not allow their girls to take more than two classes per week, but Lydia had the older group for seven classes in the week's time. This was a testament to both their as well as Ms. Kamhawi's interest in Lydia being there as an American teacher from New York.
Lydia taught 9 classes at the SOS villages in Amman and Aqaba, Jordan. The SOS villages are for orphan children of various ages and backgrounds, and they employ surrogate mothers to raise the children as their own, educating them and preparing them for a fulfilling life in society. They are wonderful, altruistic, non-governmental organizations that provide an unbelievable service for these children. They rely completely on private donations and volunteer services, and both had never received any dance classes before their experience with BDC. The children in Lydia's classes ranged in age from 5-10 in Amman and 6-26 in Aqaba. In all cases, their fascination for and appreciation of Lydia being there as an American was significant. Working these children goes a long way in opening communication and dispelling stereotyped misconceptions about Americans.
In Amman, Lydia also worked with the Haya Cultural Center, a long-standing organization that has recently changed administrations. Due to this change there were some difficulties for Lydia in organizing the workshops. For instance, there had been a plan for Lydia to teach Iraqi UNHCR children, but it fell through in the administrative, changeover. Lydia was able to observe their class, and it was wonderful. The new General Director of Haya, Dina Abu Hamdan, also a former member of Caracalla for 10 years, is visionary, with a great desire and willingness for cooperative programs like Culture Connect. Haya offers local children a safe, enclosed environment in which to spend their summer days engaged in an assortment of activities. The result is a group of children enjoying the process of learning different artistic skills. With them, Lydia taught 5 classes of children ranging in age from 6-16.
BDC's time in the Middle East received a good deal of press, including articles from two newspapers, One English and one Arabic, and an article in a new arts Magazine schedule for November 2015 in Amman.
Lydia shares her reactions and reflections about her experience in Jordan
I feel that the need for positive examples of American citizens is palpable, and everyone that I interacted with was eager for this kind of human interaction. Every student, teacher, and organizer expressed sincere gratitude for my coming, as well as strong and numerous invitations to return on a regular basis for more and longer programs. For the youngest children that I taught, they will have early positive memories of their 'American Teacher' that they will take with them for the rest of their lives. My hope and belief is that direct sensory impressions like this last longer and have more impact than any negative things that they may hear in other areas of their lives. The directors and dancers of Maqamat and Caracalla warmly and openly welcomed me as an American dancer and teacher to share the diversity of my career and background and expertise with them. Since they are both professional companies with significant exposure in the local media and society, the positive cultural effects of my interactions with them are huge, especially with my being an American in the current political climate across that part of the world. Building a continuing relationship with them through Culture Connect would be invaluable.
The benefits that I received personally and professionally on this trip are more than I can express in words. Personally, both the richness of the cultures with which I interacted as well as the hospitality that I received has given me insight into and understanding of people that I probably never would experienced otherwise. It has deepened my desire to learn and listen more and to judge less. It has deepened my belief that from one side of the world to the next people are people, and that we can create substantial and lasting peace just by sitting down with someone we perceive as vastly different from ourselves and having an engaged conversation, or share a dance class. Professionally, I will take with me all that I have experienced and incorporate that experience into my performances and classes in the future. This has opened a feeling of possibility for me of which I was previously unaware. I have a strong desire to be programmed through Culture Connect as much as possible, both to return to the same areas where I have just been as well as go to other new areas in the world.
Battery Dance Company worked and performed here in 2005.
Please see Amman for details on BDC's trip to Jordan in 2005.
It scares me just to write these words. Imagine how we felt in Amman, Jordan, when several of our personal bags and our COSTUME CASE didn’t arrive from Tunisia. I still remember rummaging through the closets and chests of our extremely thoughtful and caring Embassy CAO and her husband, the dancers trying on various garments to see if they could find something suitable to perform in the next night at the Noor-Hussein Cultural Center. Fortunately, the costumes ended up arriving an hour or so before the show so we looked a little wrinkled but appropriately attired.
Battery Dance Company worked and performed here in 2004.
Battery Dance had to cancel two of their major performances due to breaking events in Amman. However, this did not discourage them from providing masterclasses, in order to give local dance students the opportunity to learn and connect with American Artists.
Jordan hosted 11 members of New York's Battery Dance Company (BDC) for performances and workshops March 23-27, 2004. Although breaking events (the assassination of Sheikh Yassin by Israeli forces) precipitated widespread agitation in Amman and led to the cancellation of two major performances for security reasons, the BDC members distinguished themselves by their openness and willingness to engage with the Jordanian public of all ages and backgrounds.
The group conducted two very successful master classes with approximately 50 young ballet and modern dance students, while the musicians led a workshop with 25 mostly elementary school students drawn from schools in Amman.
In one of the most stimulating events, five of the dancers presented solo and duo modern dance routines to a rapt audience over 300 teenager girls at the Ahliyya School in downtown Amman, followed by a spirited discussion of the role of art in modern life and the importance of bridging cultures and backgrounds to reach the universality of the human spirit. The group integrated easily with local artists, musicians and dancers, sharing in after hours activities with them and trading emails for follow-up. At the one full matinee performance BDC was able to get approved by RSO and the Amman Municipality, and drew in an audience of over 200 people who had been contacted individually by phone from the PA offices, with only 18-36 hours notice. Local co-sponsors report that ticket sales were headed for a full sell-out before the plug was pulled, while Embassy phone lines were clogged with disappointed invitees and ticket holders who couldn't believe the show had been cancelled.