Battery Dance participated as an American Partner and Representative at the First Cape Town International Dance Festival
No matter over how long nor on how many levels a friendship/partnership evolves over time, there can still be surprises when different cultures come together. We thought we understood the scenario in South Africa sufficiently to navigate such surprises. However, there was an increasing amount of friction between the staff members of iKapa and Battery Dance in the 6 months leading up to the Festival. Battery’s expectations regarding the keeping of schedules, completion of tasks and general communication went beyond iKapa’s ability to execute. Reversals occurred regarding funding, especially concerning a grant that had been looking favorable from the Open Society Foundations. When it was ultimately declined, despite best efforts being made by Battery Dance, tensions increased and a funding vacuum loomed, especially because no corporate sponsorships, beyond the very significant hospitality sponsorship offered by Protea Hotels, were forthcoming, nor was there any local Cape Town Governmental support offered. Thankfully, the US Consulate was able to increase the size of its grant to Battery Dance and to make a separate grant to iKapa. These grants were pivotal in pushing the Festival forward.
We at Battery Dance are still waiting for a post-mortem that was promised by iKapa immediately after the Festival, but which has yet to happen. Likewise, the issue of reimbursement for the high end Macbook Pro laptop and iPhone 4 belonging to Barry Steele, which were stolen out of the Artscape Opera House with complicity by staff members of Artscape (as captured by CCTV.) Theoretically, Artscape is attempting to get a settlement from its insurance company, to cover the stolen items. (Battery Dance’s attempt to recover the expense from its American insurance carrier was turned down because the equipment did not belong to the dance company.)
At the launch of the Festival in the Foyer of the Artscape Opera House, we were dismayed when Theo Ndindwa, Co-Director of iKapa and the Festival, failed to acknowledge the phenomenal support of the US Consulate and Embassy. Jonathan Hollander had been on the agenda to speak at the launch, but was not called upon, which was also a shock and prevented him from giving a shout out to the U.S. Mission to SA. Theo also went way off script, wandered aimlessly in his speech, and made what was considered by many to be a racist remark (ie. “The Blacks know the whole city; Whites don’t”) which went against the grain of the Festival, whose subtitle was ‘Town and Township’.
In the aftermath of the Festival, when Barry Steele stayed behind in order to fulfill his plans for a diving vacation, he continued to push the agenda of reimbursement for the stolen items from Artscape and was put off by Acting CEO Marlene LeRoux who seemed to feel that a letter of apology, given to Hollander at the outdoor performance, was sufficient. Communication is on- going and there is a hope that when Andre Steenveld, Acting CFO, returns from vacation next week, that there will be some positive news regarding the insurance claim.
On his last day in Cape Town, when summoned to a meeting by Theo and Siphiwe Ngwenya, he felt that an effort was being made to woo him away from Battery Dance in order to secure his services for next year’s Festival, an attempt he brushed off abruptly and reported immediately to Hollander and the BDC leadership.
All of the above has to be seen in the context of Cape Town, post-Apartheid South Africa, still, in many ways, stuck in the bad old ways of Apartheid. This is not the integrated city that it should be and one hopes that efforts such as the Cape Town International Dance Festival will grow and thrive and eventually live up more fully to the subtitle (coined by Hollander) of ‘Town and Township’.
Battery Dance committed itself to a multi-year cultural diplomacy engagement in Cape Town, SA, which culminated in the creation of the Cape Town International Dance Festival. In the grand scheme of things, the Company succeeded in shepherding the first truly international dance festival to be held in South Africa, organized in partnership with iKapa Dance Theatre; performed on 5 separate occasions in three locations – the Artscape Opera House, the Artscape Plaza and an outdoor stage in the center of Gugulethu Township; and ran 20-hour Dancing to Connect youth engagement workshops in Hout Bay in collaboration with Lalela Project and in Gugulethu in collaboration with iKapa Dance Theatre. Representing incalculable added value, Battery Dance’s production and lighting designer, Barry Steele, served as the production director for the entire Festival; and its artistic director, Jonathan Hollander, consulted continuously with the iKapa leadership and advocated and supported the participation of dance companies from Finland and Spain in the Festival.
Audiences for the Opera House performances were generally mixed in terms of age, gender and ethnicity and dancers vs. general public. An informal cumulative audience tally for the Opera House performances is estimated (by BDC) at over 2,000. Audiences for the Artscape Plaza performances were underwhelming with a range of a disappointing 25 – 100 people per day. Similarly, the performances at Gugulethu attracted around 300 people; not the thousands that were anticipated. Whether the low numbers for the outdoor performances reflected a lack of publicity, a factor of first- time event, a miscalculation of foot traffic at Artscape Plaza and timing problems on an early Sunday afternoon in Gugulethu, would be hard to evaluate. Perhaps it was a combination of all of the above. Audience response to the performances was very good – with loud cheering at the end of almost every performance.
One of the most positive aspects of the Festival was the inclusion of local dance companies that responded to the opportunity offered by iKapa and Artscape. In a very divisive, competitive environment, the fact that Cape Dance Company, Adele Blank/Free Flight Dance and the Cape Ballet Company participated in performances organized by iKapa, was striking and carried an important lesson of community spirit.
Another positive outcome came in the form of the two Dancing to Connect workshops that allowed approximately 35 youth from the Townships to engage in the art of choreography, learning about themselves and their own capacities, building teamwork skills, engaging with American teaching artists, and performing with great pride on the stage at Artscape Plaza. Although even this aspect of the project fell far short of expectation -- five workshops, not two, had been planned because iKapa failed to take the necessary steps to realize this expectation. Nonetheless the young women and men who took part were exhilarated by the experience; a fact evidenced by Lalela’s enthusiasm for continuing the program with Battery Dance in the future. The Lalela/Hout Bay workshop was fully subscribed and adhered to best practices, with students appearing dressed and ready at the appointed time every day and with full-on energy and desire to participate. The Gugulethu workshop organized by iKapa was the opposite: students appeared as much as 1 to 2 hours late every day, the teens who were of the ‘right’ age to participate in a DtC workshop dropped out abruptly, without explanation, and the younger children, ages 10 – 14, who came of their own volition, were the only ones who actually finished the project and performed at Artscape. A third workshop that was to have happened in Mitchell’s Plain, looked semi-promising on the first day, with very enthusiastic adult leaders from the community, but fizzled on the second day with the loss of the rehearsal venue. The 4th and 5th workshops, promised by iKapa, failed to materialize altogether.
If you are visiting Durban, remember to bring your swimming gear. Even though it might be wintery in other parts of South Africa at the time of your visit, Durban is always tropical!
Security is a big issue in all of South Africa. No walking around on your own or with your cell phone out and you must use pre-approved taxi services. Be wary when out at night; always travel in pairs or, even better, groups and with someone local who can help you navigate.
Time is a loose concept in South Africa in general. Depending upon the city and the particular group, you may have to be flexible about start times.
We found that transportation for locals can be difficult in Cape Town. People travel in mini-buses and the operators can be very territorial. This can create conflict for people traveling from one town to the next.
In order to avoid being lost, directions and logistics benefit from meticulous planning. We had people lost on a University campus having trouble finding the dance studio. If your program requires moving local people out of their neighborhood to a separate venue, plan ahead and insure that someone who knows the way accompanies the group.
Schools have very rigid schedules in South Africa. If your program involves students, be sure to consult with school officials while planning the program. We flip-flopped our itinerary last minute in order to place the Cape Town during school vacation time.
The Cape Town leg of Battery Dance Company’s tour was most notable for the phenomenal relationship that was established with iKapa Dance Theatre. The two companies share a similar mission, combining the pursuit of artistic excellence and creativity with the sharing of dance education with communities in need. After a mere five years, iKapa has built a superb track record of achievement and recognition, creating a powerful model of community engagement throughout the Cape Flats area while simultaneously operating a professional company, an apprentice company, and serving as a reliable partner with international Consulates and arts organizations in Cape Town. We commend the US Consulate in having the foresight to bring us together with iKapa, and anticipate that the relationship will be an enduring one. Perhaps because it was the last stop on the BDC tour, and word-of-mouth had been building after the successes in Durban and the Gauteng, the media caught up with BDC in a big way in Cape Town with prominent news articles, feature appearances on television and radio interviews.
Our program began with an orientation meeting in a round-table format. All members of both companies introduced themselves and paired up into teams with two or three members of iKapa (dancers, teachers and apprentices) matched with each of the five BDC teaching artists. These teams would fan out over the next four days to the former townships of the Cape Flats district while one team stayed behind in the Woodstock neighborhood of Cape Town where iKapa had its primary studios.
The Company members were struck by the extreme socio-economic gap between the Waterfront area, where their hotel was located, and the Cape Flats communities where the Dancing to Connect workshops took place. Remnants of the Apartheid system were overt. iKapa should be commended for having found a way to bridge the gap, bringing people together across these seemingly insurmountable divisions. One of the youngest groups we’ve ever worked with was at an elementary school in Belhar. Initially resistant to concentrating and retaining their creations from moment to moment, this group defied the imagination when it came time to perform their work.
While in Kenya on an ARS Bureau-organized Battery Dance Company tour in 2010, Jonathan Hollander had been introduced to Nancy Onyango, a talented arts administrator, by the US Embassy. Nancy turned up in Cape Town this year, as Communications and Marketing Manager for the Arterial Network. Through her, meetings were arranged with other members of the Arterial Network national office in Cape Town.
Battery Dance Company worked and performed here in connection with its program in Pretoria.
Partnerships & Venues
For Lessons Learned in Johannesburg, see Lessons Learned in Cape Town.
Four of the Battery Dance Company artists were programmed in the Johannesburg area, two conducting Dancing to Connect workshops with teens and young adults and one teaching master classes at the National School of the Arts and the University of Pretoria. Each experience had its own character – strong and full of new discoveries. Artistic Director Jonathan Hollander split his time between Jo’burg and Pretoria, supporting the DtC programs as well as reaching out to media, peer and academic contacts and speaking on arts management. Each of the three Dancing to Connect groups created a new piece of choreography that was performed at the Breytenbach Theatre in Pretoria on the final evening of the Gauteng program.
Moving in to Dance Mophatong
Newtown, an area adjacent to central Johannesburg, has fallen into disrepute and is slated for redevelopment. Arts organizations such as Market Theatre and Moving Into Dance Mophatong (MIDM) are situated there, providing a cultural anchor for the renovation plan. MIDM was started in 1978, during the Apartheid era by Sylvia “Magogo” Glasser, a woman of Jewish background. Daring for its time, MIDM always served a multi-racial population. Over time, its conservatory-type training program has produced some of South Africa’s most acclaimed choreographers and dancers. A BDC teaching artist worked with a group of 24 first-year students and soon discovered that the group was not only keen to learn but quite advanced in their technical and creative prowess. She was able to move along in the DtC curriculum at a rapid pace, doling out much more material each day than is usual.
Sibikwa Arts Centre
Benoni South is the home of Sibikwa Arts Center where a BDC teaching artist worked with 20 youth, ages 16 – 22. The students were hyper-energized and unaccustomed to a rigorous, immersive program like DtC – however, they pulled it together and delivered beautifully in the end. One young dancer stood out as a prodigy. We hope that the exposure to DtC helped provide him with new ideas about a career path.
National Arts School
Battery Dance taught a sequence of master classes and creative workshops for students at the National School of the Arts. The student population at the school was noteworthy for being inclusive of all ethnicities, whereas the other programs we worked with in SA were almost exclusively Black. The students were also of mixed backgrounds in terms of prior training – some had advanced ballet technique, speaking to years of prior training. Others were less schooled in classical technique but possessed obvious natural talent and were progressing swiftly, especially in the modern and creative arenas.
University of Pretoria
Jonathan Hollander gave a lecture on arts management for the performing arts management course in the Drama Faculty of the University of Pretoria. Approximately 20 students attended and took part in a Q/A session following the lecture. This activity at the University led to an invitation for BDC to run a dance workshop for theater majors the next day. Battery dance teaching artists led a 2-hour workshop with a group of highly motivated performing arts majors who normally take a dance class once-a-week with Anitra Davel (back row, red tank top), a freelance choreographer, dancer and dance teacher, who gamely took the class with her students. Anitra and Jonathan engaged in a discussion about conditions for professional dancers in South Africa following the class.
Battery Dance Company worked and performed here in connection with its program in Johannesburg.
Partnerships & Venues
For Lessons Learned in Pretoria, see Lessons Learned in Cape Town.
Youth in Trust Arts Initiative
Two BDC teaching artists worked with two large groups of students from the Youth in Trust Arts Initiative housed in the State Theatre of South Africa in Pretoria. The students, ranging in age from 18 – 22, were extremely talented, motivated and full of creativity. It was a joy to observe these groups at work, a pleasure we were able to share with the Assistant Secretary, DAS, and Director of Policy and Evaluation, whose visit to South Africa overlapped with our program.
State Theatre of South Africa
Jonathan Hollander, BDC Artistic Director, formed a collegial relationship with the newly appointed CEO of the State Theatre, Quinton Simpson. They met several times to compare notes and share information, resources and networks. Simpson will be taking part in a Voluntary Visitor Program in New York City in January and has called upon Hollander to help organize meetings with various cultural organization leaders to supplement appointments that are being made through the Department of State’s ECA Bureau in Washington.
Bafana Soloman Matea
The presence of the South Africa-born Bafana Matea, an 8-year member of Battery Dance Company, lent the Company’s South Africa program a special and deep resonance and solidarity with the local youth and dance communities as well as a critical hook for the media. Matea grew up in the township of Mamelodi and his mother Anna is an employee of the State Theatre where his training and exposure to the dance profession started. Matea won an Alvin Ailey Scholarship to study in the U.S. and went on to perform with Ballet Hispanico and Elisa Monte Dance Companies before joining BDC. The U.S. Mission to South Africa took full advantage of the unique opportunity of using Bafana as a magnet for publicity, scoring major attention in the mainstream press and television. Bafana’s wife, Amanda, also an accomplished dancer and teacher (who has been a member of the Alvin Ailey II Company) voluntarily accompanied the Company on its South Africa tour and was an important addition to the group, co-teaching with Bafana and even filling in for him when he was called away for media interviews.
Breytenbach Theatre, Tshwane Technical University
At the completion of the week in the Gauteng during which 80 Dancing to Connect participants logged approximately 20 hours of training, everyone gathered at the Breytie Theatre for a grand performance. The first 35 minutes of the performance featured the four student DtC groups presenting their newly created works. This was followed by a performance by the Battery Dance Company. The Ambassador and and Consul General were among the honored guests. In addition to thanking the Minister Counselor and Country Cultural Affairs Officer for their stewardship of the DtC programs, Jonathan Hollander made a special tribute to the Cultural Affairs Specialist, the linchpin of the program.
September 16 - 22, 2012
Partnerships & Venues
For Lessons Learned in Durban, see Lessons Learned in Cape Town.
Ekhaya MultiArts Centre
Located in KwaMashu, one of Durban’s oldest townships, Ekhaya MultiArts Center serves as a beacon for the arts. Ekhaya was launched with the purpose of empowering disadvantaged youth through the arts and multimedia. Chosen by the US Consulate in Durban as the local partner and host institution, Ekhaya enabled Battery Dance to interact with young people whose thirst for opportunities was palpable.
Dancing to Connect Workshops
The Dancing to Connect program was spearheaded by a BDC teaching artist who led a group of 12 youth for 5 hours a day for 4 days. Two other BDC teaching artists jointly led an extended creativity workshop with 18 students for 2 hours a day for 4 days. Despite complications in scheduling and communication, the choreography created by both groups of students was stunning.
Siwela Sonke Dance Company and Playhouse Theatre
BDC’s South African-born teaching artist Bafana Matea led a 3-day series of master classes at Siwela Sonke Dance Company with 12 dancers; and another series of classes at the Playhouse Theatre with local freelancers and the resident dance company. Concurrently with the dance workshops, BDC production designer was occupied with rebuilding the Ekhaya stage with the assistance of the U.S. Embassy and Consulate. Throughout the entire technical setup, the production designer was shadowed by the head technician at Ekaya receiving hands-on training on stage repair, lighting and sound design/setup, and the staging of a professional-level dance performance. BDC Deputy Director for International Programs met with Embassy staff and representatives of local NGO’s for a lunch meeting where shared passions, techniques and strategies for community engagement and ideas for future collaboration were exchanged.
A group of student drummers from Ekhaya were positioned at the front of the Center, outside, where they provided a steady percussion beat. Neighborhood children, some wearing no shoes, gathered around. Slowly, other members of the KwaMashu community also arrived at the Center, attracted by the sound of the drums and enticed to stay to see the free performance attended by the Consul General. The audience, obviously unaccustomed to a formal dance performance, was “enthusiastic”! After the performance, the U.S. Consulate provided a buffet dinner to all the participants and performance attendees. This post-performance reception was marked by an open intermingling of Embassy staff, local partners, township residents, media professionals, and the BDC team. Nearly 100 copies of the Durban poster were autographed by the BDC team prior to the performance and were handed out to eager fans after the show. Prior to performance, the Deputy Director of BDC's International Programs, a BDC dancer, and the Consul General conducted an interview on Vibe FM. Other media attention included a features in The Mercury, Sunday Tribune, local community newspaper also included Battery for Heritage Month and Celebrate Durban, Gagasi radio station (isi Zulu and English).