Following are Jonathan Hollander's personal notes from the April 27 – May 2 2008 Battery Dance trip to Taiwan which included intensive workshops for four days with local dancers, one gala performance, one professional artists’ dialogue, and eight master classes.
Nothing takes the place of familiarity and thorough planning
In the case of Taiwan, we were familiar with the Country, its extremely accomplished professional dance scene (and Taiwanese dancers who had performed with Battery Dance Company in New York and on tour), and with our partners at the American Institute in Taiwan and Taipei Artists Village.
The Taiwan program, which in retrospect seems more program-heavy than I could have imagined, was only possible because we had worked with Nick Papp in Taiwan in a previous tour (see 2006 report) and as a result, he knew our capacity, we had easy and very direct communication, and we spent a great deal of time on the phone, SKYPE and e-mail leading up to the project, working very much as a harmonious team.
For the past two days, we've been on a magic carpet ride here in Taiwan, with a dozen activities accomplished over 48 hours in two cities! The miraculous part is that each event, from a press conference to a Dancing to Connect workshop, has seemed beautifully planned, expertly executed and utterly gratifying! Nick Papp is the Ali Baba who has kept the carpet afloat. He's the CAO here, and with leadership of PAO Thomas Hodges and supported by a bevy of dynamic staff members, he has envisioned a full-on program that will surely have memorable impact in Taipei and Taichung alike. On Monday, in Taipei, the highlight was a "Professional Dialogue in Arts Management" at the illustrious Taipei Artist Village, moderated by Yao-Hua Su, TAV's brilliant Executive Director. My fellow panelists were equally brilliant: Becky Cho, Executive Director of the Taishin Bank Foundation for Arts and Culture and Wen-wen Yeh, Executive of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. For two hours, we shared our experiences and visions with an audience that included a sparkling array of interested people from the arts, corporate, government and foundation sectors. I like to think that the artists who attended were given some helpful guidance as they pursue the uphill path of attracting support for their work and making the most of what resources they have. Another two 12-hour days replete with inspiration and testing of limits.
We continued on four parallel tracks, Mayuna and Tadej journeyed out to two schools in the Taichung region, teaching modern dance master classes. Today, they were surprised by the presence of 50 "observers" in addition to the 20 active participants and delighted by the request that they tack on a professional development session for a group of teachers following the class.
Robin and Sean and I took the High Speed Rail with Nick and Su Lee to Kaohsiung. After a drive up into the mountains, we arrived at the Indigenous Peoples' Park to see a brilliant performance of music and dance representative of the 14 tribes of Aboriginal Taiwanese. After a great lunch of Aboriginal specialties, Robin and Sean taught a master class for the same dancers who had performed for us (and 1,000 tourists who had elicited absolutely no response to the phenomenal performance...?!) It was deeply touching to experience the exchange of cultures amongst us throughout the day. Carmen and Bafana spent a total of 16 hours working with 20 junior high school students at the Szu Chen school. I was lucky to attend the beginning of their Dancing to Connect workshop, and to witness the end of it this evening. All of us were astonished and moved by the creativity of the students and can't wait to hear the audience's response tomorrow night when we will all perform together on the huge and beautiful stage at the Chung Shan Hall. 1,600 tickets have already been claimed and we are expecting an overflow crowd.
Today in Taichung, we had a three-fold program: a well-attended press conference including a performance for the TV and print media cameras by Sean and Robin; a full-day workshop with twenty talented students at Szu Chen Junior High School led by Carmen and Bafana; and a master class at Wen-Hua Senior High School by Tadej and Mayuna kept the Company busy as they fanned out across the City.
Fifteen-hundred or more people filled the Chung Shan Hall this evening. They were drawn to the theater to welcome a dance company that had traveled all the way from New York; but they were also there to celebrate their own: 20 junior high school students from Aboriginal Tribes of Taiwan whose stunning performances brought many tears to eyes (including mine). Performers can feel an audience -- and the Battery Dancers outdid themselves this evening as did the students.
I found myself sitting in the theater in amazement, asking myself, "how could they be so self-assured after such a short period of rehearsal?" As moving was the performance, the scene backstage after the concert was even more-so: the students were so pumped up after the show that they didn't want the evening to end. In traditional Aboriginal style, they grabbed the hands of the exhausted Battery Dancers, and we all continued dancing and chanting for another 5 or 10 minutes after the curtain went down. In my 33 years in the theater, this was a first! And I hope it isn't the last!
Battery Dance Company performed and worked here in 2006.
The only notable difficulty BDC encountered in its program in Taiwan was in working with the technical crew at the Metropolitan Hall. The Company ran into language barriers and communication challenges as well as competency issues. It seems that the talent and expertise to operate professional level lighting and sound equipment is not something one can count on in Taiwan at this point, even from purportedly reputable independent contractors and vendors. BDC’s performance was passable technically, but should have been much better and less stressful, given all the preparation done by TD David Bengali and the hefty financial investment made by PAS/AIT.
Many strands came together to form the rich tapestry that was BDC’s first visit to Taiwan. The fact that BDC had two former Taiwanese dancers who had since returned to their native country, Nai-Yu Kuo and Bulareyaung Pagarlava, helped to stir its curiosity about the country and to open doors in the planning and execution of the project. The team at the American Institute in Taiwan was first rate and working with them made for a dense and very successful program. The combination of numerous outreach activities with a high level performance as part of the Taipei Arts Festival gave the project wonderful breadth.
Through the energetic, tactical and expert support of the Cultural Affairs Officer (CAO) the Cultural Affairs Assistant (CAA) and the entire staff of The Pacific American School in Taiwan (PAS), under the leadership and vision of American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) BDC realized a very ambitious program for its debut in Taiwan.
BDC’s residency in Taiwan stood out among the dozens of cultural diplomacy projects in which the company has participated over the years for its depth of impact and broad variety of activities. The schedule was streamlined for economy, but sacrificed nothing in the pursuit of artistic excellence, clarity of intent and targeted communication. Months of careful planning and preparation went into the crafting of the schedule with PAS/AIT communicating in detail with BDC in meeting all needs and demands well before project implementation. BDC’s activities in Taiwan were of a length and magnitude as to require corporate sponsorship to supplement the financial support accorded by AIT and the East Asia Pacific Bureau . BDC used its historical relationships with Citigroup and Deloitte to introduce the idea of cost-sharing among the local executives of these companies. The CAO adroitly followed up on the proposals issued by BDC, resulting in sponsorships. Similarly, BDC’s earlier hospitality sponsorships from international hotel groups proved a helpful factor in convincing the Grand Hyatt Taipei to donate rooms and fitness center privileges.
In Taiwan, the standards for technique and craft in modern dance have developed rapidly over the past decade with the ascendancy of Cloud Gate Dance Theater and the building of excellent conservatory-style training programs at the University level. Accordingly, BDC was able to pitch its classes and performances at a high level. Further, by meeting and greeting fellow artists in a collegial atmosphere such as that provided by a Taipei Artists Village reception and the visit to Cloud Gate rehearsal studios, the interchange and sharing between equals was reinforced. It has often been commented that BDC artists are unpretentious, a quality that served the company well in Taiwan.
Over four days, Battery Dance Company’s team of dancers doubled as teaching artists in various settings for master classes and workshops. Due to BDC’s versatility, the offerings included ballet, modern and hip-hop, and each program was tailored to the differing age groups and skill level of the students. The BDC teaching artists gave master classes at the dance departments of Chinese Culture University in Yangming Shan and the National Taiwan University of the Arts; Hua-Gan Art School, also in Yangming Shan; Cloud Gate Kids Class in Taipei; Lan-Yang Dance Troupe in Yi-lan County (Eastern Taiwan), and Taichung Cultural Centre.
In addition to working with professional dance students, the Company members gave a workshop for teenagers at the local Yi-lan High School. BDC member Jeanene Winston departed the tour prematurely due to a family emergency in New York. Adjustments in the teaching and performing schedule and assignments for the later legs of the tour were necessitated. Jonathan Hollander recounts how his own experience in Taiwan was affected, “I took over the teaching position for a workshop with the teachers of the Cloud Gate Kids Program. This turned out to be serendipitous. I have rarely spent a more rewarding morning. Working with twenty young teachers, I structured a session on choreography, focusing on the springboards for my explorations and creations: music, theme and design. We split the participants into three groups, each group being assigned just one of these elements and composing a miniature piece around it. Reviewing the session afterwards, the whole experience seems unbelievable -- but in the span of approximately 30 minutes or less, each group produced startlingly original and credible results. I noted the absence of any discord among the participants and marveled at their ability to reach an ambitious (and in each case, unexpected) goal in such short time.”
The Company was honored to present an exclusive performance at the AIT-hosted reception for Fulbright alumni. “Secrets of the Paving Stones” and several solo performances delighted the former Fulbright scholars and Honorees at the Performing Arts Center of Taipei National University of the Arts. In contrast to the intimate, private performance for the Fulbright alumni and scholars, Battery Dance Company performed four group pieces and four solos with the theme “Changing Winds from New York” at the 1000-seat Metropolitan Hall. The Company’s performance, part of the highly-publicized Taipei Arts Festival, was well attended by a broad cross-section of young people, Taiwanese dancers and arts aficionados and was glowingly reviewed in Ballet-Arts Magazine.
Creative thinking on the part of the AIT Commercial Section and seamless cooperation with the PAS Section led to a BDC “first”: a talk with members of the AmCham and representatives of the Taiwanese business community and high-level government representatives on the topic of Corporate Social Responsibility and its application in the world of arts & business cooperation. BDC’s Artistic and Executive Director Jonathan Hollander shared his experience of working with the corporate community in New York and provided examples of best practices ranging from corporate sponsorship and grants programs to volunteer board matching mechanisms, in-kind contribution initiatives and other innovative programs that have been developed and implemented in the U.S. The dialogue was very lively and promoted a sense that the talk would be a springboard for further exploration and cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwan, business and arts sectors.
Battery Dance Company enjoyed a warm welcome and its programs were well received in each country of the tour. Most often, the impression was made that American dance programs are a rarity and that the American approach (friendly, collaborative, artistically innovative) is profoundly appreciated. Young people flocked to the workshops and master classes and every performance was full if not over-subscribed. Cultural exchange and performance tours with European and other Asian countries appear to have supplanted the U.S. in the field of dance to some extent. This situation, however, could be reversed were the touring ability of American choreographers and dance companies to increase. New York City, and America in general, still holds an obvious allure for the Asian and South Asian dancers and audiences, and many Asian dancers and choreographers aspire to study and/or show their work in the U.S.