Dancing to Connect Uruguay 2015
Battery Dance Company members Robin Cantrell and Sean Scantlebury worked and performed here in 2013.
Once again, the concept of building on relationships came into play – in that the entire program came about through the advocacy of the poet Luis Bravo, with whom BDC had worked in 2012.
A certain level of trust and good faith had to be employed because of the language barrier as well as the purposely improvisational style of La Mancha and the Biennal.
The program was somewhat vaguely understood by Battery Dance in advance of Robin and Sean’s arrival. However, most aspects fell into place on the spot as was predicted and planned. Robin and Sean didn’t realize at the beginning that La Mancha and its representatives were taking responsibility for paying for all of their meals which created slight uncertainty. The English-Spanish issue accounted for some of the confusion. It was really helpful that Robin was able to summon up her high school Spanish in order to decode how things were meant to proceed.
Battery Dance Company took part in the X Biennal del Juego (Produced by La Mancha) in Montevideo, Uruguay. This arrangement came about through an introduction from the Uruguayan poet, Luis Bravo, to Ariel Castelo, an arts producer in Montevideo. Battery Dance Company had worked with Luis in November, 2012, through a collaboration with the US Department of State and the University of Iowa International Writing Program.
When the dancers arrived in Montevideo, they were taken to their hotel at the gateway of the Old City. It was a very good location and charming edifice, but the rooms that Robin and Sean were assigned were extremely small, cold and noisy. Similarly to the hotel, the food was provided by La Mancha and ranged from wonderful feasts to low end fast food.
Everything was walkable, but La Mancha volunteers normally picked up and delivered Sean and Robin to / from the hotel.
La Mancha, Ariel’s organization, hosts a Biennal with imaginative themes every other year in Montevideo. They were looking for workshop leaders and performers and the theme of the five senses that governed this year’s Biennal was a perfect fit for Battery Dance Company. They originally sought the entire company’s participation, but funding was a barrier. As a result, a two-person program was devised. Underwriting funds for the project were split between La Mancha, which purchased the international air tickets, covered the cost of hotel, meals and local transportation and production costs. The Robert Sterling Clark Foundation funding covered the honoraria and a stipend towards incidental expenses.
Each Biennal is organized around a theme, and each sequence of three Biennals explore different aspect of the same theme. This year, the theme was the five senses; and in two years, another aspect of this concept will be explored.
Approximately 200 participants signed up for the program and were split into three groups. The concept was that each of the three groups would rotate through a series of workshops with each group having one session with each of the three workshop leaders. BDC’s teaching artists Robin Cantrell and Sean Scantlebury served as a team, leading one workshop. Jose Posada, originally from Uruguay but now living and working in Berlin, and Karen Bernal of Mexico ran the other two. In Jose’s workshop, participants were blind-folded and weren’t allowed to speak for 3 hours. Karen employed her background in circus techniques (she is a former cast member of Cirque de Soleil) as the medium for her workshops. Sean and Robin used the Dancing to Connect methodology in theirs.
Robin and Sean noticed a difference in the tenor of each group, most notably depending upon whether theirs was the first workshop, or whether the participants were coming from one of the other workshops. The group of participants who had just experienced Jose’s workshop were very subdued and obviously impacted by the experience of blind and silence. The group that came from Karen’s workshop were much more boisterous.
Robin and Sean were the only non-fluent Spanish speakers in the entire Biennal, though Robin was able to recover much of her high school level Spanish and by the end of the program, she was able to deliver a speech to the entire Biennal in Spanish. There were interpreters for the 3 workshops and Karen assisted with the 4th, impromptu workshop.
The first performance by Battery Dance Company took place on Wednesday evening, the day after R and S arrived in Montevideo. They had prepared a 5-minute duet which they were able to perform on a marble floor (slippery, hard and cold) in the foyer of the Sodre Theater which is the largest and most illustrious theater in Montevideo. The audience (Biennal participants and volunteers) – sat on the giant staircases of the foyer. BDC Dancers, Robin and Sean, rearranged the spacing of the duet in order to circumnavigate a large central sculpture. The music was well-amplified and the audience gave a warm response despite the fact that the dancers didn’t feel terribly comfortable about the space, the floor and the setting.
The second performance was held in a theater space in the Museo de Carnaval. The space was cavernous, like a barn, with a wooden platform. Unfortunately, there was no dance flooring and nail heads protruded from the surface of the platform. The dancers covered the nails with gaffers tape before the show, however, Sean cut his toe on one that hadn’t been covered.
Similar to the staging, the lighting was also improvised. It was set up in an X pattern, resulting in triangles of darkness. The dancers did what they could to accommodate this, but it was difficult for them to be seen through out the whole performance. Robin and Sean performed two duets choreographed by Robin, with a solo by Sean in the middle – approximately 30 minutes of material. This was a stand-alone event that had a surprise element in that it wasn’t pre-publicized. All the participants and volunteers of the Biennal attended and the response was exceptional. Battery Dance Company received a standing ovation, tears and strong emotions were tangible since this performance came at the end of all of the workshops.