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.