Battery Dance Company Performed here in March, 2004.
Venues and Services
Social Issues & cultural adaptation:
In advance of the program, this being our first venture in North Africa, we were perhaps over concerned with what we had been counseled as to “appropriate” garments for women – minimizing the exposure of skin. We’d had our costume designer create long sleeves and tights to match some of the costumes that had been thought to be too revealing. After the fact, we realized that European companies, primarily French, had performed frequently in Morocco and had exposed plenty of flesh. All in all, we managed to preserve the character of our costumes and avoided any possibility of offending the more conservative sectors of the community.
Having said that, the women in our Company were not terribly comfortable in Casablanca. They felt leered at by the groups of men who hung out on street corners around the hotel; as opposed to the capital, Rabat, where they were more at ease on the streets.
On this tour, we were dealing with one of the most professional Embassy teams we have encountered anywhere. They knew that technical assessment of the theaters was an essential ingredient in a successful program – and thus they requested that BDC’s production designer, Barry Steele, arrive before the Company and do site visits at the theaters in Casa and Rabat. In both cases, the performances went off beautifully and some portion of credit must go to the advance planning.
The programs in Casablanca and Rabat included workshops with local street, hip-hop, and break dancers; as well as modern dancers. The inclusion of a semi-staged dance jam by these groups and BDC dancers as a surprise encore after BDC’s big concert at the Mohammed V Theater in Rabat proved to be a sensation and earned the Company an essay by renowned author and political pundit Robert Satloff, Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in his book "The Battle of Ideas in the War on Terror: Essays on U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Middle East".
Including our small band of 3 musicians, all of whom are trained as teachers as well as first-rate performers, added another dimension to our tour. The performances were enhanced by the live music in the pit; and the outreach was expanded since the musicians were programmed in conservatories while the dancers worked in dance studios.
Don’t ever give up: While in Morocco, we had one of the most devastating security issues we have ever encountered; one so serious that it could have destroyed the programs in Tunisia and Jordan that followed. One of our dancers was pick-pocketed in the few steps between the hotel front desk and a taxi waiting outside in Rabat. Had he been a U.S. citizen, the issue would not have been so grave (we always carry multiple Xerox copies of passports and a temporary replacement could have been generated by the Embassy rather quickly.) However, this dancer was a native of the former Yugoslavia and had come to the U.S. and been granted political asylum. His original Yugoslav passport (a country that by that time no longer existed) as well as his U.S. travel documents were stolen. This theft threatened his ability to travel on with us to the next countries on the tour, and also made it possible that he would be denied re-entry into the U.S. The lesson learned was: Leave no stone unturned and ask everyone you can think of for advice. Someone may come up with what others see as an insoluble problem. The superb FSN in Rabat and I located an Embassy of what was then the Nation of Serbia and Montenegro. The interim Ambassador proved to be a young and friendly chap who thought nothing of generating a new Yugoslav (!) passport overnight and delivering it to us after the performance the next evening. By the time we completed our tour in Amman, Jordan, Homeland Security had managed to expedite replacement U.S. travel documents and though he had to do his warm up in the lobby of the specially opened U.S. Consulate (it was a Saturday) while waiting for the papers to be produced, he was able to return to New York with the rest of the company.
Battery Dance Company showcased for Moroccan audiences the best of the best of America’s modern dance scene with two public performances. One in Casablanca, and another in Rabat. During the trip, the company worked with the U.S. Mission to reach out to a “younger, wider, deeper” audience through an intense series of workshops with young Moroccan dancers and musicians in Casablanca and Rabat during the March 10-17 visit.
Top-notch professionals, the Company members (most in their 20s) also demonstrated their unsurpassed human touch by working with both budding ballet and “urban cool” hip-hop dancers with equal enthusiasm. Embodying at once self-discipline and focus, as well as openness and an egalitarian spirit, the young Americans impressed and disarmed their initially skeptical counterparts, breaking down barriers of language, religion and class to reach the shared common ground of art and human expression.
In the first Dancing To Connect workshop in Casablanca, approximately 50 dancers, ages 18 – 30 attended (all male except for one young woman). Some were from Casablanca and others had traveled several hours to get there. BDC dancers invited the students to demonstrate their own dance routines (break dance was the universal medium). After about 45 minutes of demonstrations, BDC took over.
BDC Dancers Lauren Alzamora and Kyla Ernst-Alper led a group of about 25 interested participants in a class based on Pilates and various dance stretch techniques. Fellow BDC Dancer, Sean Scantlebury, followed with exercises across the floor including jumps and turns. There was a good feeling in the room – of mutual respect and sharing of new ideas.
Ballet, Hip-Hop, Modern and Injury-Prevention master classes were lead by BDC dancers the following day at Moulay Rashid Cultural Complexe in Casablanca. The dancers also presented studio showings of Solo's during this time. The trip to Moulay Rashid concluded with a performance that was attended by approximately 600 people. This included the Mayor of Casablanca and U.S. Embassy officials. The Company was accorded a standing ovation and 50+ audience members and VIP’s waited 30 minutes after the performance to greet and thank the performers.
BDC then traveled to Rabat, where after a lunch meeting and tech rehearsal - the company lead Urban Dance, Ballet, Jazz and Music workshops. BDC musicians felt it was a successful interaction; new ideas were shared on both sides.
The company then moved on to the Circus School in Salé (twin sister to Rabat), where they lead three dance workshops.
These workshops went extremely well. The school was very anxious to participate and everyone cooperated in setting up the space appropriately, moving tumbling mats, laying down Marley floor (BDC supplied the tape to adhere the Marley which belongs to the school).
The students worked very hard in each workshop and showed excellent concentration and ability to digest new techniques. Similarly, three music workshops at the Music Conservatory of Rabat also took place with jazz musicians and ganaouas, who are also conservatory students or teachers. The workshops were held by the three BDC musicians; Frank Carlberg, Christine Correa and Yousif Sheronick.
BDC's trip to Morocco Concluded with a Performance at the Mohammed V Theater in Rabat; a Full-house including Ambassador & Mrs. Riley, DCM, Mrs. Bush and various leaders of the government and arts community of Morocco attended.
Hosted by the Ambassador, the Rabat program opened with a widely-appreciated moment of silence in memory of the victims of the recent tragedies at Al Hoceima (earthquake) and Madrid and closed with two groups of Moroccan dancers (one “hip-hop”) joining with BDC in a surprise performance of two pieces prepared at workshops only a day before. The audience was delighted to see “their” boys and girls literally on an equal footing with the American “stars.”
The Rabat performance was a sold-out show (recorded for local Moroccan Television) to an audience of 1,600 spectators, who ranged from young Moroccan “urban cool” street dancers, to two government ministers.