Battery Dance Company worked here in July- August 2007.
A sixteen year-old forgoes the holiday of his dreams in South Africa because of a dance project. Instead of relaxing on vacation in an exotic land, he demands of himself a maximum of concentration, energy and teamwork in an extended extra-curricular school project. He is one of 100 students in his town who are teamed up in groups of 20, developing choreography under the guidance of professional artists from New York’s Battery Dance Company. He wants to be on stage and to realize the culmination of two weeks of hard work when students from three different schools perform the Dances for the Blue House at the beginning of the summer holidays.
The project described here took place in July and August 2006 in Freiburg and Breisach in order to bring attention to the work of the Förderverein Ehemaliges Jüdisches Gemeindehaus e.V. The project led two New York City-based choreographers, Jonathan Hollander and Aviva Geismar, along with the teaching artists of their companies Battery Dance Company and Drastic Action, to three high schools in Freiburg: Lessing Realschule and Förderschule, Theodor-Heuss-Gymnasium and Kepler-Gymnasium. The ten artists from New York, joined by two colleagues from Australia and Russia, met with students daily for sessions lasting 5 hours over a period of 8 days. The students became dance-makers, devising 5 short dance works that they performed before the fellow pupils, parents and teachers of their respective schools.
The grand finale consisted of three performances for large public audiences in Breisach in which the efforts of the three schools were framed by dances performed by the professional dance companies. Detailed accounts were given by the newspaper Badische Zeitung and the local press and, and were followed by reports in Südwestrundfunk (a TV and radio channel) as well as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (a nation-wide newspaper). The occasion brought U.S. Ambassador William R. Timken from Berlin to Breisach, joined by VIP’s from the region, guests from Switzerland, France, Israel, U.S., U.K. and Canada, and a large contingent from the local region. The great success and the lasting impact on all involved provide encouragement to continue the work in a new form.
Finding Adequate Rehearsal Time
The creation of The Other Side was extremely complicated because of the Trans-Atlantic nature of the collaboration, with more than a dozen American and Portuguese partners to accommodate. The issue was to find enough time for the creation of a new and extended-length production involving 3 choreographers, a commissioned musical score and set pieces designed in New York and realized in Portugal; with premiere performances in Portugal and follow-up performances in New York. Negotiating the time was subject to intense financial and scheduling pressures on all sides. BDC overcame this challenge by drawing on its other program, the Downtown Dance Festival, as an opportunity to bring Quorum Ballet to New York as performers and to take advantage of their presence to workshop the production. The first phase of work was made possible through the fortuitous funding from the Camoes Foundation that allowed Quorum Ballet to come to New York to participate in the Downtown Dance Festival. Several extra days were tacked onto the engagement and the three choreographers utilized the time and Battery Dance Company’s studios to experiment with the dancers. Next, Hollander and Thaddeus Davis applied for funding from the US Department of State via the US Embassy in Lisbon for what was then called the Cultural Envoy Program. The proposal was successful and Hollander, Davis, BDC dancer Sean Scantlebury, BDC designer Barry Steele, composer Polar Levine and Thaddeus’ wife and dance partner, Tanya Wideman were able to travel to Lisbon and complete the rehearsal process. Fortunately, the dancers of Quorum Ballet were troupers and were used to long and intensive rehearsal hours and kept their energy up despite the demands put on them by three choreographers.
Building a Diverse Platform of Funding and Sponsorship
Step by step, Battery Dance Company built the support from Portuguese and American government sources as well as corporate and foundation sponsors to underwrite the costs of this elaborate project. As one level of support was secured, others were approached and the next layer of underpinning laid. This was a time-consuming process involving a visit to Washington to meet the Cultural Attache at the Portuguese Embassy; extensive communication with the US Embassy in Lisbon to lobby for funding via the Cultural Envoy Program; utilization of prior contacts with the Marriott Hotel chain to broker hospitality sponsorship from the Lisbon Marriott and facilities for a press conference, etc. On the side of Quorum Ballet, they had the rehearsal space and theater donated as part of their residency in the suburb of Amadora; therefore, they were able to provide suitable space and time and operational funding to support the project. The lesson to be learned from this is to evaluate the cost in terms of time and wo/man-power involved in a project of this magnitude beforehand to make sure that it fits into the overall resources of the dance company and contributes sufficiently to make the results worthwhile.
Battery Dance Company and Quorum Ballet of Portugal began to explore the possibility of a collaboration, instigated by Quorum Artistic Director, Daniel Cardoso, who, with his wife Theresa da Silva, had been members of Battery Dance Company in the late 1990’s. What began as a simple conversation led to a multi-layered, bilateral project in which everyone gained new opportunities of growth on an artistic and institutional level for both companies.
Through back and forth deliberations, it was decided that three choreographers should create work for the Quorum Ballet – its artistic director Cardoso, Battery Dance Company artistic director Jonathan Hollander, and American choreographer Thaddeus Davis. This collaboration was natural for Daniel since he and Theresa had worked extensively with both Hollander and Davis (with whom he and Theresa had danced in Donald Byrd’s company.)
In 2007, Quorum Ballet traveled to New York to perform in the Downtown Dance Festival. Quorum extended its visit in order to spend several days working in the studio with Hollander and BDC dancer Sean Scantlebury and Davis and his wife and dance partner Tanya Wideman, laying the groundwork for the new production which was ultimately called The Other Side.
As a next step, Hollander, Scantlebury, designer Barry Steele, Thaddeus Davis and Tanya Wideman all went to Portugal for a period of three weeks to complete the building of the piece. Through an arduous process, a 45-minute work was created and a workshop performance was given at the local dance academy (from which many of the members of Quorum had graduated, years earlier.) Add-on activities included a workshop in Setubol for students at the Escola Superior de Danca located 2 hours from Lisbon, coordinated by Iolanda Rodrigues, a former Quorum Ballet dancer.
Scantlebury, a member of Battery Dance Company, was incorporated as a performer in the piece as was Wideman, though she was ultimately replaced by another Quorum dancer. Scantlebury, Steele and composer Polar Levine returned to Lisbon in January, 2007, for final rehearsals and the premiere performances. A month later, Quorum Ballet returned to New York to perform the piece in Battery Dance Company’s New York Season.
It is safe to say that the results of this project exceeded everyone’s expectations.
The Other Side was presented in Lisbon at the Recreios da Almadora, a 250-seat theater, in three performances on February 1, 2 and 3, 2008. The following weekend in 2008, it was presented at the theater in Alcobaca, and The Quorum Ballet the journeyed to New York with sponsorship from the Camoes Institute and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Portugal to present the work in four performances at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center on February 13 and 14.
The performance was considered by many to be a masterpiece of different cultures coming together, to share their similarities and differences. Barry Steele developed an elaborate set that distorted half way through the piece to reveal an intimate duet. Costumes were also made by the Lisbon School of Design to support the choreographic intention of the piece.
Please see Lisbon for details on BDC's trip to Portugal in 2007.