Each year since 2005, Battery Dance Company has conducted a melange of arts education programs and performances in Germany. What began as a very focused, on-off project in Baden-Wurttemberg, developed into a multi-tiered program that spread to five German Federal States.
Successful programs often breed opportunities for follow-on activities, especially when personal relationships have been built with local sponsors and community leaders.
When on-site rehearsal time is anticipated to be very limited, extensive background communication and research is helpful in order to foresee any problems well in advance and resolve them beforehand.
Plan itineraries well in advance and think imaginatively about ways to shoe-horn programs onto other tours. The expense of conducting the Breisach program would have been too high, had it not been grafted on to a previously scheduled Asia Tour, using the Frankfurt Airport as a hub.
On June 23rd, Battery Dance Company returned to Breisach, the city where it had staged the acclaimed “Dances for the Blue House” in 2006, to participate in the 10th Anniversary commemorating the opening of the Blue House as a living memorial to the Jews of Breisach. Seven members of the Company participated – 5 performers, artistic director and technical director.
Three events took place in close succession before an audience estimated at 200. First, a series of site-specific performances were presented within 5 rooms of the Blue House:
• a community room on the ground floor where a BDC dancer performed along with musician Thomas Wenk (resident of Breisach, professor of music at the Freiburg Conservatory)
• A prayer room in which dossiers of Jewish families are stored in a wooden ‘ark’
• A study room where the recently deceased Cantor, Ralph Eisenmann, had prepared his sermons
• The former bedroom of Eisenmann and his wife, where a rock came through the window, a precursor to the events that were to follow in the Nazi movement
• A small kitchen where the audience watched the dancer and reader from the open doorway.
The audience was asked to form a ‘silent procession’ and filed through the rooms, following a pathway that was marked on the floor with colored tape. There were readers in each room who recited passages from texts included as an addendum to this report. After the audience had filed out of the house and seated itself on chairs and benches that had been placed on the closed-off street and in the shade of a large tree, the dancers dashed out of the house. They had changed from their cream-colored silk costumes into brightly colored “rain suits” and ran around the side yard of the Blue House, climbed a scaffolding, and ceremoniously unwrapped the plastic sheeting covering a newly installed sculpture created by German artist Heike Endemann. While the audience took respite in the garden of the Blue House, with cakes and coffee, the Battery Dance Company team was transported to the Breisgau Halle where the Company’s tech director had been working all day with local crew on preparing the stage, lighting and sound for a full-fledged performance. At 7 pm, the performance took place, featuring a new work, “Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost” by Polish choreographer Jacek Luminski and two segments from “AUTOBIOGRAPHICA”. Introductory remarks were given by the Public Affairs Officer of the Consulate General Frankfurt and by Battery Dance Company Artistic Director. The audience included a huge span of generations with local children of under 10 years old all the way up to people in the 80’s. Jewish Holocaust survivors and families of survivors from Breisach came from as far away as the U.S., Switzerland, U.K., Israel and France. For them, the events had a special resonance. However, the local audience from Breisach and Freiburg, including 4 young adults who had participated in the original Dances for the Blue House and Dancing to Connect programs, as well as teachers from Freiburg schools who had coordinated the earlier programs, also attended and accorded powerful appreciation for all of the events.
Note to readers: The adjacent video from Louvroil at the Espace Culturel Casadesus also appears on the Maubeuge page for streamlined access to content and narrative.
See Lessons Learned under Maubeuge, France.
See Narrative under Maubeuge, France.
Plan in Advance
Our program in Greece went through some serious changes before emerging as one of the most rewarding we’ve ever done. If we hadn’t had the lead time that 10 months of planning allowed, then we would not have been able to weather the big changes (in funders, in local host institutions) that came down the pike.
Don’t Underestimate the Value of a Good Local Partner
As the narrative reveals, the Onassis Cultural Centre was the ideal partner for the U.S. Embassy and Battery Dance Company – providing obvious resources such as funding and a magnificent theater. But just as important were the behind-the-scenes elements such as generosity of spirit and collaborative instinct; expertise in arts education and theater production technology; excellent connections with the community of dancers, dance teachers, arts managers and the cultural press; built-in audience and prestige.
Offer a Big Menu of Program Offerings
You can’t predict when some of your skills and offerings may suit the needs of a sponsor. Case in point: in addition to the arts education workshops and performance that were the heart of our program in Greece, we were able to conduct arts management and dance teacher training workshops and a special program for hearing impaired students. We had the extra days and funding to allow for these extras, and the local team at the Embassy and OCC understood how these programs could add to the impact of our time in Athens.
Starting from the end and going backwards may be the best way to tell the story of our ten-day program in Greece. The score card includes 5 intensive Dancing to Connect workshops with a nearly full complement of 100 youth; a 3-hour workshop with teachers and 15 students at the National School for the Deaf; a 3-hour teacher training workshop with choreographers, dance and gym teachers; an arts management workshop for 30 administrators from cultural organizations, performing arts ensembles and journalists; and in-depth training of 5 Greek teaching artists and a performance attended by 700 people which was live streamed and is archived.
It seemed in the planning phase (and in retrospect) like an impossibly extensive schedule but while it was happening, we were carried along seamlessly and with full support at every moment. Did this have something to do with the mild weather after the snows of Northern France? Or our proximity to the wonders of ancient Greece, with the Acropolis within walking distance from our hotel? Or the magnificent facilities of the Onassis Cultural Centre? Yes, to all of the above. But even more so, I credit the talent, generosity, savvy and open-mindedness of our Greek partners at the US Embassy and the Onassis Cultural Centre.
How did we get to this point of utter program and personal fulfillment? It was anything but a straight path. We originally targeted Greece because we felt the economic crisis must leave people with a thirst for enrichment through the arts and education. We found to our delight that the Public Affairs Staff at the U.S. Embassy gravitated to our concept when we first approached them in May, 2012. The question of funding was an impediment from the beginning; but the open dialogue between us allowed us to stay focused and collaborative. We had entered into conversation with an international foundation that we thought would be a likely prospect to co-fund the project with the Embassy. It took us six months of back-and-forth to discover that we were barking up the wrong tree. Likewise, we were directed towards an important dance education institution in Athens as our local partner, only to find that everything we thought we understood about the cooperation was a mirage.
One of our affiliated artists was based in Greece and by chance, discussed the project and the need for a local partner with the education director of the Onassis Cultural Centre. It turned out that Battery Dance Company’s approach was a perfect fit for the OCC. From that point onwards, the Embassy, OCC and BDC became a dream team, with great and rare unanimity of purpose, philosophy and approach. This type of synergy happens very infrequently, and we treasure it.
The success of the program can best be seen in that there are several strands of follow-on activities that are in the midst of blossoming. One of the student DtC groups has made a dance video embedded with the theme of ending human trafficking. They were mentored by the Greek teaching artist who had partnered with us at the school. The five Greek teaching artists, none of whom had worked in the same company before, have coalesced as a group and are preparing work to be presented at Battery Dance Company’s Downtown Dance Festival in August (with facilitative and financial support from the OCC.)
Just as in any successful partnership, we feel as if we have received more than we could possibly have given ourselves. We hope we can come close to replicating this program as we travel elsewhere and build new international cultural engagement programs.
Battery Dance Company worked and performed here in 2013 with support from The US Embassy Bucharest
Media and Press
The Company was greeted at the airport by U.S. Embassy Bucharest’s CAO Edwina Sagitto and FSN Isabella Alexandrescu who accompanied the team to the InterContinental Bucharest. After quickly dropping off the luggage, the Company visited Trouble Dance Studio, where Roma dancers performed a number of acrobatic street dance numbers. The following day, the Company and Embassy team visited and inspected all of the workshop venues and met with local partners.
Over the course of 5 days, 85 youth and young adults came together in the workshops for 6 hours each day, including 1 hour for lunch. BDC’s Mira Cook led a workshop with 20 young ballet students from the Place of Youth on-stage, while Robin Cantrell led a workshop with 20 dance experienced and non-experienced young adults from Romanian public high-schools at WASP, and Clement Mensah led a workshop with 18 young adults at the George Cosbuc Bi-lingual School. The choreography created from each group was emotionally powerful and complex and delved into their life experiences and difficulties. The youth from the George Cosbuc School included a rendition of ‘Every Time I Close My Eyes’ altered to talk about their dreams.
BDC’s Sean Scantelbury led a workshop with Roma youth from the villages, city, and Trouble Dance at the smaller studio at WASP. While ordinarily BDC requires that participants volunteer for the Dancing to Connect program, the history of exclusion felt by the Roma community has resulted in a culture in which Roma do not volunteer to be included. This coupled with the expectation by some that they would be learning hip-hop moves led to the disengagement of some of the youth on the first day. The small studio and poor discipline by some of the remaining youth, who disturbed the workshops and distracted others, threatened to derail the workshop and the ability of the students to create a piece that could be performed on stage. As a result, the workshop was moved to a larger studio at the Palace of Children and a few young ballet students from the Palace joined the Roma workshop group to make up for those who had dropped out, leaving the total number of participants at 14. Those ballet students quickly created close friendships with their fellow participants. After inspiring the students by showing them the stage area and telling them that all the seats had already been reserved, a 180 degree shift in attitude took place amongst most of the students. The lead troublemaker soon also joined in after her fellow students began ignoring her antics and instead urged her to take the workshop seriously. Amazingly, some of the strongest emotions after the final performance came from this group.
Special Needs Workshop
BDC’s Carmen Nicole led workshops with participants suffering from Down syndrome and other mental handicaps at the National Palace of Youth. While the workshops were planned with higher capacity students that had some prior experience with dancing, the 1st day of workshops included a group of participants with extremely low cognitive and movement capacities. After consulting with local partners on the possible strain of the workshops and stage performance on the physical and mental health of the least capable students, it was decided that the originally planned contingent of higher capacity students be brought in to supplement the more capable participants already attending. Nevertheless, the few participants who would not continue with the workshops were very thankful and happy with their one day experience. Total number of participants for Carmen’s workshop was 13.
In lieu of questionnaires, BDC conducted interviews with the special needs students before and after the performance. Throughout the duration of the workshop week, the parents of the youth would sit or stand to watch.
With an overflow of people and emotions, Battery Dance Company and the five Dancing to Connect groups performed to an over-capacity crowd that filled the theatre with people sitting in the aisles. Prior to the performance, a slideshow of the week’s activities was displayed for attendees. At the conclusion of each group’s performance, the audience showed immense support. Most touching was the outpouring of cheers for the mentally challenged group and the Roma group, exemplifying the breaking down of barriers achieved, and the success achieved through the workshops despite the difficulties faced at the beginning. At the culmination of the performance, the audience provided a nearly 5 minute standing ovation. With emotions high back-stage, participants and local partners alike cried with one another over the joy of what had been accomplished. View performance here.
Deputy Director Emad Salem gave a lecture on Arts Administration and Fundraising at the National Academy for Theatre and Film to over 20 students, while Technical Production Supervisor G. Benjamin Swope provided Lighting Design master class to 20 participants at the George Cosbuc School. Both Emad and G. Ben gave additional lectures at the American Corner to over 15 participants. Meanwhile, the dancers held a 2 hour master-class and discussion on the life of a dancer in NYC to over 30 participants at the National Academy.
On BDC’s final day prior to leaving Romania, the Company took in the sights and sounds of Transylvania, visiting the beautiful Bran Castle after a winter blizzard had coated the countryside. BDC also visited the town of Brasov and the Black Church, before having lunch with Embassy driver Dany.
Arrival: The Company was greeted at the airport by U.S. Embassy Budapest’s CAO Dmitri Tarakhovsky who accompanied the team to the beautiful InterContinental Budapest. The InterContinental provided reduced-rate accommodations for BDC’s stay in addition to access to the executive lounge. Tarakhovsky, worked diligently over the next day to secure from Tarom Airways the lost luggage of Deputy Director Emad Salem, which arrived at the hotel the following day.
Master-classes: The day after arrival and the morning of performance day, the BDC team, accompanied by the Embassy’s FSN Monika Vali, split-up and conducted master classes across different locations in Budapest. Over two days, nine master classes were held at the Hungarian Dance College taught by BDC Teaching Artists Clement Menshah, Mira Cook, and Robin Cantrell; at the Budapest Contemporary Dance College, taught by BDC Teaching Artist Carmen Nicole Smith, and at the Jurányia Inkubátorház taught by Sean Scantlebury. A total of 90 participants took part in the classes. In addition, Salem and Cantrell conducted an arts administration lecture with 30 dancers at the Budapest Contemporary Dance College, and Cantrell provided advice and answered questions on career development and the life of a dancer in New York City for 12 international dancers at the Hungarian Dance College. One participant, Kati Basca, travelled 80 miles to Budapest to take part in the workshops. Kati previously visited Battery Dance Company’s studios in Manhattan in summer, 2012. Kati said of the workshops: “I cannot be grateful enough [for the attention paid to me], [to provide] me access to the classes and the performance! The two days [were] full of energy, impressions, and I got a lot of good feelings! I am very thankful, and I hope, someday I can repay you. I never thought that [I could have such an honor]. I very much appreciate what I got! Thank you again and also very often. I wish you the best, with whole heart.”
Performance: After a full day of technical setup by BDC Production Director G. Benjamin Swope, the dancers rehearsed on-stage and performed for a capacity audience of nearly 300 that included old and new friends, including Kovács Gerzson Péter, one of Hungary’s foremost choreographers, Adrienne Nagys, formerly of the Hungarian Cultural Center in New York, and Andrew Somogyi, former cultural officer at the U.S. Embassy Budapest. The audience showed its appreciation with three curtain calls. Somogyi said of the performance: “Only positives to broadcast! Full house, fantastic theatre for the performance, innovative musical composition, great multi-directional audio sound equipment, amazing dancers and very lovely choreography. The pace and length of the evening was quite appropriate and the performance had a genuine American sense of presence, an energetic view toward the future, a hopefulness that you do not see here performed in our theatres.” The full house was a surprise, given the fact that Budapest was socked in after 3 days of snowfall.
March 29 - April 6 2013
U.S. Embassy Tbilisi
Battery Dance Company’s program in Macedonia featured a Dancing to Connect program with ethnically-mixed groups in local public schools with an intended outreach of 100 participants. BDC also Performed Autobiographica and led master classes here as part of the annual Skopje Dance Festival
Media and Press
Workshops: The morning after the Budapest performance, BDC departed for Györ to conduct programming similar to that which it had done in Budapest. After a meeting over tea with local partners Elek Zsolt from the Györ Dance High School and Keszeiné Tóth Bernadett from the Györ National Theatre, the dancers led 3-hour creativity workshops with 30 students from the high school and 40 students from Györi Balett. After the workshops, master class participants were able to perform short pieces devised from their own inspiration. On the morning of the performance, BDC’s Clement Mensah also led an intensive master-class with the 30+ members of the Györi Ballet.
Performance: In an intimate gathering, Battery Dance Company performed for 80 guests and the Györ media. Despite a power outage in the middle of BDC’s set, the dancers continued performing while the audience provided rhythmic clapping to substitute for the lost music. Afterwards, a champagne reception was hosted by the Györi Balett in which audience members, Györi Ballet and Theatre dancers and administrators, local partners, and BDC intermingled.
Future Collaboration: Through the short stay in Györ, numerous meetings were also held between BDC Deputy Director Salem, Bernadett, and Kiss János, Artistic and Executive Director of Györi Balett over shared passions and ideas for future collaboration. The Györ Balett has invited a BDC representative as a special guest of the 9th Hungarian Dance Festival starting June 17, 2013 and discussions continue over having The Györi Balett perform at BDC’s Downtown Dance Festival in 2014 and for BDC to return to perform as part of the Hungarian Dance Festival.
Weighing Hardship Against Impact:
Out of five studios in which we ran 20-hour workshops during a cold and snowy week in Northern France, only two were heated. This seems to be an accepted condition by our local host organization, but for us and the participants with whom we worked, it meant vulnerability to illness, students being so cold that they didn't want to shed their overcoats and shoes, and the resulting diminishment in attendance and engagement. On the other hand, pushing through the chill and keeping an eye on the ultimate goal of the project, our teaching artists showed their determination and mettle, the participants likewise overcame the cold conditions and everyone pulled together and scored big time as a result.
One of our biggest challenges is Hip-Hop. Meaning that we don't 'do' hip-hop but having dancers of color and being from New York, young participants automatically assume that we're there to teach them the latest moves. Instead, we ask them to be creative and to take the reins of their own visions. We refuse to demonstrate because young people will easily fall into imitating us. If we can get over this hump, we've made it. But unfortunately, in Maubeuge, the majority of dancers in the community with whom we had expected to interact, rejected our workshops without even dipping their toes into the process. Despite this, we managed to run 5 separate workshops and it was generally felt that our program was wildly successful, with standing-room-only at the final performance and extensive coverage in print, radio and television media. If we could come back to Maubeuge, we would be able to address the problems of the first program through our new renown in the area and having demystified the process of Dancing to Connect.
Things Are not What They Seem (sometimes):
The theater that the U.S. Embassy booked for us appeared to be a fabulous venue, with a large stage, very modern architecture and a vibrant website. However, on close inspection as we approached the start date of the program, the Embassy found that the theater had none of its own lighting equipment or a cyclorama. A huge bill was drawn up to cover the cost of renting a full set-up of equipment and two crew to hang, focus and support our technical director in running the show. Fortunately, the local Municipal officials agreed to share costs with the Embassy; otherwise, we would have had serious problems. But the question remains: what if they hadn't? The Embassy would have gone way over budget and a sour feeling would have clung to our program. How to avoid this type of problem in the future? If one could do a site visit way in advance of a program, that would be the best solution. This is almost never possible for us, given the tight budgets of our programs. The next best approach is to ask every possible question, even the ones that seem obvious, well in advance and to demand an equipment inventory before settling on a theater.
We learned that in France, hierarchies persist in the arts that we wouldn't have expected. Community arts programs and arts education are seen as separate and disconnected from The Arts (in capitals.) This segregation impacted us in that, in at least one of the venues we used, the administrators had a distinctly patronizing attitude towards our program. Perhaps we've changed perceptions even if slightly.
Battery Dance Company conducted five Dancing to Connect workshops in and around the Northern French city of Maubeuge in Feb/March, 2013. The program, Battery Dance Company’s debut in France, was a close collaboration with the U.S. Embassy Paris and took one year to plan. The locale was specifically chosen to target immigrant and disenfranchised communities; and a local host institution, Secteur 7, was identified as the ideal partner.
Secteur 7 has a good track record in engaging local youth, utilizing hip hop and other urban art forms as magnets for a broad mix of participants, celebrating their talent and creating esprit de corps. There is high unemployment in the region and career prospects for young people are grim. There is tension between the different ethnic groups – between people of different color, religion and social mores. The Embassy hoped to utilize Battery Dance Company’s prowess in the dance education and conflict resolution areas to make a significant contribution to the community. From the response of the participants themselves, the Secteur 7 leadership and the local and municipal government officials, it would appear that the project exceeded all expectations.
Originally a national theater, Le Manège, had been chosen for the final performance. However, another alternative had to be sought two months before the program, purportedly because of scheduling issues. However, while in Maubeuge, we heard mutterings about the schism between the world of high art (which is funded nationally and via EU) and local art. We wondered whether Manège had looked down upon the Dancing to Connect project because of its populist aspect. The Embassy staff scrambled and was able to locate a beautiful new theater in Louvroil, adjacent to Maubeuge, which welcomed our program. The poison pill came when it was discovered that this theater, Espace Culturel Casadesus, had no lighting equipment of its own. An outside contractor was engaged and after haggling with prices and cutting anything that wasn’t absolutely essential, the Embassy was able to share the unexpected costs with the Préfecture du Nord-Pas-de-Calais.
The stage at Casadesus was beautiful and the lobby was bright and inviting; but the theater architect hadn’t counted on a large number of performers, and had created only 3 dressing rooms that could each accommodate 2 or 3 people maximum and therefore worked for the Battery Dance Company members exclusively. Since the DtC workshops involved over 60 participants, a solution had to be found for them. Originally, it was thought that a heated tent could be erected outside the backstage of the theater; but this would have proved costly and was considered dangerous given the inclement weather (it was snowing and windy). Another solution was found by curtaining off the two sides of the lobby and draping inside the theater to create areas where the participants could wait for their entrances, providing a hidden entrance into the backstage area from each side of the lobby. Similarly, the issue of the projector and cyclorama were challenges that were overcome through experimentation and teamwork on the part of BDC’s tech director, the theater’s tech director (who moved the projector, allowing for a wider image) and the local contractors who provided a good white cyc on which to project the video effects that form a critical part of the BDC portion of the program. It took days to work out this solution but all was well in the end.
On the night of the show, it was thrilling to see the house completely full with visitors from as far away as Paris and Brussels and from each of the surrounding towns. There was a mix of children, seniors and everything in between. The U.S. Embassy’s Minister Counselor for Public Affairs Philip Breeden welcomed the audience as did a representative of the French Government and Jonathan Hollander, whose address in French was vetted by Sophie Nadeau, the Embassy’s point person for the entire project. A Secteur 7 representative served as emcee.
The entire performance was documented by the Embassy and posted on Youtube. Click here to view full performance. A lengthy radio interview with Jonathan Hollander and Secteur 7’s Clementine Coulon was aired the week after the program, amplifying its impact. The Voix du Nord newspaper gave ample coverage to the event and France Television broadcast a 2 minute clip in the lead up to the performance. The Mayor’s Office of Maubeuge hosted a luncheon for Hollander, Breeden, Nadeau and Secteur 7 and made everyone feel very appreciated. Parisian artist Catherine van den Steen attended the workshops and performance and has posted a gallery of photos illustrating the social and physical milieu of Maubeuge and the workings of the Dancing to Connect process.
See Lessons Learned under Maubeuge, France.
See Narrative under Maubeuge, France.
Project Activities (what was conducted, number of participants, participant demographics, media outreach, audience estimate, repertoire performed, etc.)
Apply for Visas in Advance
Formally it takes 5 business days to get a visa to Russia but due to many national holidays it might take up to 2 weeks to get one. So take this into account when planning your trip. The longest holidays in Russia are New Year/ Orthodox Christmas (January 1-January 7) when the governmental offices can be closed for 10 days in a row and the May Holidays (May 1, Workers’ Solidarity Day through May 9, Victory Day) when the governmental agencies might be closed up to 5 days in a row. Another obstacle that you might have is the letter of invitation that your Russian counterparts need to obtain, often through the Russian Ministry of Culture. It may also take much longer than expected. To be on the safer side, make sure you remind your Russian counterpart to start the visa application process as soon as you finalize your project details but no later than 6 weeks before your departure.
Short Term Planning is Normal
Long-term planning is not customary in Russia. It is not unusual to witness how large-scale projects are taking shape within a couple months, sometimes even weeks. Thus the closer the project is the more intense your workload will be.
Make Sure You Speak the Same Language
Russia is on the metric system, so your Russian partners might have difficulties understanding the specs or dimensions of your equipment if you provide them in inches, sq. footage, pounds etc. Russian electrical outlets have 220 volts, so you might need adapters for your electronics and electrical devises.
Be Ready for Mosquitoes
If you are going to spend a lot of time outdoors in late spring through early fall bring the strongest mosquito repellent possible.
Keep All Your Receipts and Airfare tickets
The Russian accounting system is more complicated and has more red tape. If your Russian counterparts cover your expenses make sure you keep all the receipts, including the airplane boarding passes, since your partners might request them after the program is over.
Battery Dance has visited Russia three times so far. The two most recent visits were organized by the Art-Residence International Culture Project headed by Konstantin Grouss, a contemporary choreographer and a curator. The main goal of the visit was the Company’s participation in an outdoor festival of street art in a small historic town of Vyksa 6 hour drive westward from Moscow.
In addition to performing at the festival, three BDC dancers, Mira Cook, Robin Cantrell and Sean Scantlebury, conducted a week-long workshops with Vyksan teenagers.
Below are the dancers’ observations of their work with the workshop participants in 2013:
Mira Cook: I taught a Dancing to Connect workshop in Vyksa for 16 girls in their mid- teens and one woman who was 27. I had 3 students who had been in my workshop last year and some of my other students from last year were in Robin and Sean's classes. It seemed like about 8-10 people from my group last year had returned. Overall my students this year displayed fantastic enthusiasm and energy, I felt lucky. I actually had to tell them to tone it down a little bit for the performance since their energy was almost becoming over the top.
During the snack break each day all the girls would crowd around me and my helper/translator Ksenia and just stare at us and look at my pad of paper as I was writing notes (even though they did not read English) and smile and ask Ksenia questions. I felt like they were emulating my every move and I thought it was sweet.
During our dinner breaks Robin, Sean and I would rehearse our performance piece and students would watch through the window and door as we practiced. Later one of my students showed me her interpretation of a move that she saw us do. She orbited her finger around her other finger then made an explosion motion with both hands and an explosion noise.
At the end of the workshop the girls blew up and framed a picture of the group that had been taken earlier in the week and gave it to me and cried and said "you are welcomed in Vyksa" and "come back" over and over.
The piece we had created throughout the week was a very bold statement of girl power. All the dancers showed total confidence and pride in their movements. I was really proud of them. Most of the students were around 15/16/17 (not the most confident age) and it felt like they had made a strong club of righteous ladies by the end of the week.
Robin Cantrell: My group consisted of about 15 girls ages 11 to 17. However one was much older, around 28 with a husband and a child. Although she did not speak any English, I was so impressed with her maturity and how she pulled the younger ones along. At the end of the program she explained (with an interpreter) that she had been a teacher trainee the year before and this year wanted to experience the project as a participant. She is a teacher and had incorporated a number of the exercises that had been used the year before in her class and found that her students had improved and greatly over the course of the year. She plans to use the exercises that she learned with me as well. I like this because it's exactly the sort of long term result that you hope for with the project.
I also found it to be a very good sign that about 75% of my students were returns from the previous year. Sean and Mira agreed that their behavior was much better and their confidence and creativity more apparent this year. Now that they knew what to expect, they jumped right in to the work.
Battery Dance Company made its Thailand debut and conducted an extensive array of outreach programs in July, 2013. The one-week program in Bangkok was organized by the U.S. Embassy in teamwork with Busakorn “Apple” Chantaravorameth of rumPUREE World Dance studio.
The overall project was deemed a success.
U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney wrote:
“I just wanted to let you know what a huge success the Battery Dance Company was last night in Bangkok. Thank you for sending them our way. They were charming, artistically flawless and made a wonderful impact with children who might not otherwise know the joy of dancing.”
BDC Teaching Artist Robin Cantrell reflected on her experience:
This was the most intense Dancing to Connect I've ever dealt with. Half of my students came from a place called the Mercy Center, which is a home in the city for orphaned children, many of whom are HIV +. The others came from The Center For Protection of Children's Rights Foundation. This is a home just outside of the city for girls who were either victims of human trafficking, or were sexually or physically abused by their families and needed to be removed from their homes.
Most of the girls had been in these group homes from a very young age. I'm sure they were not considered a part of many normal social groups. They have very few belongings but are given a small weekly allowance which they mostly spend on candy. They seemed to be very reliant on one another for protection and comfort.
These girls have deep emotional issues that they are currently, and will likely always, be working through. I treated them very differently than I've treated DtC groups in the past. For example, one troubled girl came in and instead of participating in warm up, sat at my feet and watched warm up. Normally, I would find this unacceptable, but in this case, I let the girls determine when they were ready to be involved with the group. They also had a habit of retreating into themselves, going to another place mentally and emotionally when they were asked to do something that made them uncomfortable. I can only imagine that this is a strategic coping mechanism for dealing with sexual abuse.
This group had difficulty with concentration, emotion, and trust, but based on their backgrounds, this was all to be expected. The stories that their teachers, social workers, and they themselves shared with me were horrifying. Every day I would go home, shower and cry, then become angry with the monsters who could do such terrible things to such sweet little girls. In the end, this was probably the most rewarding group I've ever worked with. These girls were already so strong for having made it through such traumatic early life events. I was very proud of everything they accomplished. Their piece was last in the performance. They were not the strongest dancers, but I think they presented the most feeling, and gave a very strong show.
The entire Battery Dance Company team lavished praise on the organizing team of Kanchalee “Kelly” Jitjang and Busakorn “Apple” Chantaravorameth for their superior skills in facilitating what was, in the end, a very complicated program. BDC Artistic Director was supposed to be part of the team in Thailand but had to return to New York City due to a family emergency. As such, the BDC team carried on without a central project manager and was particularly impressed at how smoothly issues like transportation, snacks and meals were coordinated.
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.
As part of SpanFest 2013:
Security is Expensive
Most western governments and people will tell you not to use local taxi transportation nor to walk around the city (especially at night), due to a high risk of kidnapping. This results in shuttling back and forth between one secure location and another. These high security zones are not cheap and rival NYC prices and can sometimes be more expensive. At the Eko Hotel & Suites, without sponsorship, a standard one night stay is around $450 per night and the dinner buffet is over $50 per meal, with internet $10 per day. You'll find similar prices at other secure locations so be sure to budget accordingly, or have the necessary partnership(s) in place to reduce these expenses accordingly.
Prepare for the Airport
The Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos can be chaotic. On arrival, we had a minder meet us at the gate. Another assisted us with our luggage and escorted us through crowds to a waiting car. Do not leave any luggage unattended or out of your hands! Targeting of foreign visitors at the airport is commonplace. Ignore anyone who approaches you or offers assistance outside of baggage claim. If someone will be meeting you at the airport, they will most likely meet you at the gate. The departure was equally chaotic. Leave for the airport more than 4 hours before your flight. We faced long line after long line at the airport which took more than 2 hours to get through. Fights also erupted between passangers waiting and passengers cutting the line and between motorists trying to get to the airport. Do not get involved in altercations in any way. The currency exchange is not easily located in the airport! Be sure to exchange any left over Naira before the airport because outside of Nigeria the currency becomes worthless and cannot be exchanged. Also, restrooms are not easily located and the airport is not air conditioned.
Eastern Standard Time vs Nigerian Standard Time
In the East Coast United States, there is a common saying that time equals money; punctuality is paramount. The opposite holds true for Lagos. Tardiness is commonplace: for meetings, arrival of equipment/materials, transportation pickups, etc. During this program, we waited nearly 3 hours for the technical company providing lighting and sound equipment to arrive for a tech-meeting, even though they said they were right around the corner. The final performance/gala began 2.5 hours late due to ticketed attendees arriving late. Do not get upset! The lack of respect for time does not mean a lack of respect for you and getting angry will achieve nothing. Tardiness is just part of the local culture. Instead, be sure to have a local mobile from which you can politely pressure people on the time. Also, try and have a dedicated driver for your program. Otherwise, keep calm and carry on.
Traffic, Traffic, Traffic
Traffic in Lagos is horrible. This is due to the fact that there are only a few thoroughfares that cut across the island to the mainlands The traffic problem will only get worse as new developments in Lagos emerge and no new brides are constructed. Below are the worst times to travel on the road:
Lagos Island to Victoria Island: 9am - 11am
Victoria Island to Lagos Island: 4pm - 6pm
Anywhere: 1pm - 2pm
Be sure to avoid any street food and absolutely do not drink any water from the tap. If possible, use bottled water to brush your teeth as well. Lagos has open air sewers running through the city. As a result some people use the sides of roads as public restrooms. Be sure to bring your malaria prophylaxis , get your yellow fever vaccination, bring Cipro, and wash your hands frequently. Carry around bottled water with you always: Dehydration/heat stroke is a big risk.
Getting the visa to visit Nigeria can be a lengthy process. Budget for an expedited visa, even if you are applying more than 2 weeks in advance and be prepared to visit the consulate (if applying in NYC) multiple times. Even if you are applying for a tourism visa, you will need a letter from a local Nigerian inviting you to come and indicating that they will oversee your visit. If it is a Nigerian organization inviting you, you will need their certificate of incorporation for the application. Start the visa process at least 4 weeks in advance if possible.
Power outages occur multiple times every day and do not last more than 5 minutes - be sure to have two professional event generators if you are planning an event. The local mobile network is very poor - do not plan on having long conversations on the telephone. Visits to the U.S. Consulate require advance notice for access to be provided. Use cash and avoid using ATM or Debit Cards.