Dhaka Debut

Dhaka, Bangladesh

6 dance workshops; 1 film screening; 1 interactive lecture; 1 evening-length performance with guest appearance by local Bangladeshi dance company and specially staged performance of dance with live Bangladeshi singer; 1 music video; 1 television interview; 1 television documentary; 1 press conference


  • January 25-29, 2018


  • Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy in Dhaka - Main Theater Hall

  • Travel Issues

  • Extremely heavy traffic

    Security Regulations

  • Advertising the event was prohibited
  • Only a limited number of invitations to the event were given out

    Unexpected Costs

  • While a certain allowance of baggage was permitted per person for US-Bangla international flights Jet Airways had different regulations and charged exorbitant fees for extra luggage

    Medical Issues

  • One of our dancers, Clement Mensah, suffered from an increasingly debilitating leg injury. The hotel doctor came to Clement’s room and gave an initial assessment. The Embassy doctor visited him backstage in the theater and recommended a hospital visit in order to run various tests. The Embassy facilitated his transfer to the Apollo Hospital where tests were run efficiently. It was reassuring to receive the support and advice so promptly.


    Battery Dance has long fostered the goal of bringing its artistry and arts education outreach programs to Bangladesh. Artistic Director Jonathan Hollander and the Battery Dancers had performed for Begum Khalida Zia during her visit to the U.N. in New York in the early 1990s and a plan had emerged with the US Embassy in Dhaka to bring Battery Dance to Bangladesh. But financial and management concerns at the time foiled the plan.

    The fatal attack on foreigners in a popular café in July, 2016, and concerns about other terrorist cells in the country, had quashed any consideration of in-coming cultural diplomacy programs.
    When an opportunity emerged to add Bangladesh to the 2018 India tour which included a program in Kolkata, a short flight from Dhaka, a conversation ensued with the PAO Nicholas Papp at Embassy Dhaka who examined the possibility with careful attention to security issues as well as the potential for attracting local institutions as hosts. Once Embassy clearances were in place, Post applied to ECA for an Arts Envoy grant to supplement its own funds and set about building local support for the program.

    On Battery’s side, Hollander had established various touchpoints with Bangladesh years earlier, by choreographing nine songs by Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel Laureate whose giant imprint was equally felt in East and West Bengal and who composed national anthems for both India and Bangladesh. More recently, Hollander had met arts and culture leaders from Dhaka in New York including painter Jamal Ahmed, head of the art department at the University of Dhaka, with Samia Zaman, a television anchor and film producer from Bangladesh, currently stationed in New York; MD Tokon, a rising star in both New York and Bangladesh, invited Hollander to his studio in Brooklyn to see new work that was subsequently displayed at the recent art exhibition in Dhaka.

    When Nicholas Papp discovered that RTV CEO Syed Ashik Rahman was visiting New York on a private trip, he suggested a meeting with Hollander, who arranged an informal get-together at his home. This meeting bore fruit: Rahman arranged a 20-minute talk show interview with Hollander; arranged for RTV crew to cover the entire Battery Dance tour documentary style and agreed to cover the cost of filming and editing a music video with the Battery dancers which Hollander had planned with Bangladeshi singer Shwapnil Shojib.

    Papp put EMK Center Director MK Aaref in touch with Hollander when it emerged that Aaref was planning a private trip to New York in the Fall of 2017. Aaref’s arrival coincided with a reception at the home of one of Battery Dance’s Board Members, to which Aaref was invited and saw a video and heard a report of the Company’s recently concluded program on refugee integration in Germany.

    Adding to this extensive list of U.S.-Bangladeshi coincidences: Hollander met with Ms. Naz Georgas, Executive Director of Cordoba House, a non-profit interfaith Muslim organization in New York City, in December, 2017, and discovered that her father, S. M Rashed Ahmed, was a former Ambassador from Bangladesh to Japan and special U.N. Envoy to Kosovo. Papp invited Ambassador and Mrs. Ahmed to a dinner reception that he hosted for the Company; also including Ashik Rahman, Shwapnil Shojib and Embassy staff members.

    Through a 1-year FB conversation between Bangladeshi singer Shwapnil Shojib and Hollander, whose shared interest in Rabindra Sangeet initially brought them into contact, a plan emerged to incorporate an American song, Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready, in a rendition sung by Shojib, into the Battery Dance performance. The motivation for this collaboration was to underline the theme of peace, non-violence and tolerance which had become the subtext of Battery Dance’s visit program in Dhaka and to demonstrate cross-cultural interaction between Bangladesh and the U.S. People Get Ready had been choreographed by Hollander for the European Conference on Tolerance held in Krakow, Poland, in 2003, after he heard a report by NPR’s Juan Williams about the significance of the song: The joint performance was to have opened the performance; but when it was learned that Ambassador Bernicat would have to attend a state dinner organized by the President of Bangladesh for the President of Indonesia, the performance order was flipped so that she could see SHAKTI: A Return to the Source, which was the main work on the program.


    Dance Workshops: Each of the Battery Dance’s 5 teaching artists and Indian guest artist Unnath Hassan Rathnaraju were assigned to teach master classes with groups of 20 – 25 participants.

    The dance workshops were divided into the following groupings:

  • Essence of Soul transgender dance company: Robin Cantrell led a workshop with 20 members of this group that represents one of the most marginalized minorities in Dhaka. Her suspicion that these men were not truly transgender, but that they had taken on a trans identity was borne out. Being gay in Bangladesh, which most were, would have subjected them to far worse abuse and physical danger than being trans of hijra, which has a cultural acceptance.
  • Bihari (Pakistani) Refugees: Mira Cook taught a two-hour workshop for Bihari refugees, a mixed gender group of participants ranging in age from 9 - 20. Though they had commuted a considerable distance and were dressed in their best clothes, they responded with joy to every activity. The young people were extremely enthusiastic. Mira, being a musician as well as a dancer, used some vocalization (creating sounds of rain and thunder as well as chanting) to add variety to the workshop since music playback was not functioning.
  • Shadhona Dance Group & Dhaka University dancers: Mira also filled in for Clement Mensah who needed time off to recover from a calf injury. She taught a mixed group of university dance majors and their two professors combined with members of Shadhona contemporary dance group. She found that the participants were very hard-working and open to new things.
  • Shadhona Dance Group: Sean Scantlebury taught a group of dancers from Shadhona who were somewhat accustomed to contemporary dance but greeted his style with enthusiasm and a high level of skill, especially compared to the other participants in the workshops.
  • Youth Group: Unnath H.R. taught a workshop for teens and young adults who are visitors to the EMK Center. Although there were to have been 20 participants, only 8 appeared for the workshop. Having taken part as a teacher trainee with Battery Dance in its Dancing to Connect methodology, Unnath employed DtC techniques in eliciting creativity from the participants in generating their own choreography. His assessment was that they did extremely well.

    Technical Workshop: 18 people attended a workshop on technical theater and lighting design conducted by Battery Dance’s technical director Barry Steele. RTV filmed an hour of the workshop so a record has been left behind as a resource for those who may have missed the session or want to refresh themselves on the content. Some of the participants were technicians, but the most active ones were all choreographers with their own dance companies. One guy was named Hero and he ran an NGO benefitting social causes through dance. Another was an older woman named Ishrat who had a dance company and was interested in purchasing materials. This was followed up by sending her links to Rosebrand softgoods and hardware. The choreographers mainly wanted to know how to work with a designer.

    Moderated Discussion on Arts Management: Jonathan Hollander was interviewed on stage at the EMK Center by its director M.K. Aaref immediately following a screening of Moving Stories, a documentary film chronicling Battery Dance’s Dancing to Connect programs in India, South Korea, Romania and Iraq. The 90-minute presentation was followed by a robust Q/A session in which several of the participants shared their experiences of launching non-profit arts organizations and festivals in Dhaka and related Hollander’s experiences with Battery Dance and its downtown Festival to their own.

    Music Video Production - Bangladeshi American Collaboration on Film: Bangladeshi singer Shwapnil Shojib, a rising star whose popularity extends throughout Bangladesh and parts of India, has been featured in various MTV-style productions. He proposed to collaborate with Hollander and the Battery Dancers on the creation of a music video to a song by Rabindranath Tagore (a song which Tagore set to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.) Hollander agreed, proposed to the US Embassy that the Shilpakala National Theater be engaged for a day following the performance so that the filming could take place on stage. RTV came on board as the producer and the shoot took place during 6 hours on Battery Dance’s last day in Dhaka. The editing is being done and it is anticipated that the finished production will be shared by the Embassy, Battery and Shwapnil himself; after RTV gets first rights to broadcast it.