Battery Dance Company worked and performed throughout 11 German Cities in September - October 2009
None of the teaching artists from Battery Dance Company spoke both German and English. This caused some difficulty with communication between BDC and local German students. However, the Dancing to Connect workshops use dance to serve as a universal language, from which the students can learn and build relationships.
Dancing to Connect, the international arts education initiative of the Battery Dance Company, entered its fourth year with a 33-day program that stretched across Germany in Autumn, 2009. Between September 13 and October 16, the team of 12 artists from New York City’s Battery Dance Company and its partner company Drastic Action taught choreography workshops to students from 18 high schools. Over 300 students were engaged in creating dances that responded to the history of the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the so-called Peaceful Revolution in the 20th Anniversary year of those events. A striking feature of the program was in the selection of participating schools: with only one or two exceptions, the schools were all of the lower rank of the German secondary educational system (Hauptschules, Realschules and/or Berufskollegs) and the students were often children of immigrant families.
The dance interactions proved life-changing for many participants according to their teachers and school principals. Reiner Düchting, Headmaster of the Hauptschule am Stoppenberg in Essen offered this assessment of Dancing to Connect:
Many girls and boys of our school are shaped by numerous frustrations and disappointments which are linked on the one hand with their bad results at school and on the other hand also with their difficult family and social backgrounds. They experience and judge this as their individual failure and develop thereabouts worries, fears that they won’t find the place in society which they want after school and which they - because of their abilities - normally could have hoped to achieve. Their fears are not without reasons: less than 50 % of those students find an apprenticeship after school. That’s why they fear the future and are not much motivated for the tasks and challenges of the present. The dancing project is for them a great experience which gives them energy and helps developing their self- esteem. The close, family-like bonds in the dance group during the training, the ability to express their experiences, their personal strength, wishes, hopes, moments of their personal history through the dancing, the efforts and strain because of the dancing, the encouragement through the coach, the work for a common joint, the performance, are not limited to this one project: This period of time and these experiences together with the performance in front of parents, teachers, brothers and sisters, friends and foreign people will be encouragement for their further development, they will give motivation and stimulation like a “lighthouse” does, to find their own way with more strength and self-esteem.
The Berlin Lehrerzeitung, Berlin's newspaper for the teaching profession, added, "There are high points in school life that leave permanent traces in all participants and which they will remember with eyes agleam because they make school something special. Dancing to Connect was such a high point."
Performances took place in mainstream public theaters in Sachsen-Anhalt, NRW and Berlin-Brandenburg, drawing large crowds of people of all generations. Many in the audience, attracted by the participation of a family member in the performance, had not previously frequented the theater. The performances garnered national attention through a five-minute feature on the popular public television broadcast, "Nachtmagazin". The Markische Allgemeine Zeitung titled its review, "The New Youth Movement" and described the performance in the Nikolaisaal as "an exceptionally fresh stage program with lay dancers and professionals." The involvement of the professionals as well as the students on stage and back-stage introduced yet another element of connection and validation: This was not a student performance and as such forgiven for lack of polish; rather, the students rose to the level of professionals and comported themselves accordingly.
The structure of each Dancing to Connect workshop matched two professional teaching artists with approximately 20 students, ranging in age from 14 - 21. Both boys and girls participated, and most often grade levels were mixed. In NRW and Berlin-Brandenburg, the groups were composed of students all of whom came from the same school; however, in Sachsen-Anhalt, schools were combined, enabling students to be involved from 8 instead of 5 schools. In all but one case, students participated voluntarily; and in all cases, students were freed from their academic requirements so that they could focus exclusively on the dance project for the six workshop days as well as the performance day.
As in past years, the ability to understand and communicate in English was a side-benefit of the project as none of the teaching artists spoke German and English was the medium for teaching in the dance workshops. Personal involvement with the history of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations and a profound exploration of the dramatic political and social events of 1989 in Germany were also notable benefits for the students, who, in many cases, appeared to be only slightly familiar with these circumstances at the beginning of the project.
Battery Dance Company worked her in June - July 2008.
Battery Dance Company arrived in Freiburg, the third city of BDC's German odyssey, and this small City/large town was, of course, a singular experience for us.
Dancing to Connect was born here out of BDC's 2006 project in Germany, and thus we wereworking with local partners who know us well. Alfred Rogoll was our Project Manager; Wolfgang Borchardt coordinated the schools (8 schools in total) and Eva Manske and the Carl-Schurz-Haus provided the project´s institutional auspices.
Before the program began, the company gathered at the Carl-Schurz-Haus with the teachers who are serving as liaisons with each school. We also met with the 9 so-called "veterans" who are our teaching assistants this year. The veterans are senior students, and some graduates, of the Kepler-Gymnasium who had participated in past Dancing to Connect projects in Freiburg. The students were so mature, responsible and talented that BDC asked them to take a step up into the position of student mentors for the younger first-timers.
The finale of the theater season in Freiburg was marked by two sold-out performances in the Theater Freiburg, home and gracious host to the 2007 edition of Dancing to Connect. Consul General Jo Ellen Powell provided a warm welcome to the audience as she had done the previous year, also coming back stage to great the nervous performers as they readied themselves before the show. These illustrious occasions, combining the fascinating spectacle of teens unlocking their creativity with the verve of top-class professionals from New York City served as a wonderful tribute to the Dancing to Connect participants, their schools and sponsoring organizations.
Battery Dance Company worked June - July 2008.
Most of the schools selected for participation in the program were characterized by high minority and immigrant populations and the majority were from the lower tiers of Germany’s rigorously tracked educational system. In addition, for the first time this year, students from two schools serving visually and/or learning disabled children were included. A mark of the success of this approach came from the response of Christoph Haenel, Deputy Director of the Robert-Bosch-Stiftung who remarked that the various groups who performed in the Stuttgart event showed „no evident gap between the Hauptschule and the Gymnasium!“
In Stuttgart, BDC dancer Robin Cantrell led the German-American Dance-Workshop “Dancing to Connect” at the Untertürkheimer Luginsland School. Collectively with the American professional dancers the students choreograph a dance themselves. They will be performing this dance at the opening event of “American Days” on June, 26 2008 in the Wilhelma Theater for invited guests. According to Friederike Schulte, the Program Specialist at the German-American Center in Stuttgart, approximately 15 Stuttgart schools applied for this project in March. During the selection process it was valued that all school types are represented.
For 6 days 7th and 9th grade students from the Luginsland School have rehearsed for their big day. Therefore they train 5 hours daily in the gymnasium. Communication problems between the students and English speaking dance instructors only existed on the first day. When Robin Cantrell described communication with the students, she said: ”Dancing is movement, it is a language through movement”. In an emergency or if necessary one of the teachers jumps in as a translator.
Initially the dance instructor explained that the students were scared to mess up when learning a new dance step. That is what modern dance is all about, creatively expressing oneself. The instructors simply advised the students to simulate the movements of a soccer player or of feelings. The translation of a dance movement is alone the student’s job. Ninth grade student Vera Cristina Monteiro da Silva thought it was great that the students were allowed to actively participate in the choreography of the dances.
“This is how school should always be”, stated the enthusiastic Detlef Schmidt-Glöckler, principal of Luginsland School. He has always hoped that his students could make positive news some day. Through the dance project “Dancing to Connect” his wish should be fulfilled.
The Opening of the American Days Festival in Stuttgart was celebrated through two full-house performances at the historic Wilhelma Theater. Various dignitaries spoke to the audience prior to the performance including the Lord Mayor of Stuttgart and Consul General Jo Ellen Powell, who pleased the crowd by speaking in German as well as in English.
Battery Dance Company worked here in June - July 2008.
Professional modern dancers from New York City brought their art form to Germany in the summer of 2008. Whilst in Berlin, the company reached out to five schools in Berlin as part of the Dancing to Connect program.
Dance is a universal language, and its appeal as a vehicle for self-expression has been demonstrated amply through earlier versions of the Dancing to Connect program during trips to Germany 2006 and 2007. Following up on their successful experiment and having built international bridges between the U.S. and Germany through the art of dance, the American dancers significantly expanded their outreach in 2008.
BDC's trip to Berlin was made possible through partnering with the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, U.S. Consulate General in Frankfurt, the City Governments of Stuttgart and Freiburg. The company recieved additional support from the Robert-Bosch-Stiftung, and Cerberus Deutschland among others.
Throughout all of these programs, the thematic core of tolerance, integration and inter-cultural understanding is embedded into the choreography and addressed while building dance skills. The lingua franca (English) and the universal languages of dance and music build communicative bridges among students who represent diverse populations, immigrant and native, high-performing and educationally-challenged, Christian and Muslim. Likewise, the American professionals cross bridges in mentoring their youthful German charges.
During the workshops in Berlin the students explored their own feelings and sensations, some new and surprising. They related to each other and to the teaching artists across generational, gender, ethnic, religious and social differences, converting their explorations into physical expression. The discovery of the self goes hand in hand with the discovery of the other.
The workshop programs in Berlin culminated in a performance at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele (which co-presented the event) as part of the activities celebrating the opening of the new U.S. Embassy. Assistant Secretary Colleen Graffy provided a welcome address for the audience and Counselor for Public Affairs Helena Kane Finn congratulated the young performers and their families in German at reception following the performance.
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.
Battery Dance Company performed and worked here in 2006 on a project they called "Dances for the Blue House."
Press and Media
Over the course of 2 weeks in the summer of 2006, 12 teaching artists from New York, Russia and Australia teamed up in pairs to work with groups of students from three public high schools in Freiburg, Germany. The thesis behind their work was to employ the art of dance to help teens in Germany work through their feelings about the traumatic history of the Holocaust, and to invest themselves into the group creation of dances that reflected and resulted from this process. The project was entitled “Dances for the Blue House”, referring to the building, converted into a living museum, that serves as the physical reminder of what had been a thriving Jewish community in the adjacent town of Breisach until Krystallnacht and the subsequent deportations.
The teaching artists comprised six members of Battery Dance Company in New York, four members of Drastic Action in New York, a guest teacher from the teen program SMILE in Novosibirsk, Russia and a guest teacher from Buzz Dance Theatre in Perth, Australia. The project was conceived, planned and supervised by choreographers Jonathan Hollander and Aviva Geismar, artistic directors of Battery Dance Company and Drastic Action respectively. Both Hollander and Geismar had deep connections with the effort surrounding the Blue House --- Hollander as a friend of nearly 4 decades with Dr. Christiane Walesch-Schneller, founder of the Blue House project, and Geismar, as the descendant of a Jewish family originally from Breisach.
The two choreographers and their dance companies worked together in planning curriculum and discussing approaches to this highly experimental project. They also took part in training sessions beforehand with people who could lend a special perspective to the work they would be doing: Arne Lietz of Facing History & Ourselves; Ralph Eisemann, a Holocaust Survivor, son of the last Cantor of Breisach, and former resident with his family of the Blue House itself; Professor Dan Bar-On, noted author and trainer, who met with Jonathan Hollander at Ben-Gurion University one year prior to the project, and with the dancers of Battery Dance Company in Breisach. These trainings helped prepare, encourage and validate the teaching artists for their special task in Germany. All of the teaching artists were experienced in working with youth, but engaging with the Holocaust theme introduced a new dimension into their role as facilitators and teachers.
The German teens who participated in the project were, for the most part, previously untutored in dance. Ages of the participants ranged from 13 – 19. The two groups at Kepler School included a mixture of boys and girls. At Lessing Schools, there were exclusively girls, and at Theodor Heuss Gymnasium, one courageous boy took part with a full complement of girls. The involvement of the special education program at the Lessing School, where students whose learning style is different and where, for many of whom, the German language and culture is a second one, gave another character to the group.
Noticeable and amazing in the workshops was the complete absence of cynicism, ridicule or self-consciousness that could have been expected in a mixed group of teens. The element of vulnerability was a key to the successful realization of the project and was exemplified by the teaching artists as well as the students. It was clear throughout that everyone was learning together.
The culmination of the workshops was six performances, three in the schools as part of end-of-year ceremonies, and three in nearby Breisach. The school performances were important in that a large proportion of parents, students and teachers saw the results of their schools’ workshops and the school was, in effect, putting a spotlight on the students who had volunteered to take part. Likewise the teachers from the schools who volunteered untold hours of time in planning, preparing and facilitating the workshops received the approbation of their administrators and fellow teachers.
The three performances that were held in the town of Breisach, included a site-specific work created by Aviva Geismar on the formerly named Judengasse and Synagogenplaz; followed by performances by Battery Dance Company and Drastic Action and all of the student works. These performances were to have been held at the outdoor amphitheater Festspiele; however, weather conditions precluded this option. Instead, the Mayor of Breisach and his staff made it possible for the performances to be shifted on a moment’s notice to the sports hall Breisgau Halle located on the border of the town.
U.S. Ambassador William Timken, Mayor Oliver Rein of Breisach and other officials and V.I.P. guests from the local region as well as those from Switzerland, France, Israel, Canada and the U.S. attended the opening day performances and ceremonies, their ranks swelled by local community members of all ages. The two subsequent performances were similarly well attended. An overall audience tally has been approximated at 1,500, a huge audience for such a small town.
The impact of Dances for the Blue House is evident through the achievement of the 100 German high school students whose lives were changed through the workshop experience.
Battery Dance Company performed and worked here in the summer of 2006.
Two Jewish-American choreographers and their New York-based dance companies joined with German partners to launch a series of events titled, "Dances for the Blue House" that respond through dance to the historical events that led to the destruction of the European Jewish community during WWII. An 18-month planning period for a program of creative and educational projects began in the Fall of 2004 with meetings in New York City; continued and culminated in performances, workshops and other public events centered in the small town of Breisach, and expanding outwards to Freiburg, Frankfurt, Berlin and the Eastern States of Germany in June and July, 2006.
During the week of January 27th, 2005, the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, the American choreographers Aviva Geismar and Jonathan Hollander traveled to Germany on a grant from the U.S. Government to present their project “Dances for the Blue House.” Dancers, students, teachers, community, foundation, corporate and government leaders helped to strengthen and expand the project into a truly bilateral effort. Together they have forged a joint approach to the exploration of a universal issue: how do the next generations of Germans and Americans respond to the Holocaust?
Please see Freiburg, Germany 2006 Narrative for further information on Battery Dance's time in Germany and their participation with the project, "Dances for the Blue House".
Battery Dance Company worked and performed here in 2005.
Sponsors & Partners
Please see the narrative for lessons learned.
During the week of January 27th, 2005, the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, the American choreographers Aviva Geismar and Jonathan Hollander traveled to Germany on a grant from the U.S. Government to present their project “Dances for the Blue House.”
Dancers, students, teachers and community, foundation, corporate and government leaders offered to join the project, strengthening and expanding it into a truly bilateral effort. Together they have forged a joint approach to the exploration of a universal issue: how do the next generations of Germans and Americans respond to the Holocaust?
At the heart of this expansive program of international cultural exchange is The Blue House project of Breisach, that demonstrates poignantly and powerfully the actions individuals can take to change attitudes and air social and historical injustices in their communities. The Blue House is an old building which served as the gathering place Battery Dance Company in “Secrets of the Paving Stones” by J. Hollander for Breisach’s 300-year- old Jewish community up until the community’s demise. After decades of neglect and decay, the house was slated to be torn down in 1999. Instead, it was purchased by a group of community members, the Förderverein, and restored as a living museum and memorial. With the building as a base, the Forderverein searched for the survivors of Breisach’s Jewish Community and their descendents. These individuals have returned to Breisach three times at the invitation of the Forderverein and the town government, and have shared their histories with community members and schools. The Forderverein, in its endeavor to enlarge the scope of its programs, has invited Geismar and Hollander to develop this new initiative joining art and social consciousness.
Jonathan recalls that Walking through the streets of Breisach and Freiburg during those days of summer, 2006, was like time-traveling. He said:
I passed shoulder-to-shoulder with University students, holiday revelers, shopkeepers and shoppers, while simultaneously feeling the presence of the Jewish deportees, Nazi soldiers and everyday people of the 1930’s and 40’s in a surreal, layered march of time. The teenagers of Freiburg schools were unflinching as they created their emotional choreographies, avoiding the easy pull of show-off dancing; exposing a profound depth of feelings through movement. They tore at my heart, those young people, giving me renewed hope for the future and a surety that the ghosts I passed on the streets were smiling.