*Session A: 10am-2pm
*Session B: 2pm-6pm + an overnight camp stay and guided night tour on July 23rd
From July 21st-26th, Battery Dance Company teaching artists Carmen Nicole and Mira Cook lead Dancing to Connect workshops in Staten Island for teens. This free program was in partnership with the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy and was held outside at beautiful Fort Wadsworth. Youth, ages 14-18, created their own choreography during the week and presented their original creations in a final performance on Saturday July 26. The Dancing to Connect workshops examined the relationship of the students to their surrounding environment and waterways. This was an opportunity for teens to collectively create choreography, be immersed in the natural beauty of Fort Wadsworth, camp, and to perform on an outdoor stage for family and friends.
For nearly three decades, New York based Battery Dance Company has represented the U.S. overseas and has developed multi-layered and often bilateral international cultural engagement programs in the realm of dance and the performing arts.
We recommend listening to Jonathan Hollander's oral history of Battery Dance company from a radio interview he gave at a recent trip to Malaysia here.
Battery Dance Company introduced a creative workshop process for youth in Germany in 2006 that has since been named Dancing to Connect. DtC programs have since spread nationally across Germany, Asia, Africa and at home in the U.S.
In 70 countries throughout the world, Battery Dance Company has built partnerships with dance artists, musicians, arts managers, arts institutions, government agencies, universities, conservatories, schools and other dance companies to foster cultural outreach and mutual understanding.
Battery Dance Company’s international mission is fueled by the belief that dancers can span geographic, linguistic and cultural borders through bilateral exchange. They share inspiration and advance mutual understanding among their communities while aspiring to transcend political and social ills.
The exchange process enriches the artists who gain new sources for creative exploration and dynamic interchange with their colleagues abroad. The public shares in the fruits of these collaborations through access to performances, television broadcasts and outreach activities such as workshops, master classes and seminars.
On this trip, we will use some acronyms that may be unfamiliar or new to you. Here is a summary of some important terminology that will become familiar to fellow international travelers, especially those that are working with the U.S. Department of State.
Listening Well is the Best Advice
Your time line will depend upon that of your primary international partner. The tricky part is that most substantial international programs have several partners -- for example, a local host institution that invites you to perform or teach, the local U.S. Embassy or Post that agrees to help you with funding and facilitative support, a corporation that is willing to provide cash or in-kind sponsorship, and/or a foundation that is interested in your mission and offers a grant.
It is quite likely that each of these entities has its own timeline and that adhering to one may bar you from meeting the deadline of the other(s).
When dealing with the State Department, there is a basic conundrum. Good projects have a year or two of planning behind them; but rarely can DOS officers concentrate on a project more than a few months beforehand, being completely consumed with day-to-day tasks and projects.
It has often been my experience that a cultural or public affairs officer will start up a conversation about a program a year or so in advance; but when I try to push the envelope forward, to get to the budget, program planning and grant execution stage, I cannot regain the person’s attention.
My advice is to listen carefully and get a sense of the operating style of the key person and/or department or Embassy and try to glean how much you need to conform to their way of working and/or how much you can exert your own sense of timely practice into the collaboration.
In April 2011 Algerian dancers visited NYC and participation in BDC's NY Season.
It is critically important that there be one person on your tour who is responsible for planning and executing all of the technical elements of the show. Perhaps this is one of your company's designers who is willing to do lots more than normally expected of a designer because of the perks of international travel. Perhaps it is a freelancer who is chosen because s/he knows the part of the world where you're touring, or because s/he speaks the language.
Ideally you will have two people covering this area – a production designer and a stage manager -- but with budgets as tight as they are, you may have to count on one person to handle the gamut of responsibilities.
This person must have the requisite skill set to match the considerable challenges that go beyond his/her brilliance as a designer: Patience, powers of persuasion, ability to repair broken equipment, improvisational talents, calm under pressure, optimism, charisma, willingness to take on any task and leadership.
In addition, when a tour calls for performances in large theaters where high production values are critical, it may be necessary to factor in extra local technical support in the way of rental equipment and contracted professional crew.
Each touring company should create a tech rider describing as much as possible about the technical needs of your production(s) (ie. lighting, sound, scenery, floor, props, crew.) However, it is not sufficient to send out the tech rider and expect that everything will be in place when you hit the ground. There is no such thing as too much advance preparation.
Here is a check list that will give you the feeling that you’ve done everything possible to prepare yourself and the venue for your arrival:
Sending Initial Production Information (several months ahead of the project)
A Technical Rider specific to the tour or projects should be sent to the tour host, producer or Embassy, before the venue is selected so production needs and schedules can be accommodated
Follow up questions should be sent to the theater tech director, with a copy to your local host institution or Embassy, especially if no response to schedules and plans has been received. The purpose is to determine if there are communication issues, assess the comprehension and capability of the local management, and collaborate on solutions to any difficulties uncovered from the previous communication.
In the situation where the Production Designer/ Technical Director doesn't speak the local language (and the locals don't speak the touring company's) a translator should be in place for any working time in the theater. This need is vital and not to be underestimated. If the translator is not experienced in the vocabulary and work style of theater technology, s/he should familiarize him/herself in advance.
Some things are almost always the theater's responsibility (dance floor, soft goods) and some things are almost always brought by the company (costumes, intricate props). But so much lands in the middle. We recommend bringing a stock of color (gel), spike tape in a variety of colors, glow tape and black gaffers tape. These things are expensive and can add poundage to the company’s baggage; however, it is often impossible to obtain these items locally and if they are not needed for some reason, donating some of it to a local theater or arts organization can earn a lot of gratitude.
If you have a show that requires certain equipment that is unavailable in various venues (within one country) on a tour, it might be worthwhile to investigate renting it once and then traveling with it in-country. This is often a great solution for items like light boards and projectors, which are heavy and expensive to transport from home, but which are critical to the show. Why configure and program this stuff anew at each theater if there's a way to carry it along?
Thanks to Barry Steele and Mike Riggs, both of whom contributed to this document with knowledge derived from Battery Dance Company tours..
Each international cultural engagement project or tour has its own funding model. U.S. and foreign government agencies may be involved in a primary role or as a supplement to other forms of sponsorship. Likewise, local host institutions, corporate sponsors, foundations and individual donors may be drawn to support a particular initiative. Browsing through this toolkit, one can find projects with every possible configuration of support (sometimes insufficient…).
In the 1990’s – early 2000’s, the Company was unable to attract significant U.S. Government participation; however, this trend has been reversed in recent years with Embassies and Bureaus of the U.S. Department of State engaging more frequently. Many of the lessons learned along the way are universal and cross-referential. Though it may seem self-evident, it is important to understand the strategies, needs and expectations of each host or sponsor, and to endeavor to fulfill whatever requirements and expectations that come with each gift. Sometimes this may be difficult (ie. corporate sponsors in India often expect to put their advertising banner across the backdrop of the stage – something that is completely normal in the local scene and completely antithetical to Western dance.)
Finesse and politesse and the ability to put yourself in the other’s shoes are indispensable attributes in the negotiations that will inevitably take place, either well in advance, or on the spot.
Small and mid-sized dance companies such as Battery Dance Company normally operate without a safety net. Trip insurance, under-studies, over-time pay, vacation days …. These are abstract concepts, sadly far from reality. The dancers, technical and artistic directors, project managers and administrators all operate close to the bone. With these circumstances as a background, put a tour cancellation into the equation, and you’ve got a full-fledged crisis.
This is what happened to Battery Dance Company in 2003 when, in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a major tour of North and East Africa collapsed. With the benefit of hind-sight, it was probably predictable that U.S. Embassies would hunker down at a time when bombs were dropping on Baghdad. However, after 9 months of planning, rehearsing and creating of a new piece of choreography specifically designed for the tour, it was devastating to see the pieces fall apart. The drama of the situation was under-scored by the fact that two male dancers who had been part of the tour left the Company and retired from the dance profession immediately afterwards. The immediate disappointment and financial loss added to accumulated frustrations with the dance career and these two talented men began career transitions.
It would be instructive and helpful if I could point to strategies that I used to recover from the cancellation. However, the actions that I took to mitigate the disaster, no matter how energetically and fervently I tried, proved unsuccessful. Perhaps, with a little more time and more experience on my part, they might have given us a toe-hold:
The Take-away: When someone or an institution (or government agency) takes an action that you feel is unjust, or damaging, how you respond is pivotal to your future. Can you reveal your disagreement with the action and or your distress at the result, while at the same time, encouraging the other party to take responsibility and do everything possible to help you recover? That is the challenge. Sometimes it’s a lost cause and venting is unavoidable. I’m talking to myself when I say, “Let it go; keep your cool; be a pro.”
When booking tickets for air travel often times the cheapest fares are purchased. Usually this comes with hefty change fees not only from the airline but also from the travel booking company. Sometimes those fees end up greater than the actual price of a new ticket, especially if flying between two cities in a foreign country. But if you end up buying a new ticket without cancelling or changing the original ticket you will be registered as a no-show for the original ticket, and this could risk the rest of your itinerary if you originally booked one comprehensive itinerary involving different legs.
For example, on a recent trip to South Africa booked through Vayama one comprehensive ticket was booked that included round-trip flights from NYC to Johannesburg and Johannesburg to Cape Town, all on South African Airways. After a new meeting with a potential corporate sponsor was arranged we needed to change the timing of Jonathan’s return trip to Johannesburg from Cape Town. Changing the ticket through Vayama before the itinerary began would have cost over $250 per ticket, when the cost of a new one way ticket was only $126. But just buying the new ticket and being a no-show for the original ticket would have cancelled the rest of Jonathan’s itinerary and thus his return flight to New York City.
The solution: Once Jonathan started his itinerary he would be able to change that specific leg at a South African airlines office in South Africa with only a fee of $17. Once an itinerary with an airline begins, the ownership is transferred from the booking company to the airlines, and change fees can be greatly reduced by talking directly to the airline.
Battery Dance Company has enjoyed the privilege of working in over 60 countries on 6 continents over the past two decades. The Cultural Diplomacy Toolkit is Battery Dance Company’s official online platform for disseminating its knowledge and expertise in the field of international cultural engagement. Created through a generous grant from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and with means devised by our partners, Dancing Ink Productions, this toolkit provides guide posts, best practices, and information on venues, partners, and locations. The site also provides background stories so that context is understood and experiences can be compared.
The objectives of the toolkit are two-fold: to prevent other like-minded organizations from making the same mistakes experienced by Battery Dance Company, and to motivate others to think differently about the meaning of bilateral engagement and what the arts can achieve.
The Cultural Diplomacy Toolkit is available free to the public.
There are multiple ways to use the Cultural Diplomacy Toolkit. You can use the interactive map above to zoom in and click on your country or city of interest to be directed to the country pages.
Alternatively, you can click on the Countries tab to see a list of all countries Battery Dance Company has visited. On the country pages, you can interact with a more specific map which shows venue, accommodation, and partner locations. As you roam, you will want to access venue technical specifications, and pictures, and video from the program.
To see an overview of lessons learned and important insights from around the globe, click on the Guide Posts tab at the top. Finally, use the search box to search for your topic or location of interest.
The Cultural Diplomacy Toolkit is a work in progress and is currently in beta version.
BDC Director, Jonathan Hollander talks about Battery Dance Company and Cultural diplomacy