Battery Dance participated as an American Partner and Representative at the First Cape Town International Dance Festival
No matter over how long nor on how many levels a friendship/partnership evolves over time, there can still be surprises when different cultures come together. We thought we understood the scenario in South Africa sufficiently to navigate such surprises. However, there was an increasing amount of friction between the staff members of iKapa and Battery Dance in the 6 months leading up to the Festival. Battery’s expectations regarding the keeping of schedules, completion of tasks and general communication went beyond iKapa’s ability to execute. Reversals occurred regarding funding, especially concerning a grant that had been looking favorable from the Open Society Foundations. When it was ultimately declined, despite best efforts being made by Battery Dance, tensions increased and a funding vacuum loomed, especially because no corporate sponsorships, beyond the very significant hospitality sponsorship offered by Protea Hotels, were forthcoming, nor was there any local Cape Town Governmental support offered. Thankfully, the US Consulate was able to increase the size of its grant to Battery Dance and to make a separate grant to iKapa. These grants were pivotal in pushing the Festival forward.
We at Battery Dance are still waiting for a post-mortem that was promised by iKapa immediately after the Festival, but which has yet to happen. Likewise, the issue of reimbursement for the high end Macbook Pro laptop and iPhone 4 belonging to Barry Steele, which were stolen out of the Artscape Opera House with complicity by staff members of Artscape (as captured by CCTV.) Theoretically, Artscape is attempting to get a settlement from its insurance company, to cover the stolen items. (Battery Dance’s attempt to recover the expense from its American insurance carrier was turned down because the equipment did not belong to the dance company.)
At the launch of the Festival in the Foyer of the Artscape Opera House, we were dismayed when Theo Ndindwa, Co-Director of iKapa and the Festival, failed to acknowledge the phenomenal support of the US Consulate and Embassy. Jonathan Hollander had been on the agenda to speak at the launch, but was not called upon, which was also a shock and prevented him from giving a shout out to the U.S. Mission to SA. Theo also went way off script, wandered aimlessly in his speech, and made what was considered by many to be a racist remark (ie. “The Blacks know the whole city; Whites don’t”) which went against the grain of the Festival, whose subtitle was ‘Town and Township’.
In the aftermath of the Festival, when Barry Steele stayed behind in order to fulfill his plans for a diving vacation, he continued to push the agenda of reimbursement for the stolen items from Artscape and was put off by Acting CEO Marlene LeRoux who seemed to feel that a letter of apology, given to Hollander at the outdoor performance, was sufficient. Communication is on- going and there is a hope that when Andre Steenveld, Acting CFO, returns from vacation next week, that there will be some positive news regarding the insurance claim.
On his last day in Cape Town, when summoned to a meeting by Theo and Siphiwe Ngwenya, he felt that an effort was being made to woo him away from Battery Dance in order to secure his services for next year’s Festival, an attempt he brushed off abruptly and reported immediately to Hollander and the BDC leadership.
All of the above has to be seen in the context of Cape Town, post-Apartheid South Africa, still, in many ways, stuck in the bad old ways of Apartheid. This is not the integrated city that it should be and one hopes that efforts such as the Cape Town International Dance Festival will grow and thrive and eventually live up more fully to the subtitle (coined by Hollander) of ‘Town and Township’.
Battery Dance committed itself to a multi-year cultural diplomacy engagement in Cape Town, SA, which culminated in the creation of the Cape Town International Dance Festival. In the grand scheme of things, the Company succeeded in shepherding the first truly international dance festival to be held in South Africa, organized in partnership with iKapa Dance Theatre; performed on 5 separate occasions in three locations – the Artscape Opera House, the Artscape Plaza and an outdoor stage in the center of Gugulethu Township; and ran 20-hour Dancing to Connect youth engagement workshops in Hout Bay in collaboration with Lalela Project and in Gugulethu in collaboration with iKapa Dance Theatre. Representing incalculable added value, Battery Dance’s production and lighting designer, Barry Steele, served as the production director for the entire Festival; and its artistic director, Jonathan Hollander, consulted continuously with the iKapa leadership and advocated and supported the participation of dance companies from Finland and Spain in the Festival.
Audiences for the Opera House performances were generally mixed in terms of age, gender and ethnicity and dancers vs. general public. An informal cumulative audience tally for the Opera House performances is estimated (by BDC) at over 2,000. Audiences for the Artscape Plaza performances were underwhelming with a range of a disappointing 25 – 100 people per day. Similarly, the performances at Gugulethu attracted around 300 people; not the thousands that were anticipated. Whether the low numbers for the outdoor performances reflected a lack of publicity, a factor of first- time event, a miscalculation of foot traffic at Artscape Plaza and timing problems on an early Sunday afternoon in Gugulethu, would be hard to evaluate. Perhaps it was a combination of all of the above. Audience response to the performances was very good – with loud cheering at the end of almost every performance.
One of the most positive aspects of the Festival was the inclusion of local dance companies that responded to the opportunity offered by iKapa and Artscape. In a very divisive, competitive environment, the fact that Cape Dance Company, Adele Blank/Free Flight Dance and the Cape Ballet Company participated in performances organized by iKapa, was striking and carried an important lesson of community spirit.
Another positive outcome came in the form of the two Dancing to Connect workshops that allowed approximately 35 youth from the Townships to engage in the art of choreography, learning about themselves and their own capacities, building teamwork skills, engaging with American teaching artists, and performing with great pride on the stage at Artscape Plaza. Although even this aspect of the project fell far short of expectation -- five workshops, not two, had been planned because iKapa failed to take the necessary steps to realize this expectation. Nonetheless the young women and men who took part were exhilarated by the experience; a fact evidenced by Lalela’s enthusiasm for continuing the program with Battery Dance in the future. The Lalela/Hout Bay workshop was fully subscribed and adhered to best practices, with students appearing dressed and ready at the appointed time every day and with full-on energy and desire to participate. The Gugulethu workshop organized by iKapa was the opposite: students appeared as much as 1 to 2 hours late every day, the teens who were of the ‘right’ age to participate in a DtC workshop dropped out abruptly, without explanation, and the younger children, ages 10 – 14, who came of their own volition, were the only ones who actually finished the project and performed at Artscape. A third workshop that was to have happened in Mitchell’s Plain, looked semi-promising on the first day, with very enthusiastic adult leaders from the community, but fizzled on the second day with the loss of the rehearsal venue. The 4th and 5th workshops, promised by iKapa, failed to materialize altogether.