Battery Dance Company completed their second Dancing to Connect program in the Dominican Republic in 2018. Survey questionnaires were administered to participants of the program, both before the program and after. The goals of the questionnaires were to evaluate the effects of the Dancing to Connect program on participants, and to learn of aspects needing improvement or change. The total number of respondents to the pre-program questionnaire was 79, and for the post-program questionnaire 87. The program occurred for 8 days between April 7th and April 15th, 2018. The program was led by Program Director Emad Salem, Production Supervisor Barry Steele, and Teaching Artists Sean Scantlebury, Razvan Stoian, Robin Cantrell, Kimberly Sosa, and Bethany Mitchell.
Media and Press
An analysis of the pre-program and post-program surveys yielded significant results. Over the course of the Dancing to Connect program there was: * a significant improvement in the participants’ abilities to communicate with those different from them (21% increase) * a significant improvement in the participants’ abilities to work within a team (38% increase) * a significant improvement in the participants’ perception of Americans (14% increase) * a significant improvement in the participants’ confidence in their abilities as students (25% increase) * an improvement in the participants’ confidence in their abilities to create positive change in their communities (20% increase).
Battery Dance was awarded a grant via NOFO from the U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo to conduct its first program in Santiago, Dominican Republic. The 1-week tour in Santiago was characterized by a two-pronged approach with a highly attended marquee performance coupled with outreach programs targeting undeserved and disadvantaged youth.
Pre Tour Site Visit
Battery Dance’s Vice President & COO visited Santiago for a day of site visits and meetings on January 17, 2018. He was joined by CAO Ruth Urry and Cultural Specialist Irene Gonzalez. The Gran Teatro del Cibao was inspected as well as workshop venues at the Centro de la Cultura and the Instituto de la Cultura y Arte. Meetings took place with Lincoln Lopez, the Regional Director of the Ministry of Culture, Luis Felipe Rodriguez, the Director of Cultural Programs at Centro Leon, and with Amiris Helena and her staff at the Centro Cultural Dominico Americano.
Over the course of 8 days in April, Battery Dance worked with approximately 82 underserved youth from the Santiago community who came from five different schools. Ten students with folk dance experience came from outside Santo Domingo and were housed and provided meals by Escuelas Libres for the duration of the week. After filling out pre-program questionnaires, students were immediately split up randomly into five different groups so to take each student out of their comfort zone and provide them with an opportunity to work with someone new and develop new friendships. Workshops took place at the Escuela Nacional De Danza, which provided five workshop studios that were of excellent condition, a teacher waiting room, and a snack/lunch room for participants. Lunch and water was provided by Escuelas Libres to all workshop students. Five translators were provided by ENDANZA, with additional translation assistance provided by U.S. Embassy program alumni. In addition, five local dance teachers observed the workshops and learned the methodology of the Dancing to Connect program.
In the workshops, students worked to create their own choreography based on their own experiences and creativity. Starting off with simple exercises, the students worked individually, in pairs, and in larger groups to explore ideas and activities prompted by their Battery Dance teaching artist. Immediately, from day one, the level of enthusiasm, dedication, and creativity of the students shined. Over the course of 20 hours of workshop time, the students finalized their group pieces of choreography. On the last day of workshops, Ambassador Wally Brewster visited three student groups to witness studio showings of their final pieces. Ambassador Brewster also provided words of inspiration for the students, encouraging them to “follow their dreams”.
After evaluating theatres available for the final performance, Battery Dance settled upon the Auditorio Enriquillo Sanchez as the final performance venue. This was due to a number of reasons – the unavailability of Balles Artes (the official theatre for dance while the national theatre undergoes capital renovations), and the small width of stages at other theatres. Auditorio Enriquillo Sanchez was provided gratis by the Ministry of Culture.
With the assistance of Cultural Specialist Irene Gonzalez, Battery Dance Production Director Barry Steele worked to transform the theatre with the help of local vendors , employees of the Ministry of Culture, and technical crews. A specialized stage was built using plywood and Styrofoam to provide the necessary spring to the unsprung stage. The back wall of the stage was painted Satin White to serve as a backdrop for projections and lighting. Through purchase order by the Embassy, additional lights were rented and installed at the theatre. A black harlequin dance floor was cleaned and provided by Balles Artes, and a generator was brought in to protect against the random and unpredictable power outages that occur in Santo Domingo.
Nearly 600 audience members attended the final Dancing to Connect performance on February 13th at 4pm. Attendees included U.S. Embassy staff, families and staff of local partners, Minister of Culture Jose Antonio Rodriguez Public Affairs Officer James Russo, who provided remarks, Edmundo Poy, the director of ENDANZA Marinella Sallent, the general public, and participant families and members of their communities. Prior to the start of the performance, the Director of Escuelas Libres Samanta Olivero, presented the members of Battery Dance with awards, honoring the contribution of the Dancing to Connect program to their youth.
Throughout the entire performance, screams, cheers, and hollers radiated from the audience as they roared in approval as the youth took the stage and performed their original choreography, and when the Battery dancers took the stage. During the last piece of the night, neither dancers on stage nor the production team in the booth could hear start of the music due to the thunderous cheering that echoed through the room. After the performance and final group bow on stage, for 10 minutes the youth hoisted the Battery Dancers in the air and created a running dance circle while chanting. (short clip can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/BatteryDance/videos/1083427885025472/ )
Finally returning the students to a side waiting room and off stage, they again created a dance circle and cheered as some students began to conduct break-dance routines. Simply put, the youth were completely overjoyed with what they had accomplished. After settling the students down, post-program questionnaires were completed, certificates of completion were given to each participant and teacher trainee, and small token gifts were provided to local partners by Battery Dance to thank them for their contribution.
On Wednesday evening, Battery Dance attended the National Folkloric Day of Celebration evening performance as honored guests of Escuelas Libres. The group was recognized during the performance and was pulled on-stage to take part in the grand finale.
On Thursday afternoon, Battery dancers and Emad Salem attended a studio showing of the National Contemporary Dance Company. Following the showing, Battery dancers Robin Cantrell, Mira Cook, Clement Mensah, Bethany Mitchell, and program Manager Emad Salem, travelled with Ruth Urry to La Barquita, to work with underserved and underprivileged children. La Barquita is one of the most impoverished districts of Santo Domingo, has high instances of crime, drug use, and underage pregnancies. With heavy rain, the entire district floods and submerges the shanty-town like homes which are only divided by an extremely narrow street. The children were split into two groups by age with approximately 20 students aged 10-14, and approximately 30 aged below 10 years. A one and a half hour workshop was conducted – one of the first cultural programs conducted by U.S. Embassy in the district.
Programs in 6 cities, 5 public performances, 30 master classes and workshops, 1 lecture-demonstration, 2 speeches, an award ceremony, a panel discussion, 2 television broadcasts and feature articles in over 20 English and local language newspapers and magazines.
Battery Dance of New York City undertook a national tour of India during the month of January, 2018, with SHAKTI, a Return to the Source as the artistic centerpiece with music by the legendary Hindustani vocalists Rajan and Sajan Mishra and Indian guest artist Unnath Hassan Rathnaraju joining the American ensemble of seven. The impact of the tour was made palpable through intense media coverage in each city, national editions as well as live television interviews and broadcasts. The Company’s expertise as arts educators resonated through the provision of 30 workshops that reached girls rescued from human trafficking, street children served by local NGOs, dance students, freelance dancers and members of prestigious Indian dance companies.
CITY-BY-CITY PROGRAM SUMMARIES
The India tour opened with a performance at St. Andrew’s Auditorium in Bandra on January 11th before a packed audience of approximately 700. U.S. Consul General Edgard Kagan, ICCR Regional Director M.K. Malik and Jonathan Hollander addressed the audience at the top of the show, after which four works were presented, two contemporary pieces from the Battery repertoire (a commissioned work by South African choreographer Theo Ndindwa, a recipient of the prestigious Mandela Fellowship, and the other by Battery Dance senior dancer Sean Scantlebury;) a classical Bharatanatyam solo by Unnath Hassan Rathnaraju, and SHAKTI, A Return to the Source performed by the entire company. ICCR provided an emcee and the U.S. Consulate produced handsome placards with headshots and biographies of each of the 8 members of the Company that were displayed on easels in the lobby of the theater. Niloufer Sagar, COO of the Terence Lewis Dance Company, and Radhika Jhaveri, a marketing executive related to Hollander’s AFS Exchange family, provided local support by putting a hold on the hall, liaising with ICCR re the ticketing process and manning a table at the lobby of the theater in order to check in those guests invited by Battery Dance, Asia Society and Terence Lewis, who has a huge following on social media. Radhika handled communications with the local dance schools and NGO’s that serve street children, arranging for 8 workshops that the Company conducted during its time in Mumbai. Battery Dance Board Member Laura Entwistle enabled Battery Dance to run two workshops at a government facility for girls rescued from sex trafficking, following on the earlier experience she had facilitated in Delhi and Badlapur in 2014 through her NGO, EmancipAction. Hollander was invited to represent arts and culture in a panel discussion at the Essar House as part of the ‘Avid Learning’ programs with American Consulate’s David Moo moderating and Manjeet Kripalani, Bharat Joshi and Royston Braganza as fellow panelists.
A public performance at the Yashwantrao Chavan Auditorium was presented to an audience of approximately 600, hosted by Pune’s leading Bharatanatyam dancers Sucheta Chapekar and her daughter Arundhati Patwardhan as the opening event of the 30th Anniversary Season of their Kalavardhini Trust. One day earlier, the Company had presented a 2-hour lecture-demonstration and Q/A session at a new dance center under the auspices of well-known choreographer Shama Bhate and her Kathak institute, NADROOP. While four of the Company’s dancers returned to Mumbai to teach workshops, Hollander and Sean Scantlebury stayed behind in Pune. Scantlebury conducted a two-day advanced contemporary dance workshop for senior dance students at the Lalit Kala Kendra, the performing arts division of Pune University. Assistant Professor of Lalit Kala Kendra and well-known Bharatanatyam performer and choreographer Parimal Phadke interviewed Hollander on stage at Lalit Kala Kendra in a 90-minute talk on Hollander’s career as a dancer, choreographer and arts manager. A talk focused on the infrastructure and support for the arts in America was given by Hollander at FLAME University for students of business and arts; and an interactive session was held at Kathak dance guru Prerana Deshpande’s institute Nrityadham with members of her dance company and Hollander, who had presented Deshpande in Battery Dance’s summer festival in New York many years earlier.
Over the past 17 years since Battery Dance’s last performance in Bengaluru, the metro has become a nexus for dance activity with many dance schools teaching classical Indian forms and others concentrating on contemporary dance. Battery Dance’s performance in Bengaluru was highly anticipated as were its workshops and master classes at three important dance centers. The Company’s performance was presented at the centrally located Guru Nanak Bhavan and was attended by leading dancers, choreographers, dance writers and governmental officials and a general audience of over 700. Earlier in the day, The Oberoi Bengaluru hosted a press meet for the Company with representatives of 5 of the leading local print media as well as Ashish Mohan Khokar, one of India’s most highly respected dance scholars. Battery Dance’s teaching artists conducted three contemporary dance master classes for students who had never experienced American contemporary dance before at Mithun Shyam’s Vaishnavi Natyashala Institute of Bharatanatyam and Nirupama & Rajendra’s Abhinava Kathak Dance Institution. Two workshops were offered to the contemporary dance students at Attakalari. Jonathan Hollander delivered a lecture on arts management using Battery Dance as a case study for undergraduate business administration and arts students at REVA University; and spoke to the dancers at each of the workshops before the practical training began.
Battery Dance returned to Kolkata for the first time since 2001 with a performance at the city’s prestigious Kala Mandir Auditorium. Over a thousand spectators attended the performance that was introduced by U.S. Consul General Craig Hall, ICCR Regional Director Mr. Venugopal, and Jonathan Hollander. Three workshops were conducted in for the students and company members of two important dance companies -- the acclaimed Tanusree Shankar Dance Company and Sudarshan Chakravorty’s Sapphire Dance Company, yielding invitations to return in both cases. Jonathan Hollander lectured at the Bickram Ghosh Academy of Performing Arts for a combined program organized by Arkadev Bhattacharya and his Niharika Centre for Performing Arts; followed by a creative movement workshop led by Clement Mensah. Interviews were set up by the U.S. Consulate with the Times of India and other leading media outlets, yielding lavish coverage before and after the Company’s stay in Kolkata. Among all of the workshops which Hollander supervised, he also made time to meet with contemporary dancer/choreographer and entrepreneur Vikram Iyengar and to visit the Pickle Factory, a recommissioned cinema hall that is being converted into a performance venue for dance, theater and visual arts.
The final performance of Battery’s tour took place at Kamani Auditorium in New Delhi, in the presence of U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Juster, Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs Jeffrey Sexton, Sangeet Natak Akademi Chairperson Shekhar Sen, ICCR President Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, ICCR Director General Ambassador Riva Ganguly Das and the Hindustani classical music maestros Rajan and Sajan Mishra in the front row. Despite some injuries and illnesses, the Company managed to pull out a flawless performance that won the appreciation of the diplomats as well as leading dance artists Geeta Chandran, Rama and Dakshina Vaidyanathan, Rajesh and Rakesh Sai Babu, and dean of Indian dance scholarship and criticism Dr. Sunil Kothari. Many of these dance icons had attended a talk and video showing by Jonathan Hollander hosted at The Atelier in Lado Sarai as part of the Desmania Foundation program of arts talks the day before the performance. Workshops for Heemanshu Sharma’s That’s Dance group and Sohaila Kapur’s theater workshop brought Battery teaching artists in contact with 40 high level freelance dancers and actors in Delhi and resulted in invitations for continued affiliations in both cases.
While the Company was on tour, Jonathan Hollander was named a recipient of the inaugural Arjun Mishra Award, and arrangements were made for him to travel to Lucknow to deliver a speech and receive the award. The award commemorated the Kathak dancer and guru, Arjun Mishra, who had headed the Lucknow Kathak Kendra since 1998 and whose American tour Jonathan had organized in 1995. Arjun’s son and daughter, Anuj and Kantika, are now two of the leading young Kathak dancers in India and continue operating the school that Arjun built with the help of Anuj’s wife Neha. They currently inculcate hundreds of students in Lucknow. Anuj arranged a press conference and performance at a theater in Lucknow where his students performed and where Hollander delivered an address and was presented with the award with various television and print media interviews.
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
PRE-TOUR PREPARATION AND COMMENTARY
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: https://www.npr.org/news/specials/march40th/people.html. 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:
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.
Battery Dance completed the third year of Dancing to Connect for Refugee Integration over a 5-week period in September/October, 2018, addressing the humanitarian issue of refugee integration across the German nation. Cities, schools, foundations and education offices in the three Federal States of Baden-Württemberg, Sachsen-Anhalt and Brandenburg participated with approximately 350 students from a total of 20 schools. A cadre of teacher trainees shadowed and partnered with Battery Dance’s practitioners.
The Rewards of Building Bridges
Battery Dance's frequent returns to Germany have developed strong relationships with hosts, rendering a fulfilling sense of partnership. This was felt especially during a celebratory reception following the final performance at the Marienkirche.
Battery Dance returned for its 3rd consecutive year to cities across Germany with Dancing to Connect for Refugee Integration. Each workshop followed the parameters Battery Dance employs in all of its Dancing to Connect programs: +/- 20 students, ages 14 and up, in each of 19 individual workshops. Twenty hours of practice time were spent in the creation of original dance works comprising movement sequences generated by the participants. The workshops culminated in performances on large stages with fully professional theatrical conditions alongside performances by the Battery Dancers.
The schedule of workshops was based upon the academic calendar of the German Federal States, beginning in Sachsen-Anhalt where Battery Dance returned to Dessau-Roßlau and the surrounding cities of Bitterfeld-Wolfen and Wittenberg for the first time since 2009. Three workshops took place in Dessau with one each in B-W and Wittenberg. With the anticipation of an audience in excess of the capacity of the Marienkirche, an historic church in the center of Dessau-Roßlau that has been converted into a stunning performance venue, two performances were scheduled. City officials and leaders from the Landeschulamt invested great care in organizing the program. Among other things, they arranged for dance flooring to be laid on top of the stone surface of the stage area to ameliorate the hardness. Exceptional hospitality was laid on, with tours of the city and a celebratory reception following the final performance rendering a true sense of partnership. Despite what appeared to be minimal publicity, the Marienkirche was packed with every seat taken and some standing on the sides for the matinee and evening performances.
Next, the Company returned to Brandenburg State, with workshops in Potsdam (2), Rathenow and Oranienberg. The Battery Dancers were supported by 5 teacher trainees, one of whom was a Syrian refugee and professional dancer, who had supported the workshop program in 2017. The students gave their all in the final performance at Schlosstheater Rheinsberg, which was documented on video by the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Brandenburg. Another separate performance by students from the Steuben Gesamtschule was presented before a full house at the Reithalle of the Hans Otto Theater for a special ceremony honoring innovative programs for refugees across the region.
Responsibility for the 3 programs in Weinheim was handled by the head teacher from the Helen Keller Schule in Weinheim, Alexander Haas, who had done so in 2017 as well. The school provided the necessary spaces for three workshops; and music, theater and social work teachers supported the workshops along with Iraqi refugee Halo Azad (who had been a participant in a Dancing to Connect program in Erbil, Iraq, in 2012!). Simultaneously, a group of refugee students in Mannheim worked with two Battery Dance teaching artists supported by Syrian refugee Saeed Hani acting as a teacher trainee and translator. Saeed has established himself as a professional dancer/choreographer based in Trier and relocated for the duration of the program to Mannheim. His German, Arabic and English skills made him an invaluable support – and learning Battery Dance’s arts education methodology will add to his portfolio of skills for future work.
The finale among the schools in Weinheim and Mannheim took place in a sports hall at Heddesheim since it had proved impossible to source a theater venue in the participating cities. A good crowd showed up to celebrate the achievement of the students, with Halo Azad serving as the master of ceremonies.
Dancing to Connect for Refugee Integration was chosen as the opening event of 2018 American Days in Stuttgart . Christiane Pyka and her staff at the DAZ organized the entire project, beginning with an opening press conference and a meet-and-greet reception for all teachers and local coordinators from the Theaterhaus Stuttgart with the Battery Dance team. Battery’s teaching artists fanned out across the metropolitan region the next day, provided with maps and public transit tickets provided by the City. Workshops reached diverse schools with an age-spread of 14 – 22 years old and various educational levels. The theater was packed full and received a standing ovation from VIPs as well as parents and teachers from the participating schools.