[Note – it was my intention to review the three nights of the Battery Dance Festival Performances in one review. But the length would have been prohibitive. So they’re being split up by performance date, and much of my introductory comments will be repeated for each program in case a viewer focuses only on one of the evenings. I apologize, but I saw no other reasonable way to do it.]

Battery Dance Festival – Part 3
Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Park
New York, New York

August 18, 2022
That’s Entertainment! (World Premiere) (Demi Remick & Dancers); Cold (NYC Premiere) (Floyd McLean, Jr.); A Certain Mood (Battery Dance Company); Stick-Stok (U.S. Premiere) (TeaTime Company); Allocentric (World Premiere) Fairul Zahid & LASALLE Dance Singapore; Balkan Bacchanal (Tina Croll + Company)

Jerry Hochman

The Battery Dance Festival is New York City’s longest-running free public dance festival. Each year, the Festival draws a combined audience of over 12,000 in-person and over 35,000 virtual viewers. The annual festival has introduced New York area audiences, and more than a few island visitors, to over 350 dance companies in its 40 year history. Since it’s been around so long and is by now universally recognizable to anyone in the New York area and beyond, it’s no wonder that somehow I’ve managed to avoid it.

I intended to remedy this void this summer, but various issues arose which again made it virtually impossible for me to attend this year’s 41st annual incarnation. But, as things turned out, it was virtually possible for me to see some of the programs virtually, since each of the eight programs was to be livestreamed.

So although I don’t have the ambiance that would have come with attending the performances live – sunsets over New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, summer heat and humidity (though this year, except for one rain delay, the weather was ideal; naturally since I couldn’t be there live) – I selected three of the eight programs to watch via YouTube, so at least I could see a sample of the dances presented. I selected those programs I did for no reason other than that something on each program’s roster, which was different for each evening, intrigued me. Otherwise, I had little advance knowledge of only a few of the presenting companies or the dances, many of which were world premieres.

Given the nature of the programming, which includes a world-wide plethora of companies and choreographic works of varying quality and experience levels, I won’t be considering the programs in order of presentation. Rather, the reviews will focus first on those pieces that I found particularly intriguing and want to highlight, which happen to be the final pieces on each program, and then go back and comment on the other dances I saw in order. That’s not to be interpreted negatively against the other companies and dancers on the program in any way.

Generally the choreography and dancers are of a high caliber, and the dances look as polished, if not more so, than many similar programs presented in other venues. There may be little in the way of star power, of dancers or companies, but that absence is not missed.

And credit should be given to the Battery Dance officers and staff who regularly put all this together, including specifically Gabrielle Niederhoffer, the Battery Dance Festival Manager, who, along with a curatorial panel, selects the participating companies.


Tina Croll + Company: Balkan Bacchanal

Manhattan-based Tina Croll + Company is no stranger; the choreographer and the company have built an admirable reputation over the years and my failing to have previously seen them just reflects how much there is to see in dance in the New York area. Croll, a founding member of Dance Theater Workshop (DTW), has been choreographing for over fifty years, accumulating (according to a listing on her web site) more than fifty dances in the process.

Balkan Bacchanal, an expansion of a piece (Balkan Dreams) that Tina Croll + Company first presented in 2002, gave me a chance to catch up. It’s a hybrid dance, combining modern dance with Balkan folk dance. According to the program note, the piece explores the intricate rhythms and moods found in music from Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Romania. The dances are often rituals – some wild and playful, some slow and stately, some harsh and driven, others gentle, almost trance-like. Seven distinct dances were shown, with modern dance and traditional Balkan folk dance presented separately and in combination. And here, as she has previously, The Zlatne Uste Balkan Brass Band, a nine-member group that includes singers and musicians, provided the live accompaniment. Croll choreographed the program, obviously basing it on the specific folk dances presented.

The piece is divided into seven dances and, overall, includes nine company dancers. The titles were provided to me, and may not have been available to the audience.

Tina Croll + Company in “Balcan Bacchanal”
Photo courtesy of Tina Croll + Company

Although each of these dances is different from the other, and one country’s dance distinctive from another, there’s a commonality among them that not only includes the Balkans, but other folk dance and music that evolved by familiarity, admiration, or simply cultural osmosis within the overall geographic neighborhood where borders were  fluid and migration, for whatever reason, often was a fact of existence. So if moments within one of these dances, and musical phrasing, frequently look and sound familiar, as they occasionally did to me, it’s not at all surprising.

First up was “Aman, Aman, Momče Bre.”  This title has no simple translation.  “Aman” is an expression used in the Balkans and the Middle East (and though I’m not a linguist, may have been anglicized over centuries as “amen.” It can mean pleasure, satisfaction, pain, distress, longing, God, and many emotions in between.

That having been said, the title as defined has little to do with the dance itself. Performed by five of the company dancers, it’s a happy, celebratory dance that shares a commonality with similar folk dances of other cultures. There’s no negative emotion expressed in the dance, in which the dancers form moving circles, holding hands and moving while crisscrossing their legs in the process. But there’s far more variety here than that. The dance (without skipping a musical beat) also breaks off into pairs or trios, and includes skipping, and moving alone or in tandem with arms raised and bodies swaying side to side, very remindful of dances I recall from the film “Zorba the Greek,” and, as a solo, danced by Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.” It was a delightful way to begin the program.

Tina Croll + Company in “Balkan Bacchanal”
Photo by Robin Michals

“Rumelaj” is a Romanian folk song sung in a Hungarian-Rom dialect. The dance that accompanies it was performed by the same five women, but it differs significantly in tone and content from the previous dance, appearing somewhat celebratory to be sure, but also somewhat ceremonial. The piece begins with dancers, first one then, moving sequentially, with their arms extended sideward while each and slowly swirling while each circled the stage. Extending the arms sideward is a continuing motif (briefly angling like windmill arms) as the dance varies in form, with the dancers singly or together moving forward and back. At one point all five gather together in small circle, raise their arms high, then drop them near the floor, bending downward in the process – the segment that looks particularly ceremonial. It looked perfectly executed.

“Floričica Olteneasca” is a Romanian piece played in large part on a drymba (also known as the jew’s harp). This instrument, traditional in Ukraine, is rarely utilized, probably for a reason. According to the Encyclopedia of Ukraine (online), it consists of a small horseshoe-shaped metal piece and a slender metallic strip (tongue) extending between the two arms. To play it, it’s held between the teeth while the end of the metallic tongue is twanged with the forefinger. To me, it sounds somewhat like a harmonica but with very limited tonal range, sounds slightly off-key (intentionally), and has that distinctive twang. It’s genesis probably was in the rural countryside where access to musical instruments was limited or non-existent, and music had to be made from whatever material might have been available.

Tina Croll + Company in “Balkan Bacchanal”
Photo by Robin Michals

The brief dance adds three men to the original five women, and moves a bit faster than the prior dances, with more intricate footwork and arms interconnected. At first the genders moving identically but separately, each gender forming a flexible line that moves circularly, but eventually the women leave the stage, leaving the men to conclude lined horizontally facing the audience, their arms, as at the beginning, around each other’s shoulders. This too, is a celebratory dance but one that appears to be limited to special occasions – like weddings or births. The dance was superbly performed.

“Petrunino” is a dance from West Central Bulgaria to a song that asks Petrunina why she is so beautiful…did you fall from heaven or spring up in a garden?” Executed by the same eight dancers but divided into pairs (one pair of women, I don’t know whether that’s traditional or because those were the dancers available), each of which dances the same steps, the piece is a jaunty dance that seems to have a kinship with certain pairs dancing in a Square Dance (after the “square” shape is dissolved), and has an obvious flirtatious sense to it.

Tina Croll + Company in “Balkan Bacchanal”
Photo by Robin Michals

“Balada Za Trubače” (translated as “Ballad for Trumpeters”) is a Romanian dance tune in 9/8 time, to – no surprise here – trumpets (joined by the other brass instruments and a drum that comprise the Zlatne Uste Balkan Brass Band). It’s a “shawl dance.” That is, the two women who perform it carry intricate-looking colorful fringed shawls that most likely were locally made (perhaps these were imported from the Balkans) up the stage together, and then dance (separately, but largely in tandem) and wrap the shawl around themselves in different ways while they propel themselves around the stage, at times with their feet moving non-stop, ultimately enwrapping their bodies within their shawls as if to represent that the shawls (and the culture that produced them) and their bodies are one. Eventually, one dancer leaves the stage and the other continues with a brief solo during which she wraps the shawl around her in multiple ways that to me simulate flight. Very nicely done.

“Kojcovata” is a dance to music, “Kojco’s dance,” that comes from the region of Veliko Tamovo in North Bulgaria. It belongs to the “Dajcovo” family. Two female dancers run onto and across the stage together to the beat of the music, then split up and continue to run individually, eventually returning together to be joined by two of the other women, and then by the fifth woman, after which they dance together. It’s a fast-paced, high-spirited dance that includes what appear to be a wide variety of step permutations. Like the other pieces on the program, it was executed superbly.

“Kopanica,” the evening’s concluding dance, is a well-known Bulgarian dance tune that’s also found in Slavic and Greek Macedonia and Serbia. Here it was performed by the three men. It’s a rapid-fire, rapid-footwork piece where the three dance with their arms around each other’s shoulders, but with far more intricate-looking footwork than the third dance on the program, including indicia of something resembling tapping, but with the flat forefoot alone (and of course without taps).

The individual dancers who performed each of the above dances were, unfortunately, not specified. As a group, however, the company was comprised of Andrew Barna, Erin DeLucia-Benson, Michelle Durante, Kendra Dushac, Michelle Gilligan, Noel Kropf, Heather Panikkar, and Bard Rosell. The stellar group of musicians were Michael Ginsburg, Catherine Foster, Marian Eines, Matt Smith, Morgan Clark, Belle Birchfield, Emerson Hawley, Seido Salifoski, and Andriy Milavsky.

Balkan Bacchanal (an unfortunate title that connotes something else, was nevertheless an intoxicating piece that provided a glorious exhibition of Balkan folk dance (with the band’s accompanying music), a way for the viewer to connect with his or her roots, however fleeting and whatever those roots may be.

Following this concluding dance, one member of the group (perhaps the ninth) taught a folk dance to the audience, and audience-members danced along the aisles together with the dancers on stage. What a fun, as well as enlightening, program!


Demi Remick & Dancers: That’s Entertainment! (World Premiere)

Demi Remick & Dancers opened the August 18 program with a dance piece, titled That’s EntertainmentI, that is disarmingly simple-looking (although obvious skill is involved at any dance level) but that ultimately is great fun to watch. Remick and the dancers (in addition to Remick herself, the cast listing on the Battery Dance site includes Dario Natarelli, Sydney Burtis, Taytum Buford, Funmi Sofola, and Dani Champagne) execute simple tap steps, mixed with a little jazz and Broadway dance movement, to a score consisting of one song by Barbra Streisand (“Happy Days Are Here Again”), and Judy Garland (“Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and “This Is It”).

Demi Remick & Dancers in That’s Entertainment!”
Photo by Steven Pisano

The first song set the tone for what is to follow. This piece is very much a “happy days /happy times remembered” dance, blended with the inevitable nostalgia that the songs themselves generate. The choreography isn’t bravura quality, but as the piece progressed it became evident that that was not what this dance was about, and its seeming simplicity enhances its overall charm. Innovation isn’t the point; fun is, and each of the four distinct dances that comprise the piece were sufficiently different from each other choreographically to maintain interest. And in the closing dance, aptly selected to emphasize that “this was it,” the dancers augmented their glittery individually-colored dresses (a top and shorts for the man) with a solo for the male (who must have been Natarelli) and top hats for everyone, ending in a mini chorus line. It was a light-hearted way to begin the evening.

Floyd McLean, Jr., Cold (NYC Premiere)

Cold, a duet choreographed by Floyd McLean Jr. and performed by McLean and Terrell Rogers, Jr., is an entirely different piece of work from the previous dance on the program. And although it’s relatively brief, it’s carries a quality knockout punch.

An East Orange, NJ native, McLean has performed with Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s DBDT: Encore, and now is in his first season with Philadanco (which happens to be one of the companies on the first contemporary dance program I ever saw).

According to the program note, Cold explores the importance of holding one another up in a world that seems like it has its cards stacked against you. The individuals in this duet are revisiting earth from another realm, navigating prejudice, hate crimes, and so much more due to how you look or identify.

The piece itself is far less specific than that description, and not at all as cosmic-cataclysm sounding. It’s better than that.

Floyd McLean, Jr. and Terrell Rogers, Jr. in “Cold”
Photo by Steven Pisano

To unidentified somber music by Rene Duchiffre and Giulio Caccini (most of which is sung), the piece is at once a wail of hopelessness with respect to the inequities evident around them coupled with a sustaining vision of overcoming  these evils. It’s all done without specifying the tribulations out there, but by recognizing and reacting to them.

Lots of dances to exactly that. And Cold isn’t perfect – the repeated image of one of them looking outward toward whatever painful offstage vision he sees is done too often. But where Cold distinguishes itself is in McLean’s choreography (as well as the superb execution by both men, who appear – each being the same height and build, and each bare-chested with white pants –  to be twin black and white pens writing their frustration, anger, and desperation onto the stage floor), which is sufficiently (and significantly) dramatic without being overbearing, and which includes a startling assortment of choreographic exclamation points that make it thrilling to watch, and that make it soar. Cold is hot.

Battery Dance Company: A Certain Mood

Battery Dance is a company, as well as a Festival. The company was founded in 1976 by choreographer and former dancer Jonathan Hollander, and has its own annual performance programs. One set of pieces for Battery Dance’s 2022 performance season is a group of three related dances, collectively called “Hofmann Dances,” inspired by Hans Hofmann, a highly-regarded German-born American artist, who is described in the program as one of the 20th century’s most influential painters and teachers. Together, the three works are intended to embody Hofmann’s legacy of poetic imagery, imagination and abstract expression.

One of these three pieces relates to a Hofmann painting titled “A Certain Mood.” and bears the painting’s title. The choreography for each of the three dances was assigned to different choreographers, and this one was choreographed by Tsai Hsi Hung, a Taipei native who, while continuing to perform, has already been recognized for her choreographic efforts to date. She currently teaches, and is on the faculty of Peridance in New York.

Battery Dance Company in Tsai Hsi Hung’s “A Certain Mood”
Photo by Phil Mahabeer

It’s not essential to be familiar with Hung’s choreography, or with Hofmann’s paintings in general and “A Certain Mood” in particular, to appreciate A Certain Mood, but I think it would be helpful. I was not, and it took awhile to adjust to Hung was attempting here beyond the program’s introductory blurb. Eventually I did, and seeing the painting online afterward enlightened things still further.

Reportedly Hung was inspired by Hofmann’s use of space and color, and also that her choreography here attempts to capture Hoffman’s movement by visualizing Hofmann’s brush strokes as he created this painting. It is quite obvious from the outset that the Battery Dance dancers are doing exactly that. Initially all the frenetic stage movement looked purposeless and wasn’t interesting by itself to make it more than movement for movement’s sake. And then it began to click, and my ultimate conclusion is that A Certain Mood is a magnificent piece of work, and far more than movement for movement’s sake – although I suspect that many in the appreciative audience enjoyed it more for its broad-stroke, rapid-fire,  frenzied movement alone.

No one would confuse A Certain Mood with Alexei Ratmansky’s Paintings at an Exhibition for New York City Ballet, but then no one would confuse the Victor Harmann paintings that inspired Mussorgsky , and ultimately Ratmansky, with Hans Hofmann’s oeuvre. Hofmann (not to be confused with Hans Hoffmann, a 16th Century German different artist) was an abstract expressionist, whose paintings explore space, shape, color, and balance, as well as forms of reality – moods – that are real but difficult if not impossible to adequately visualize without limiting them to a certain type of mood or expression. [I’m not an art expert. The above comments are my own, so save your emails if they’re incomplete or just wrong.] In “A Certain Mood,” one can see the interplay of all these factors. While there doubtless was considerable expertise involved in creating this work (and others), and even though the painting may include vague representations of recognizable geometric shapes or objects (as, here, a table and a bottle), this may not be apparent to an untrained eye. It could be seen as a hodgepodge of paint and color and brush / spatula strokes (which I can’t see from an online image).

Hung’s choreography initially appeared that way to me also. But it’s not. Every choreographic movement is intended to express not only brush strokes, but the attitude and animation behind them. Moreover, just as “A Certain Mood” conveys a certain weight (pick an adjective, but to me it’s decidedly reactive and negative in mood), Hung’s choreography does as well. [Compared to Hofmann, the work of Jackson Pollack looks lyrical and vaguely balletic.] And although the score to which Hung created her piece, created by Izzy Hung (I don’t know if there’s a relationship with the choreographer) is percussive, unobtrusive, and allows the movement to proceed without impelling it.

Like the painting, Hung’s choreography is awash with dramatic movement. In addition to movement speed, the dancers’ upwardly outstretched arms propel the movement forward. But there are moments (albeit brief) of contemplation, as if one of the dancers is the artist determining that whether the result of the prior stroke explosion (some or all of the dancers may briefly stop in a form that illustrates a certain overall shape) was satisfactory, or requires change or addition – and then the intense activity continues until, eventually, it stops, presumably because no further tinkering is needed. After a viewer gets used to it, the piece is really quite exciting to watch.

Contributing mightily to this excitement were the six Battery Dance dancers (Sarah Housepian, Vivake Khamsingsavath, Jillian Linkowski, Zaki A’jani Marshall, Sara Seger, and Razvan Stoian), each of whom appeared extravagantly committed, displaying seemingly impossible synchronization where required, and even more impossible energy throughout. All (including Seger, whom I recall from her many appearances with RIOULT Dance NY) merit accolades.

TeaTime Company: Stick-Stok (U.S. Premiere)

TeaTime Company, which is based in the Netherlands, focuses on the blending of circus and dance. One might assume that all this is familiar territory (e.g., Cirque de Soleil, STREB: Extreme Action Company), but one would be wrong. At least judged by its presentation here, if anything it’s the opposite: low-key, little fear of falling or getting hurt, and no “dancers-go-boom.” Rather, the company mixes juggling, contemporary dance and Chinese pole skills, and apparently it’s wildly popular in Europe and elsewhere.

TeaTime Company in Pieter Visser, Hannah Rogerson,
and Bavo De Smedt’s “Stick-Stok”
Photo by Steven Pisano

In Stick-Stok, the company explores the possibilities of three custom made poles (round, roughly 3” in diameter, one roughly 7’ in length, the other two roughly 6’ and 5’). But it’s not just what they do with the poles; it’s how they do it. The skill and finesse sneak up on you, and involves far more than the skill sets referenced above.

The piece takes a long time to begin, though it begins as soon as one of the three company members takes the stage. That is, this one dancer spent a great deal of time apparently trying to fix the poles vertically onto the stage floor, seemingly looking for some pre-drilled holes, then trying to balance them on their ends, and always failing. After awhile, however, he achieves his goal – sort of – and one soon realizes that this was all part of the show. He begins maneuvering the poles to keep them in place, or at least upright, or at least off the stage floor, essentially juggling them while they’re on the stage rather than in the air. Finally getting them set upright while leaning against each other, he reacts in triumph, but another dancer runs onto the stage and attempts to snatch one of the poles. The skill involved in all this is almost (but never completely) overwhelmed by the skillfully communicated low decibel humor.

Eventually, a woman joins the two men, and the presentation evolves into a display of dance (with the poles as essential props), juggling (of the poles in the air, not just on the stage floor), and extraordinary balance (of poles and atop each other) and finesse. One pole gets balanced on top of another, on a foot, on a finger, and two at a time – angled. And all the time the dancers are in non-stop motion – deliberate, not fast, but motion nonetheless. It was an exquisite demonstration, and the performers (Pieter Visser, Hannah Rogerson, Bavo De Smedt), who are also credited as being the piece’s choreographers, were a thoroughly accomplished and engaging group.

It’s all very entertaining, and was well-appreciated by the audience. It’s a perfect act for AGT (though maybe not sufficiently “Vegas”), and it demonstrates clearly, in case there was any doubt, that the Dutch got talent too.

Fairul Zahid & LASALLE Dance Singapore: Allocentric (World Premiere)

It’s difficult to know what to make of Allocentric, the dance presented by Fairul Zahid and LASALLE Dance Singapore.

According to the program note, in this world premiere piece Zahid “explores the hierarchy of multiple social identities.” I’m not sure I know what that means, but I didn’t see anything resembling it in the dance beyond a certain level of agitation and maybe anger that didn’t become clearly emphasized until the second half of this unnecessarily long dance. It may have been there, but it wasn’t presented in a way that I could understand. The title may provide a clue (the prefix “allo” can mean “other” or “different”) but that doesn’t help here – it doesn’t illuminate any facet of the dance. This may be my deficiency more than the choreographer’s (it certainly wasn’t any deficiency on the part of the dancers), but whatever intended meaning there might have been was buried within the dance’s overall length.

Fairul Zahid & LASALLE Dance Singapore in “Allocentric”
Photo by Phil Mahabeer

That doesn’t mean that this is a poorly-crafted dance. On the contrary, except for not successfully communicating any particular meaning, it was a brilliantly-crafted contemporary dance, to unidentified music by Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm (the two collaborated on a number of different pieces, and I don’t know whether the piece was choreographed to a complete composition or excerpts from one or many) that’s mesmerizing the way Philip Glass’s music can be mesmerizing, supporting the same quality in Zahid’s choreography.

The dance consists of six dancers, two men and four women, with the costuming (uncredited) consisting of identical outfits (long thigh-length flowing shirt covering shorts) divided into two groups of three: one in black and the other in white. The duality has obvious connotations, but these aren’t developed. Rather, there’s a lot of overlapping that leads to the conclusion that the color distinction may be relatively insignificant in determining any underlying meaning in the dance beyond, maybe, representing different backgrounds that appear to coexist. And where the dance divides into subgroups (three / three or four / two), the costume color doesn’t appear to matter. However, the costuming does lend to the expressive impact of the dance and the visual flow of Zahid’s choreography. It’s all very interesting-looking.

About halfway through the piece the tenor changes, speed picks up a notch or two, and the emotional level becomes more aggressive and impassioned. But why this suddenly happens isn’t clearly indicated choreographically (it just is), and by then, it was too little, too late anyway. Allocentric would benefit from a disciplined reduction in length.

Zahid, who holds a MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, was born in Malaysia, and works out of Singapore, where LASALLE Dance Singapore is located. I tried to find a website for that company, but could only locate a LASALLE College of the Arts, which includes a Dance program, so perhaps LASALLE Dance Singapore is comprised of students at or from the school. Regardless, it’s undeniable that Zahid is a talented choreographer and the dancers in this piece (Jazlyn Tan Jia Yu, Koo Jing Yi Natasha, Stanley Ian Cuneta, Cheong Sze Ting, Esther, Dineaish Rajendran, Nurul Elyana Hamlan) are an outstanding group.

Had I the time, I would have explored the other programs that comprised the festival. But considering the quality of what I did see, I’ll be back next year.