Battery Dance Festival – Part 2
New York, New York
August 18, 2023: Softly as in a Morning Glow – extended set (NYC Premiere) (Adriana Ogle & Toru Sakuragi and friends); Wind-Up (Amanda Treiber); In My Your Head (NYC Premiere) (Bruce Wood Dance); Soudain L’Hiver Dernier (Citadel + Compagnie); Like Those Playground Kids at Midnight (Boca Tuya); Power (World Premiere) (Reuel Rogers); The Wind in the Olive Grove (Battery Dance)
This is Part 2 of my review of two programs presented as part of this year’s 42nd annual Battery Dance Festival. My review of the August 17th performance is in Part 1, which should appear above or below this one depending on the platform.
The two programs I watched couldn’t have been more different. The first, to a large extent, was a look into the origins of modern dance, while the closing night program was more consistent with the eclectic assortment of dance, some of high quality, that I discovered last year.
I’ll consider the dances in performance order.
The August 18 Performance
Generally, and while there were exceptions, much of the program appeared relatively unpolished. But then, the purpose of the Festival is not to present top-level companies with recognized success, but companies and/or dancers with a considerably lower profile, mined from submissions that represent a worldwide pool of talent and potential. Such an open door to relatively new companies and choreographers is admirable, and it’s a given that an emerging company or choreographer has to emerge from somewhere.
The program’s first piece is an example of that talent and potential. Although it lacks the originality and complexity that one has come to expect in tap dance performances in New York since Savion Glover’s solo bravura tap demonstrations, and since Dorrance Dance revolutionized the concept of a tap dance performance. But one shouldn’t have expected that here. And although it’s not clear to me whether “Adriana Ogle & Toru Sakuragi and friends” is a company, or a vehicle for Ogle and Sakuragi to present their choreography at BDF (I suspect it’s the latter), that doesn’t really matter. All involved are relative newbies (though relative is … relative) with sufficient demonstrated expertise to have their artistic ability presented here.
Their piece, titled Softly as in a Morning Glow – extended set, a NYC premiere, presents tap dancing to multiple musical source material. [The title is apparently a mash-up of two of the compositions used: John Coltrane’s adaptation of “Softly as in a Morning Sunshine,” and Cab Calloway’s “Moonglow.”]
The accompanying program fails to clearly delineate the components of the piece, and I didn’t see everything advertised. But rather than nickel and dime the program note, I’ll consider the dance as I saw it, referencing factual information from the program where appropriate.
Except for an a cappella period corresponding to what the program describes as a new piece choreographed by Sakuragi in tribute to Lon Chaney, the entire piece was danced to compositions skillfully arranged and performed live on a synthesizer by Nkosi Edwards. [The referenced Lon Chaney is not the actor known as “the man with a thousand faces.” I did some digging, and although the program doesn’t indicate it the reference must be to tap dancer Lon Chaney (originally named Isaiah Chaneyfield), who died on January 31, 1995, after having an extensive career that began in the 1960s and 70s. According to a New York Times obituary, he appeared in both the Paris and Broadway productions of “Black and Blue” and danced on television and in theaters and jazz clubs throughout New York.]
The piece begins with all four dancers (Addi Loving, Funmilayo Sofola, Tommy Wasiuta, and Ogle) assembling on stage and executing elementary tap dance combinations to unidentified music (perhaps Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay,” which is the first composition referenced in the program, though the score here sounded quite different). Of course, to those whose knowledge of the effort required to execute any of these “elementary” combinations is limited to nervous leg syndrome, this segment was far from elementary.
This may have been a sort of introduction, since the program’s first performance reference is to a duet, and what followed this four-dancer segment was a duet with Ogle and Wasiuta. Assuming that that’s the case, per the program it’s choreographed by Sakuragi to the Coltrane piece (“Softly as in a Morning Sunrise”), though, again, I can’t be certain because the sound of the music was overwhelmed by the amplified tap sounds.
Although Ogle and Wasiuta danced well, this component of the dance looked somewhat spartan – but it fits the program’s description of Sakuragi’s choreography as being “an exploration of flow, rhythm, grounding, and playfulness.” This segues immediately to the piece referenced in the program as having been choreographed by Ogle to Cab Calloway’s “Moonglow” (which I definitely recognized). The choreographic level of this segment was more complex, and more fun to watch.
When this pair leaves the stage they’re immediately replaced by the other two dancers tapping to different music. This might have been the additional Ogle choreography that the program references, but, again, I can’t be certain. Regardless, the execution by Loving and Sofola was superb. Each of the two had featured solo opportunities, but basically this was another duet.
This pair subsequently was rejoined by the first pair, and this segment of the piece ended with considerable flourish.
The “a cappella” segment followed, danced by all four. Again, all tapped quite well (with Wasiuta carrying the laboring oar at the outset and adding some spectacular tap combinations).
The entire piece thereupon concluded, with all four dancers, joined by Edwards, tapping to brief additional music.
As should be apparent, I’ve left out much of what the program indicated was supposed to be inspiration for, or a component of, the presentation. Nevertheless, and except for that elementary opening, Ogle’s and Sakuragi’s choreography was certainly commendable. And the four dancers executed admirably. It’s difficult, as well as somewhat unfair, to single out any of them for special recognition, since most of the time all four executed the same steps in tandem or sequentially, and each displayed the sense of joy and freedom, and the sunny stage personality, that seem built into a tap performance. But it also would be unfair not to recognize particular brilliance. Based on their solos, Loving and Wasiuta danced with special ability and flair.
Next on the program was a dance choreographed by Amanda Treiber, who I remember well from her performances as a Principal with New York Theatre Ballet. I saw another piece she choreographed, Sideslip, last March at Norte Maar’s CounterPointe10 program, and was impressed.
The program identifies the piece presented here, Wind-Up, as Treiber’s 2021 debut choreographic effort. While it certainly has the limited boundaries of a first piece, the choreography is varied, it’s very pleasant to watch, and it has an unusually impressive, polished, look to it. This “polished” quality was augmented by a top-notch cast: Victor Abreu from New York City Ballet, Giulia Fari and Mónica Lima from NYTB, and Alexis Branagan, a former member of NYTB who I’ve seen dance with other companies as well.
According to the program note, Wind-Up draws its inspiration from flocking birds and what their relationships might be to each other, with music by Ryan Anthony Francis, titled “Wind-Up Birds Preludes,” that does the same thing. This seemed a sure-fire recipe for predictable zoomorphism (humans demonstrating animal traits), but although there were plenty of bird references (arm positions and fluttering; altering linear positions as if the dancers were birds on a wire; and, of course, flight – all enhanced by the fact that Wind-Up is a ballet, with the sense of flight and airiness that goes with the territory), the piece goes far beyond that, achieving a life of its own related to, but not bound by, its inspiration. And it avoids looking like alternative choreography for the “canary fairy” (canari qui chante) in The Sleeping Beauty ballet. It’s an impressive piece of work, especially for a debut effort, and one that’s not at all predictable.
Wind-Up (the title seems to be a play on “wind,” as in turning or twisting, and “up,” as in up, up and away) begins with simple posturing by the three women, with arms outstretched birdlike. Abreu soon joins the three women – he’s the “dominant” male bird in the ensemble, with the cockiness and preening to match, and the one around whom the others flock, at least initially.
Thereafter, the ballet segues into something like “dances at a gathering of birds.” Branagan executes an exceptionally interesting and intricate solo while Abreu sits and watches and the other two women stand and wait their turn to show off. After Branagan completes her solo, the other two women move to center stage together, but one of them seems to pay more direct attention to Abreu, which draws Abreu out to join her. The dance then evolves into two consecutive pas de deux. Finally, Branagan rejoins the group and they again dance as a relatively cohesive flock, staring out at the Lower Manhattan horizon as if ready to take flight.
The only thing missing from this surprisingly (for a first effort) skillful little ballet was the live flock of birds that flew across the stage the night before.
I’d not previously heard of Bruce Wood Dance, a contemporary dance company based in Dallas, but it apparently has had a celebrated (at least in Texas, and perhaps beyond), albeit somewhat convoluted, history.
The company was founded by Bruce Wood as the Bruce Wood Dance Company, and its history isn’t completely clear. The program indicates that it originated in 2010, but according to Wood’s obituary in the Dallas Morning News, the company was founded by Wood in 1996, and was centered in Fort Worth. Wood created 40 choreographic pieces during this period, but the company had to shut down in 2007 when it lost its funding.
After entreaties from patrons in Dallas, the company was re-established there in 2010 as the Bruce Wood Dance Project. I suspect that the name of the Dallas-based company is fluid – or at some point was officially changed to Bruce Wood Dance.
Wood died in 2014 from complications of pneumonia at age 53. Joy Bollinger, who danced with the company in both of its incarnations, began choreographing (at least for this company) in 2016, and became the company’s third Artistic Director in 2018. She created the piece presented here, In My Your Head, in 2019.
The dance’s subject matter, youthful anomie, is relatively tired by now. But here it’s delivered in a manner that’s different from the mold. There’s clearly expressed confusion, anger, and frustration, but In My Your Head is a statement of fact that such emotions exist and are a consequence of what this youthful generation sees and hears. And although Bollinger’s choreography here is different from the norm, whatever that may be, it’s not a confusing new dance language – her choreography presents as a visually interesting, and at times exciting, way of putting it all together.
The piece begins with nine of the listed twelve company dancers lined vertically, audience right. When the music starts (all the music is credited to Radiohead, but specific compositions/ songs are not identified), the dancers move in tandem with it, beat by beat. That sounds boring, but it’s not. The music “sounds” staccato and angular, and it’s executed the same way – but not as a simple exercise. These dancers are reading something –a newspaper; a computer tablet; the specific medium is not clear and isn’t important; here it’s not the medium that’s the message, but the obviously incendiary – and perhaps confusing and contradictory – messages the media transmits. The ingestion of these disturbing messages prompts the dancers’ subsequent actions.
As the segment progresses, the dancers “march” toward audience left, and the single line breaks into a pair of staggered vertical lines. And although the basic staccato movement (read, react; read, react; …) doesn’t change, at intermittent points certain dancers thrust their heads back as if what they’ve read effectively punched them in the head. [Note that there’s no emotion here, or anywhere in the piece, although at certain points some dancers communicate the fear of being unable to avoid the informational mess being fed to them, and of succumbing to it.]
Once the vertical lines reach the center of the stage, the dancers’ lines “compress,” and with their backs to the audience, one by one several of the women are lifted up and away – not gracefully, although in a different context the movement might be interpreted that way, but in a manner more akin to being thrown outward by a volcanic eruption. Shortly afterward, the line breaks and, briefly, all stage hell breaks loose: that is, they revolt.
Almost as quickly as that “revolt” begins, it ends and is replaced by behavior perhaps far more societally noxious. The music changes to something less frenetic, and Bollinger’s movement adapts to this: the changed music modifies the dance’s focus from external contradictory/ confusing impact to the internalization of that impact. Some of the movement echoes what was seen in the opening segment, but now it’s been stretched out of shape. Instead of a staccato reaction, the confusion and anger has been absorbed and is ingrained. And again, it’s all carefully controlled choreographically, without any of the visual cacophony often present in such pieces.
This segment ends with a series of lifts that repeat the explosive ones from the first segment, but they’re no longer explosive – where in the earlier segment the women were lifted and thrusted with their backs in the air facing out, now the lifts are slow and held longer, and those women who are lifted have their backs down and draped limply over their partners’ shoulders, suggesting daze and bewilderment rather than exploding shock.
It’s tempting to continue with this blow-by-blow description, but that’s unnecessary. Suffice it to say that the dance continues to visualize the constant impact of the conflicting and disturbing information provided to the point where the reaction goes beyond bewilderment to more aggressive protest (featuring some nifty partnering, including passing a female dancer from one male dancer to another in mid-frenzied-lift like a hot potato; a brief, feverish rebellion; apparent loss of life; and an apotheosis of sorts in which the dancers seem to appeal to those gods, or news manipulators, or politicians in that Lower Manhattan horizon and beyond to get their act together without partisan priorities and where the truth is the truth.
This is a lengthy dance, and there’s some repetition (which I see more as recurring motifs), but there’s no sense at all that this is a jumble of protest, an attempt to preach to the choir, or a call to arms. [In that sense – as well as others – it’s quite different from what some might see as a dance with a similar message but is a call to action: Justin Peck’s anthem for a new generation (as I described it following its premiere) – The Times Are Racing.] Rather, In My Your Head visualizes the poisoning (and numbing) of a new generation by information that they can’t escape, and a call on those in power to act before that generation, like others before it, is lost.
The twelve Bruce Wood dancers are a very good group, and all merit recognition. They are: Jaime Borkan, Alex Brown, Jillyn Bryant, Kevyn Butler, Sofia Downing Ortega, Lauren Hibbard, Ali Marshall, Weaver Rhodes, Mia Rosin, Elliott Trahan, Cole Vernon, Seth York. I look forward to seeing more of Bollinger’s choreography, and more of Bruce Wood Dance, in the future.
The two pieces that followed are considered to be complementary, but they’re more like different ways to say the same thing. They’re male relationship dances. And although both were well-choreographed and presented by their respective dancers, the second dance suffered by comparison to the first, and even more so by being presented consecutively on the same program.
Originally created in 1987 by well-known Canadian choreographer and former National Ballet of Canada Artistic Director James Kudelka for Montréal Danse, Soudain L’hiver Dernier (Suddenly Last Winter) is here performed by two dancers from Toronto’s Citadel + Compagnie: Sully Malaeb Proulx and Connor Mitton.
Citadel + Compagnie is more than a company. As its website indicates, it’s an “artistic and community entity with a dual purpose. It is at once both place and people.” It’s home, a former Salvation Army Citadel, houses the Ross Center for the Performing Arts: a space for artists to rehearse, create and perform – not unlike similar such spaces in NYC. Also similar to many such NYC spaces, it’s home to its own dance company, identified on its website as Compagnie de la Citadelle.
In several posts I’ve seen, Kudelka’s piece has been referred to as a Canadian classic. Here it’s not achieved the same level of appreciation, but perhaps it’s time for that evaluation to change.
Soudain L’hiver Dernier is described in the program as a piece “that explores variations on the theme of not failing someone. Lifting or supporting a body always implies some kind of trust, and this choreography … distills this bedrock faith. Filled with symbols of male strength, and also male reliance, the movement embodies the notion that these are two solitudes that both border and protect each other.”
Well … yes. But that’s a bit disingenuous. It’s not for nothing that the dance is performed by two men who are in close physical contact throughout the dance. While it has the qualities that the program note indicates, first and foremost it’s a male relationship dance.
The piece’s surface subject is the mutual dependence of two men, demonstrated by establishing elements of trust and reliance, and faith that the other will be there. Although it contains levels of physical intimacy, here that may be seen as a consequence of the close contact alone: there’s no overt visualization of anything beyond that. Except to me there is, but it’s subtle: evidenced, at least, by the way the two wrap their arms around each other, and the way they look at each other. Moreover, the dance’s unreality – that is, one man picks up another he first seen alone and slumping on stage, and the two thereafter become instant best friends – appears to me clearly to be a camouflage for a closer examination of the relationship between the two that perhaps might have been considered controversial when it premiered, even in Canada.
This aspect of the dance may be subject to debate. It’s a male relationship dance, but perhaps not that kind of male relationship dance. To me, that’s a distinction without a difference.
Be that as it may, of greater concern is how the piece is put together to make whatever point it’s primarily, or secondarily, making.
Soudain L’hiver Dernier is a dance that I would normally intensely dislike – not for its implicit or explicit subject matter, but because it’s slow and ponderous, repetitious to a fault (intentionally so), and performed completely without expression. Even though the examples of mutual reliance and strength (and balance and weight-shifting a la Pilobolous or Momix) to carry out the unusual-looking supportive lifts are intriguing-looking one at a time, the piece is “simply” an assemblage of such poses fluidly connected from one to the next with no visible purpose beyond being an assemblage of such poses. [See, to the contrary, the choreography of Miro Magloire for New Chamber Ballet, except there the lifts are between women, and are usually seen as within a larger narrative or abstract context.]
But at some point about a third of the way through the piece, the accumulating repetitive movement, though only moving from one “lift/ carry event” to another, slowly but surely morphs from being dull to being mesmerizing.
In addition to the skill evident in Kudella’s choreography and the two dancers’ execution, this mesmerizing quality is enhanced by the boring-sounding accompanying score: Gavin Bryars’s “Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet.”
The song has an interesting history, one that’s beyond the scope of this review to explain. Suffice it to say that it’s not known, to my knowledge, whether the song is an old hymn (one source claims that, but without verification) or something concocted in the mind of an elderly homeless man whose voice singing or reciting it was captured, inadvertently, in a slummy district of London (the “Elephant and Castle” district) in or about 1971. Moreover, I don’t know without further investigation whether the voice on the recording is that of the homeless man in London (which is what it sounds like), or Bryars’s own voice, or someone else’s. [Confession: I was in London in the summer of 1971, and while there stayed … in the Elephant and Castle district. It was (and may still be) a stop on the Underground, and I recall there being a pub there called Elephant and Castle that I passed daily. And nightly. But the voice on that recording is not mine. At least, I don’t think it is.]
Whatever its genesis, the song became popular in England and, I suppose, Canada, after Bryars spread it (though, apparently, it has no such popularity here). But it’s not in Kudelka’s piece for its popularity; it’s there for its expression of faith and unwavering blind reliance. Its lyrics (Jesus’ blood never failed me yet/ Never failed me yet/ Jesus’ blood never failed me yet/ That’s one thing I know/ For he loves me so), sung unemotionally in not-quite monotone, are so constantly repeated (a continuing loop) that it morphs into a mantra as mesmerizing as Kudelka’s choreography.
The bottom line is that whether Soudain L’hiver Dernier is a male relationship dance or a relationship dance performed by two men, it’s masterful.
Proulx and Mitton executed Kudelka’s difficult choreography extraordinarily well, including maintaining the prescribed stoic expression throughout.
Immediately following Soudain L’hiver Dernier came the “complementary” male duet, Like Those Playground Kids at Midnight, presented by Boca Tuya, and choreographed by its artistic director, Omar Román De Jesús. The piece was performed by De Jesús and Ian Spring.
Translated, “Boca Tuya” means “your mouth” or “mouth of yours,” and it has a decidedly negative connotation – as in “you’d better shut your mouth” or “that mouth of yours will get you into trouble.” Obviously, when he established his company in 2018, De Jesús took delight in doing what others may have told him he shouldn’t do. Based on what little I’ve learned of it, Boca Tuya, mostly through De Jesús’s choreography, pursues that goal, presenting dances that more often than not are on the cutting edge. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Although I wasn’t familiar with Boca Tuya, I have significant recollections of both Spring and De Jesús The first time I saw Douglas Parsons’s classic Caught it was performed by Spring. Although the same piece has since been performed by others, I still remember Spring’s spectacular performance. In that same 2016 Parsons Dance program I first saw De Jesús perform as a member of that company, and then saw him again a couple of years later as a member of Ballet Hispánico. Curiously, the dance that I saw him perform with the latter company, “Espiritus Gemelos” (choreographed by that company’s artistic director, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano), in which De Jesús played Salvatore Dali, dealt with a male relationship that may, or may not, have been sexual – like both of the male relationship dances on this program. I raved about it. And just two months ago I saw a piece choreographed by De Jesús for Ballet Hispánico: Papagayos. Although I recall having some difficulty with it, there was no question of the choreographic intelligence and wit behind it. And besides what I saw as a lack of clarity, some of my difficulty may have been because it wasn’t as shockingly brilliant as an earlier dance on that same program – as was the case here.
In many ways (aside from it being danced by two men) De Jesús’s piece is similar to Kudelka’s. It begins with one man (De Jesús) approaching the other, who appears to be in despair, and in short order the pair execute a series of supporting lifts involving reliance and strength, and displaying both physical intimacy and an unemotional veneer. But here there’s no doubt about the intent: the choreography illustrates a passionate connection between the two, and although there are no explicit sexual references, there are several points of contact that allow no other interpretation. And where the position that Kudelka is overtly emphasizing is abetted by its accompanying song of faith, the position that De Jesús’s duet emphasizes is hammered home by its score: “Tango Apasionada” by Astor Piazzolla (as a prologue); “Apres un Reve, Op. 7, No.1” by Gabriel Faure, played by Yo-Yo Ma; and “Buenos Aires hora cero,” a tango created and played by noted Latvian-born violinist Gidon Kremer that, according to one source, is an homage to Piazzolla.
Both De Jesús and Spring executed very well, and De Jesús’s choreography is undeniably well-crafted. And it’s more exciting to watch than the Kudelka piece because the pace is faster and more … passionate. It’s a very fine piece of work.
But where Soudain L’hiver Dernier is subtle and the intent of the action visualized possibly open to debate (though I disagree), Like Those Playground Kids at Midnight is obvious and the intent is undeniable. And artistically, where Soudain L’hiver Dernier is akin to Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Like Those Playground Kids at Midnight is Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” Both are very good songs, but where one is a classic, the other is just a very good song. Where Soudain L’hiver Dernier is a classic dance; Like Those Playground Kids at Midnight isn’t, and suffers in comparison. Unless De Jesús’s intent was specifically to upgrade the Kudelka piece to reflect greater societal openness, they shouldn’t be placed in the same program.
Also suffering in comparison, but in comparison with the other pieces on this program, is Power, a world premiere dance by Reuel Rogers.
Reuel “Crunk” Rogers is a dancer/ teacher/ coach/ choreographer who studied in Rotterdam (Holland) before returning to his home, Curacao, and according to the program he’s created a unique style of dance all his own, based in urban dance, hip hop and break dance, that he combines with contemporary sensibilities. The program describes the piece itself as “a solo dance work which explores the concept of power from several perspectives. Movement wise, the work experiments with the idea of power and control in the body, and the dynamism of flow and softness, journeying from zero to 100 and back from 100 to zero. It is also about the act of manifesting, i.e. the power to make things happen that exists within each of us. It is about making and achieving goals. Finally, the piece also celebrates the power of nature: the wind, a force that we can feel, but we can’t see; that force that passes before the sun without leaving a trace, a pressure to ” flow ” that you can’t halt, but can keep.”
A description like that can’t be lived up to, and to my eye Power doesn’t even come close.
Choreographed to ”Hale” by Dan Bay & Idd Aziz, Power starts with a series of cartwheels and backflips, after which there’s some regalistic (my invented word) “power” posing accompanied by feigned success in battle. It promptly moves on to another cartwheel, and then segues into a head spin, then into what looks like unsophisticated ballet turns a la seconde without the ballet component, through to some barrel turns, to more “power” posing, to tumbles, to more “power” posing, to back flips to some hand spins … well, you get the idea.
It takes considerable talent to do what Rogers is doing, and I don’t mean to denigrate that. But Power is a street dance/ acrobatics demonstration to which isolated “power posing” is added like an artificial moustache. Rogers has been a festival component several times, and I don’t know how Power compares to his other pieces. But this one, at a minimum, requires further development.
The evening concluded with the host company performing another in its series of dances inspired by the artwork of Hans Hofmann, a highly-regarded German-American artist whose work is most frequently described as abstract expressionist. [At last year’s Festival, the company performed A Certain Mood, based on the Hofmann painting of the same name, which itself was presented within a set of three dances based on Hofmann paintings collectively referred to as “Hofmann Dances.”]
According to the program, The Wind in the Olive Grove is inspired by Hofmann’s Olive Grove and Wind paintings. It was choreographed by Saeed Hani, a Syrian expatriate who here explores the sense of “home” in the Hofmann paintings as it relates to his memories of his native Syria. The piece was created in 2022 at Battery Dance, and was presented at last year’s Festival, but was not in any of the three programs I saw.
Hani is director of Hani Dance Company, which he formed in 2016 in Germany, and which moved to Luxembourg in 2021. I had not seen any of his work previously, and although The Wind in the Olive Grove may not be typical (based on examples of his work on his company’s website), it demonstrates considerable promise.
Of his choreography here, Hani reportedly has said: The artworks relate to the natural beauty of Syria and the spiral of war that has forced a generation of artists to flee. “The olive tree is a symbol of my Syrian homeland and reminds me of a time of innocence during my childhood, when no one could conceive that events would tear the country apart….In utter contrast is Hofmann’s representation of wind which represents for me the upheaval and chaos that descended on my country and forced me to leave.”
I looked at images of these Hofmann paintings, and I think Hani had the right idea – ignore the nuts and bolts (or paint and brush) of the paintings and focus on what feelings seeing them may instill in him. I can’t find anything in Hani’s piece that clearly relates to the Hofmann paintings, but there’s quite a bit that clearly relates to Hani’s sense of “home” and the disaster that was (and remains) the war that tore Syria apart.
Hani’s dance begins slowly, as one man, shirtless but in a black skirt-like costume, moves center stage with his head framed, or imprisoned, by a construction made of what appear to be wood sticks (think Tinker Toys, enlarged). This, I imagine, represents a Hani surrogate and the memories he has that are forever existent in his mind. This dancer circles in place a few times, emotionless. He’s soon joined by two women who walk onto the stage carrying similar sticks, either without embellishment or arrayed a different, less elaborate, configuration, and briefly take positions at the upper corners of the stage before all three begin to move, very slowly, to and from different stage positions. I assume that the wood sticks are supposed to represent olive trees or an olive grove.
So far, the dance is, at best, curious – but it’s also somewhat tedious.
More dancers soon appear on stage, without carrying any sticks. The initial sticks, or tree memories, are eventually removed, and the man in the center slowly exits.
One of the second wave of dancers is a woman dressed in a vivid and billowy red-orange costume made of thin-as-a-breeze fabric that is cut above her knees. Eventually, she begins to traverse the stage in continuing small circles, simulating, I think, wind. The nature of the piece thereupon changes, and it gets much more visually interesting. Now with all six of the company dancers suddenly energized (or, more accurately, coerced into a frenzy), the group at times forms a circle that, abetted by the stiff harbor breeze, might be seen as a miniature wind-storm.
What happens thereafter is difficult to describe. Initially there’s a period of frenzy, with the dancer I described as “wind” (I think Jillian Linkowski, but it’s hard to tell) instigating a response from the others as if intentionally stirring up a firestorm. She’s the wind in the olive grove. But after that, the action became more regimented. There’s a period where all the dancers appear to be soldiers (or civilians) marching to somewhere, either (or both) of which makes some sense in context. But at this point there’s no clear meaning to any of it beyond what Hani has described as what he sees in the Hofmann paintings and what happened in and to his homeland.
However, far more important than whatever narrative (or abstract pseudo narrative) there may be in The Wind in the Olive Grove is the choreographic variety, emotion, and control that Hani’s dance contains. Throughout the outline above individual dancers (in addition to “wind”) are given an opportunity to shine in solos that break the flow and provide more visual interest. So there’s promise in this piece, and I look forward to seeing other dances choreographed by Hani in the future.
And it almost goes without saying, but never should not be said: the Battery Dance dancers (Sarah Housepian, Vivake Khamsingsavath, Zaki A’Jani Marshall, Amy Saunder, Razvan Stoian, and Linkowski), as I’ve observed previously, are an eclectic and highly capable group.
On to the 43rd Battery Dance Festival next year.