IMPRESSIONS: Summer Dance in NYC, The Battery Dance Festival
Six Evenings, Six Performances, and Thirty-Two Premieres
President and artistic director: Jonathan Hollander
Vice president and COO: Emad M. Salem
Production director: Barry Steele
Battery Dance Festival manager: Gabrielle Niederhoffer
Robert Wagner Park and virtual presentations, August 12-20 2021
Every summer, New York City artists come spilling onto the streets. The Battery Dance Festival, for instance, returns faithfully each August presenting a generous lineup of performers, free of charge, on a waterfront platform erected in Robert Wagner Park. With New York Harbor as a backdrop, the scenery is breathtaking.
As festival manager Gabrielle Niederhoffer reminds us each night, this year’s offerings include 56 performances and 32 premieres spread over six evenings. In addition to the live performances, there are virtual events featuring international artists who were unable to travel to New York because of the current Bio-war. This amazing panoply of artists ranges from flamenco dancers to disabled artists in wheelchairs, with special evenings devoted to Indian Independence Day, to aspiring young performers, and to the dances of Latin America. Many events are wonderful, but they are too numerous to describe, so a few highlights must suffice.
Artistic director Jonathan Hollander has long had ties to India; and so the first show, on Sunday, August 15, blessed by sutradhar and narrator Rajika Puri, celebrated the dance traditions of that country.
Hands curl upward like smoke, and ankle bells chime ecstatically in Yugal, a graceful duet in which Kathak dancers Parul Shah and Mohip Joarder alternate between bursts of whirlwind energy and a dreamy lassitude. Bharata Natyam is a more grounded form, and Kasi Aysola and Sai Santosh Radhakrishnan express its power and sensuality in Water, a premiere that fancifully depicts the hydrologic cycle and rejoices in falling rain. Here the two men strike forceful, angular poses and swagger. Yet Aysola also brushes away tears and seems to pine for a divine lover who will appear in the guise of a thunderhead. Glitteringly bejeweled, Swathi Gundapuneedi-Atluri then performs a Kuchipudi solo of small adjustments and precious gestures.
The evening concludes with two ensemble pieces choreographed by Maya Kulkarni. In the first, three women form a human “chariot” that represents the passage of Kundalini energy through the body. Turning to represent three deities—Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva—the dancers gather back-to-back and revolve in a tight circle. Their serenity vanishes, however, when they illustrate blood-thirsty legends in which the gods slaughter their enemies.
On Monday, August 16, the second night of live performances features young artists and students. It includes a spooky duet inspired by the Norman Rockwell painting of six-year-old Ruby Bridges walking to school accompanied by U.S. marshals. In this dance titled The Stoic Bridge, tap dancer Kate Louissant is shadowed by a barefoot spirit guide (co-choreographer Nhyira Asante) who watches over her, and whose extravagant gestures reflect the emotions Louissant keeps hidden.
In Shiva Panchakshara Stotra, a five-member ensemble regroups in imaginative and varied designs. Yet the most attractive aspect of this dance-hymn in Kuchipudi style, choreographed by Ramya Durvasula, is its picture of love and devotion. Then two powerful athletes, Spencer Everett and Isabella Aldridge, perform a virtuosic number titled Repentino, their figures framed and accessorized with red elastics.
In Brian Golden’s choreographic birthday bash, This is 22!, the presumptive guest of honor worms her way morosely through the party wearing flesh-colored togs (read: naked) and clutching a bunch of balloons. Meanwhile, the narrator reveals his shock at discovering that time doesn’t stop when one reaches the golden age of 21. To anyone over 30, his discomfiture will be hilarious.
Easing us into Tuesday’s program, on August 17, Luke Hickey’s tap-dance trio offers a cool and breezy opener, accompanied by a live jazz ensemble. Hickey’s a cappella solo is suave, but his idea of a “contemporary” number seems dystopian and robotic. He may be right about a coming Machine Age, but is this the future we want?
Amadi “Baye” Washington and Sam “Asa” Pratt title their thrilling duet John 4:20, referring to a Biblical passage about brotherly love. Yet the roughhousing in this tongue-in-cheek number threatens to veer over into the story of Cain and Abel. A friendly pat on the back, or a proffered handshake quickly turns to grappling and a struggle for dominance. Lightening the mood are humorous moments when the dancers casually adjust position. Still the piece is exhausting, and when the men fall apart, collapsing, we understand why they find it hard to get up. The choreography eventually circles back to its opening motifs, but while this dance must end the conflict remains eternal. Baye and Asa leave us falling backward, caught helplessly in an agonic embrace.
Ensemble pieces on this program suggest additional varieties of human experience, from love-possession (Robert J. Priore’s Voilà Viola); to anguished night-crawling (Rohan Bhargava’s The Undergound); to lyrical athleticism and joy (Jon Lehrer’s Solstice).
The evening concludes, however, with another rambunctious duet: Ode to Yma, performed by members of the Battery Dance Company. Here ballroom partners Razvan Stoian and Jillian Linkowski slink, shimmy, and twirl in campy homage to Hollywood diva, Yma Sumac. Ay yai yai!
TO BE CONTINUED in IMPRESSIONS: Summer Dance in NYC, The Battery Dance Festival (Part ll)