Dance dignitary celebrates 30th anniversary


By Scott Harrah

Jonathan Hollander may not be the most famous choreographer in New York, but his ambitious creations and his outreach to both school kids and international communities have been receiving much fanfare from dance fans and the media in the U.S. and overseas.

Hollander, who founded Battery Dance Company in a Stone Street loft in 1975 with his wife Nicole (then his lead dancer), recently celebrated his company’s 30th anniversary at a gala performance on September 29th at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Unlikely attendees included many members of the U.S. Department of State, familiar with Hollander’s company now that they’ve expanded their performances to hot zones like the Middle East. With the help of the U.S. State Department and American embassies overseas, Battery Dance Company has traveled to such countries as Jordan and Israel twice in the past two years in an effort to introduce American dance and culture to small communities abroad. In all, they’ve traveled to 22 countries in ten years.

This year, the company also entered the unfamiliar terrain of New York City public schools. Prior to the September 29th gala, Battery Dance Company performed two matinees for school kids followed by question-and-answer sessions with new initiates to dance. The company created one piece specifically for students, “Used Car Salesmen,” which featured cartwheels and two pugilists that mimed a narrated text’s pitch about selling cars and winning a customer’s trust and money.

Hollander sees far-reaching benefits to bringing these performances into foreign countries and to students back home.

“You get into the theater and you perform and you find out that people are exactly the same—even in Israel and Jordan,” says Hollander. “Everything drops away, and the universality comes through, particularly with music and dance.” He adds that those performances were “a victory for American public diplomacy.”

Getting into New York City schools can prove more difficult, though. As appreciative as the students are, and as important as it is to introduce them to dance, says Hollander, high-stakes testing infringes on their extra-curricular time. “I actually heard a principal say recently ‘We don’t have time for culture.’ So that is a huge barrier.” But he fights it, nonetheless.

The 30th anniversary celebration included three exciting new ensemble pieces choreographed by artistic director Hollander. “Joyous Energies” showcased 10th graders from the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Long Island City. Created entirely by students under the mentorship of Battery Dance Company’s teaching artists, the work portrayed nature’s influence on art. In it, girls in flowing green goddess dresses, patterned leotards, and outdoors-inspired costumes leapt and twirled against the backdrop of a colorful set while a live orchestra of 20 musicians played in the pit and a chorus of 15 vocalists sang a surrealistic poem by Michael Ondaatje.

In “The Solo Project,” three dancers, Jane Soto, Bafana Solomon Matea, and Lydia Tetzlaff, performed individual pieces, with lighting by Barry Steele. Sato, sporting a fun costume complete with a black pantsuit and suspenders, did her own choreography and danced to music by Finnish jazz composer Frank Carlberg. Bafana Solomon Matea, a native of South Africa, danced in a rather unconventional costume (a white shirt and khaki Bermuda shorts) to traditional Spanish Roma music, which is a unique fusion of Spanish flamenco and Eastern European gypsy rhythms. Lydia Tetzlaff (who teaches dance to students at Frank Sinatra) performed a piece choreographed by herself and Jonathan Hollander, with music by the world-famous Kronos Quartet. The tall, blonde beauty wowed the audience by her barefoot dancing and graceful moves.

The final piece, the world premiere “Shell Games,” was an incredibly lush visual treat and the evening’s most spectacular work. Small, globe-shaped lights descended from the ceiling into giant seashells made of wire and white, diaphanous fabric. As vocalist Christine Correa sang lyrics by Brion Gysin and Gertrude Stein, dancers clad in white costumes emerged from the seashells and frolicked around the stage. The seashells, intricately designed by Sole Salvo, doubled as set pieces when the dancers shed them. Percussionists Yousif Sheronick and Mark Ferber and pianist Frank Carlberg provided an engaging score for this highly theatrical, gorgeous piece.

Those who missed the anniversary celebration will have to wait patiently for the company’s next show. “We’re crunching the numbers right now, trying to figure out how to pay for this performance,” says Hollander. He predicts it will be another nine months before they can assemble the financing for another. With any luck, the money will come soon.

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