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The Battery Dance Festival showcases genres from around the globe
Although the Financial District traditionally inspires images of affluence not the performing arts, Battery Dance founder Jonathan Hollander had a different vision. For the choreographer, the neighborhood was "a no-brainer," he says. "When we opened in 1976, we were located on Stone Street south of Wall Street, a part of New York where there were no facilities for performance. There were throngs of people working in the area, but we were tucked away in an old building. We thought, how do we identify ourselves with the community? So it was natural for us to come out on the street and perform in public places."
That epiphany led to the 1982 launch of the Downtown Dance Festival, now known as the Battery Dance Festival, New York City's longest-running no-cost dance fest. The 36th edition of this weeklong event kicks off on Sunday, August 13, and features six evenings of free outdoor performances in Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park by 31 disparate troupes, including the Peridance Contemporary Dance Company, Buglisi Dance Theatre, Kalanidhi Dance, students from the Martha Graham School, and the eponymous company. There will also be complimentary daytime workshops at Battery Dance's studio, and a free closing performance indoors at The Schimmel Center, but those require RSVPs.
The festival grew organically out of Battery Dance's alfresco offerings. "There was no master plan," Hollander says. "When the company started performing outdoors in 1976, we realized we drew a huge crowd at lunchtime. But putting the infrastructure together was so much work. We thought, why not join with others who also want to bring art to the area? There were so many dance companies hidden in black box theatres where only friends and families saw them. Why not share the wealth?"
While the participating companies have changed over the years, the Battery Dance Festival's goal has remained consistent: to expose audiences to a wide range of genres. "When we first started, that idea was a point of criticism," Hollander recalls. "Some people asked about a through-line. But to this day, the passion for dance remains the mantra and uniting idea. We invite all colors and textures. Personally, there's no form of dance I don't enjoy watching. I always thought audiences deserved to see what I love. I want to show them there is a huge spectrum of eclectic work."
The festival's programming reflects that philosophy. Each day's two-hour block is a medley of genres performed by companies from the U.S. and abroad. This year's international contingent includes Compañía de Danza Contemporánea RD from the Dominican Republic, Bollylicious from Belgium, and Mophato Dance Theatre from Botswana, the fest's first company from Africa. And, since Hollander lived in India as a teenager which greatly influenced his work, the performance on August 15 is dedicated to dance from that country.
While Hollander oversees Battery Dance, he leaves the actual curation of the festival to a panel that picks the final lineup from around 220 applicants. There are no stipulations on style, but Hollander insists each company display a high ability "whatever language it might be. We don't try to tell people what it has to be. Instead, we try to understand what they are trying to do."
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Lauren Kay regularly covers dance for TDF Stages..
Top image: Fadi J Khoury Dance at the 2016 Battery Dance Festival. Photo by Darial Sneed.