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Battery Dance Co.


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Flash Review 2, 10-20: Reason to Celebrate
Battery Dance Company and its Age

By Vanessa Paige-Swanson
Copyright 2000 Vanessa Paige-Swanson

They live to collaborate. They love jazz specifically and live music in general. They reached out to the community before "outreach" was trendy, and brought dance to elementary schools before it was lucrative. They lived through one of the bleakest times in American history, but still retain a distinctly American identity. They eschew acrobatics, pyrotechnics and shock value. They seldom name their companies after themselves. They retain a fondness for pedestrian movement and have an almost pathological need to break proscenium. They are turning fifty at a theater near you.

I am describing a unique batch of choreographers who came of age in the mid-seventies and are now celebrating their 25th anniversaries. Last night at John Jay College, I had the privilege of attending the anniversary gala one of the outstanding examples of his generation of artists: Jonathan Hollander, artistic director of Battery Dance Company.

Hollander shares with Paul Taylor and Martha Graham an uncanny ability to create a tongue-in-cheek parody of distinctly American characters. "Used Car Salesman," the program-opener, features two slick con men, hawking their wares to live percussion composed by Michael Daugherty and performed by Ethos Percussion Group. Garishly lit and costumed in bright blues and greens, the men gleefully attempt to win our trust through energetic dancing and mimed social gestures. Repeated phrases such as "I never lie" and "Kick the tires" create a literal foil for subtle undertones of loneliness and fatigue.

Throughout the concert, Hollander's dancers consistently form a tight ensemble. There are not a lot of egos here. The dancers generously and skillfully allow the choreography to speak through them, a contrast to the cult of personality encouraged by some directors. Hollander is confident enough in his work to let it stand alone, using his dancers as exquisite messengers.

Based on a poem by e.e. cummings, "the anyone's ballet" is a gorgeous examination of the human condition. Hollander has a gift for realizing what T.S. Eliot called "the skull beneath the skin," an ability to see below the surface and to communicate his findings to an audience. The piece begins with the dancers using pedestrian movement to indicate the hustle of daily life. Walking, working, eating and other necessary human pursuits are performed in a rote, joyless fashion that is hauntingly familiar. The dancers then strip to their underwear and perform a series of heartfelt solos, embodying the emptiness and longing that consumes their nocturnal hours. Each solo begins in the position that ended the previous dance, emphasizing the "together all alone/all alone together" theme of the piece. One memorable solo features a dancer with his hands attached to his shoulders, waving his elbows in vain, as though he once had wings but has forgotten how to use them. The piece concludes with the dancers coming tentatively and then joyfully together in a variety of circular patterns, reminiscent of José Limon's "There is a Time." Hollander assures us that the human condition, whether bleak or reverent, is nothing if not shared.

Jonathan Hollander is not a household name. O.K., so no one in modern dance is exactly a household name, but still: It is interesting to note how much of Hollander's under exposure is a result of the choices that he has made. He chose to present the Downtown Dance Festival for 20 years, a free festival featuring a variety of artists for his community. Like Pavlova, he chose to bring his dances to Sri Lanka, Poland, Hungary, Finland and India. Hollander has chosen his own path and retained the values of his generation -- community, honesty, innovation and an openness to experience. To them, their names are less important than their legacy.

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