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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
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
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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