Festival of Soul Sings at Battery Dance; Review

<strong>Buglisi Dance Theatre</strong> in <em>Bare to the Walls</em> at Battery Dance Festival 2017.
Buglisi Dance Theatre in Bare to the Walls at Battery Dance Festival 2017.

During his wonderful opening remarks for Day Four of Battery Dance Festival, Jonathan Hollander paid tribute to the students of NYC’s public school system with whom his company developed Dancing to Connect through its outreach engagements. The artists of Battery Dance recently used Dancing to Connect to facilitate cultural assimilation amongst Syrian refugees in Germany by erasing the barriers between peers and teaching them to dance with each other. When you consider that Battery Dance has performed for and danced with communities in over 70 different countries with this bond-building approach, it becomes clear why an undertaking as immense as this festival flows so seamlessly.

<strong>Cía. Elías Aguirre</strong> in <em>Pez Esfinge</em> at Battery Dance Festival 2017.
Cía. Elías Aguirre in Pez Esfinge at Battery Dance Festival 2017.

Cía. Eliás Aguirre opened the concert with Pez Esfinge - reworked as a duet - in an exquisite patchwork of body isolations, balances, and gymnastic inversions to the floor. While awfully cool to look at, one can only take so much angst-ridden coolth before going cold. Though a solid piece of work, I wish a razor had been taken to the excessive shambling and ponderous pauses. But if you are a fan of meticulously fleshed-out movement that unfolds at a zombie’s pace then this mumble-core of a dance is for you.

Patricia Ortega and Erick Roque represented Compañía Nacional de Danza Contemporánea de República Dominicana with their jointly choreographed breaking of machismo culture, Dispar. Ms. Ortega goes from being man-handled by Mr. Roque – both incredible – to breaking out of her shell and asserting her authority over him. Prior to that ascension, he grabs and forcefully paints her lips before mounting her as if she were his throne. The pay-off of the final image - Ms. Ortega staring Mr. Roque dead in the eye as she holds him aloft and uses his shirt to remove his lipstick – is one that women all over the world should see.

Patricia Ortega and Erick Roque perform their choreography for <strong>Compañia Nacional de Danza Contemporánea de República
Patricia Ortega and Erick Roque perform their choreography for Compañia Nacional de Danza Contemporánea de República Dominicana at Battery Dance Festival 2017.

Last year I opted not to review Ballet Inc. I thought it best to leave negative criticism out of what was otherwise a triumphant evening. Faced again with Aaron Atkins’ terrible collection of unmusical crotch baring, I feel compelled to report that including work this low in caliber threatens to putrefy the minds of all forced to suffer through it. Similarly, The Wilder Project weighed the evening down with a work of sophomoric pretension. If you’ve ever listened to a teenager prattle on about how “deep” something is, then you get the gist. This slapdash of pointless entrances and exits ended with Chase Maxwell singing as he walked into the audience while handing out stones. He sang well enough but no amount of breathless warbling was going to redeem this mess of non-sequiturs.

<strong>The Wilder Project</strong> in <em>The Weight </em>at Battery Dance Festival 2017.
The Wilder Project in The Weight at Battery Dance Festival 2017.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Maxine Steinman’s Still We Sit– performed with Columbine Macher – made poetry out of what was essentially a mood piece composed of simple classical modern movement. As performed by this duo, runs, swoops, and hesitations rang with vibrant heart as they deployed a marvelous catch-and-fall technique to craft a portrait of swimming bodies in perpetual motion. Garbed in tattered white dresses, and surrounded by paper boats, they could have been castaways pushing one another on towards survival. Hearing Górecki’s haunting threnody, they became graceful spirits lost at sea.

<strong>Maxine Steinman &amp; Dancers</strong> in <em>Still We Sit</em> at Battery Dance Festival 2017.
Maxine Steinman & Dancers in Still We Sit at Battery Dance Festival 2017.

The man sitting behind me reviewed Buglisi Dance Theatre’s Bare to the Wall best: “That was a different level from the other companies. They were real professionals.” As Mr. Hollander put it in his introductory remarks, “Jacqulyn Buglisi is one of the great choreographers of her generation.” And how. Choreographed with Donlin Foreman and blessed with a cast of Martha Graham Dance Company stalwarts – plus the former star Principal of the company, luminous scarlet-haired Blakeley White-McGuireWalls tells the story of three constantly changing couples. I imagined that they were six immigrants building a new life while cycling through drama from their old country. Despite a heavy dose of unspecified melodrama - falling in and out of love with each other? - and a few uneven transitions, the overall effect proved irresistible. Three years ago, Ms. Buglisi’s Suspended Women joined the active repertoire of The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Though she was once their star Principal, the Graham Company does not perform any of her works. That omission is offensive.

<strong>Tina Croll and Company </strong>in <em>Balkan Dreams</em> at Battery Dance Festival 2017.
Tina Croll and Company in Balkan Dreams at Battery Dance Festival 2017.

During Tina Croll’s pattern filled Balkan Dreams, all I could think was “Where is the Balkan folk-dancing?” I recently taught ballet to members of Albania’s Tirana Youth Ballet at FINI Dance Festival in Italy, where three of my outstanding pupils – Xholindi Muçi, Êdüãrt Lãmí, and Fabion Deliu – put me through my paces in their traditional dances. The patterns, tricky footwork, and speed amount to what I’d like to call “Balkan Swag”. Well, that swag made an appearance when three mature men – Bard Rosell, Noel Kropf, and Michael Ginsburg – set the stage on fire with their fleet footwork and effervescent grooves. It was spectacular. Even more spectacular would be Ms. Croll deconstructing that footwork and teaching it to the audience as part of the Everybody Dance Now afterparty.

Battery Dance Festival continues through August 18th, 2017 at Robert Wagner Jr. Park in Battery Park City with a special closing night performance on August 19th, 2017 at The Schimmel Center at Pace University. Tickets to the performances in Battery Park City are free though one should arrive early to stake out a spot as prime spaces go quickly. For more information, or tickets to the closing night performance and reception, visit:

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