As a dance maker, I feel trepidation when creating for an outdoor performance. The fear of competing with nature to win the audience’s attention and reverence may be too real a threat. As an audience member though, it is truly a treat. The setting for the 36th Annual Battery Dance Festival left me attentive and revering its majesty. The Hudson River shimmered in the fluorescent colors of dusk and the distant city scape thrived in our city’s liveliness. If the choreographers felt the pressure to outperform the natural beauty, it surely did not show. Each of the seven works presented on Monday, Aug 14, proved strong, assured, and a welcomed component in the coalescence of public city life and dance.
The evening progressed as a well-oiled machine -- strictly curated, organized, and well executed. This is a testament to the festival’s 36 years of presenting dance. The choreographers and companies were national and international artists ranging from the Dominican Republic, Spain, and the boroughs of New York City. Between each performance a representative of the Battery Festival gave a brief introduction to each dance. Though there were subconscious, looming biases that emerged in their words, each spoke highly of the dances, dance makers, and their relationships with the artists. This allowed the audience to feel included in the ongoings and inner workings of the festival. The night ended with a community dance with the performers from the Dominican Republic.
Throughout the night two distinct themes appeared predominately within the dances. Firstly, some choreographers chose to use repetition and pattern as a key tool for movement generation. Trezon Dancy’s solo, Cry Out (2016), conjured images of moving energy as he swiped across the empty space above and in front of him. He repeated these sweeping gestures along with more staccato accents of the body multiple times with a developing gradation of effort with each execution. Though the audience is able to predict his game, which is a set motif with increasing dynamism, he adds enough variance and breaking of the performance’s rhythm in the relatively short solo to keep viewers engaged. Mari Meade Dance Collective (MMDC) of Brooklyn was also successful in their execution of repetition as a theme. Dialogue (2017) felt ritualistic yet playful. There was an animalistic dedication to task and duty that governed the work. The beings represented by the dancers (they felt more like meerkats or some other savannah rodent than actual humans) had lived this experience before and knew the exact requirements needed for completion. This was accentuated through the precision of the unison and complexity of the patterns executed without hesitation.
The idea of place and dedication to personifying specific characters within the place was fervently clear within many of the works. Spanish choreographer Elías Aguirre’s Pez Esfinge (US Premiere) transported the audience to a wooden ship rocking on the open sea. The dancers appeared to personify the ship as they entertained ideas of falling and collapse while attempting to find true equilibrium to no avail. Off-balance counterweight partnerships led the trio of males in and out of the floor as they revolved around an unattainable vertical. They explored weightlessness to sounds of a creaking boat and blueish green aquatic hues. This was juxtaposed with movement phrases of virtuosic spine undulations and articulation that reminded me of the intensified pressure and turmoil of the deep ocean.
Nadine Bommer Dance Company’s American Cinema (2008) was another standout for clear characterization. Bommer’s witty take on the culture of movie theaters was successful, and her cast of five women executed her portrayal to absolute perfection. Performers were adorned with fluorescent visors and atrocious wigs and wore nude unitards resembling mannequins or life-size Barbie dolls. Immediately the audience understands a feeling we have all experienced -- the artificiality of the cinema. The awkwardness of dating as a teen (or young adult if you are like me and haven't figured it out yet), rejection felt of going alone and the subsequent bucket of popcorn you devour as you "eat your feelings,” and frustrations of others talking and the equally frustrating “shh”’s are crystalized through these truly splendid performers and their unrelenting dedication to their portrayals. The unrelenting facial expressions alone leave the audience wondering what kind of jaw exercises they must be doing before each show. Wowzers.
Festivals are always a joy to attend. Audiences are able to see varying dance styles and creative perspectives within a relatively short time. I was impressed with the lineup and the performances. If able, make sure to attend the remaining shows this week!