BWW Review: BATTERY DANCE FESTIVAL Continues to Enthrall
Another opening, another wonderful show. Jonathan Hollander has been presenting the Battery Dance Festival for 35 years now and it shows. It's not just in the prestigious sponsorships that he has secured - including major financial backing from American Express, long-term support from Council-woman Margaret Chin, and 80 free rooms from Holiday Inn in The Financial District to host the festival's international artists - it's in the fantastic talent that he has secured. More than any other festival, Battery Dance Festival proves the most essential to the city as a litmus test for excellence. International, local, emerging, evolving, athletic, graceful; talent of all sorts are all on display during this week long celebration at Robert Wagner Jr. Park. If I write effusively it is only because as the Artistic Director of The Moving Beauty Series I know what it takes to coordinate a successful concert series. I raise my cup to you and your steadfast execution, Mr. Hollander.
"Lovely, never, never change. Keep your breathless charm. Won't you please arrange it? 'Cause I love you!" Those glorious Dorothy Fields penned lyrics to Jerome Kern's evergreen "The Way You Look Tonight" bubbled through my head during Kilowatts Dance Theatre's joyful performance of Jaime Shannon's "Flights and Follys". It was just a couple of swells dancing with their lady-friends to the type of tunes that Gram and Pops listened to when new; back when "it weren't no sin" to revel in the unabashed sunshine of life. How wonderful to visit those times again. This was vernacular jazz dance interlaced with astonishing lifts and fun tricks. With his masterful partnering skills and "awe-shucks" ease, Tony Fraser was the stand out star for this performance. Though of compact stature, in his capable hands the women all seemed to discover their inner stage screen goddesses. I could have watched him dance all night. It was just that effortless and fun.
Nature made for a fascinating backdrop; just as I was thinking "'Crisálida' should be called '9 Miserable Piazzolla Dances with One Happy Interlude" a large lightening bolt struck in the distance as if to signify that the piece was ready to come to life. Boy did it ever. Suddenly we knew what we'd been waiting for. Not withstanding this marvelous closing moment, Diego Funes' dance meandered in the unhappy lover trope for much too long. Though he had a wonderful leading lady in Monica Hogan, her many solos never communicated much beyond "heartbreak hurts". Where Mr. Funes' work shone best was in his sunny pas de trios for the perky Louisa Pancoast, Emily Hogan, and Xavier Townsend - a brash young stud who spun like a top and jumped as high as the sky - and a smoldering duet for Nuria Martin Fandos and Cesar Brodermann. Ms. Fandos knew exactly what to make of this contemporary tango mix. Playing a woman on the verge of giving in to Mr. Brodermann's lustful lover, she maintained a stoic mien when facing her beau because she knew well enough that the game would evaporate as soon she surrendered to the chase. That final dip with Mr. Brodermann's head buried in her chest, coupled with her look to the audience before stealing a moment of happiness told us everything that we needed to know; this would end on a deliciously tragic note.
The remarkable Romanian artists Razvan Stoian and Anda Roxana Stoian reprised their festival favourite performance of "Saudade", this time without the frightening weather. Though it is perverse to say, I preferred the dance with the rain and wind; those unruly elements added a level of tension that felt largely absent during the solos of this work. These solos established the groundwork for what would develop later, much in the way that a Jazz musician lays down the bones of a piece before letting loose. This is a remarkably well-crafted work with repeats that gain nuance, such as when the two dancers suddenly connect their solos to each other. It certainly helped that the performances were scintillating. "Saudade" reveals the Stoians as the flipsides - feminine and masculine - of the same coin. The two seemed to dance with each other even they were apart, such was their bond. When they made eye contact, time seemed to pause and electricity to fill the air. Bravo to the Romanian Cultural Institute of New York for helping to make this performance possible.
I reviewed the NYC premiere of Jennifer Muller's "Working Title" in June and stand by what I wrote then, though I will say that the jarring turbulence from the wind gave the work an element of excitement and sexiness that I had not noticed before. It bears repeating: the trio of women - Sonja Chung, Elise King, and Seiko Fujita; all excellent - is the strongest point of this work.
Halfway through "Working Title", the weather became truly unruly, necessitating a hasty retreat. Unfortunately this meant missing the U.S. debut of Zeynep Tanbay Dance Project from Istanbul and the performance of Shawn T Bible's company. From all indications of what Mr. Hollander and his team have put together thus far, the performances would have astounded. Luckily I return on Friday to review the final outdoor performance of this year's festival. Be sure to see the other wonderful companies that are performing this week.
Battery Dance Festival continues through August 20th, 2016. For more information about the festival, visit: batterydance.org/battery-dance-festival