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BWW Review: BATTERY DANCE FESTIVAL Dances To Glory Through Rain and Shine

XAOC Contemporary Ballet
Battery Dance Festival
Photo Credit: Russell Haydn

A gracious speech given by Jonathan Hollander - Artistic Director of Battery Dance Company - opened the 35th annual Battery Dance Festival. There was a welcome emphasis on all that went into making this festival possible, including calls for thanks to: Council member Margaret Chin and her continued support, American Express for two years of support, Holiday Inn for giving eighty free rooms - for the full run of the festival - to out-of-town artists, Mary McCormick and Funds for the City of New York for their support, Air India for flying the participating artists of India to New York, and the doctors of Weill Cornell who were on standby "just in case". Mr. Hollander closed his remarks with a special thank you to the main sponsors of the festival: "The artists; they do it because they want to be here in front of you, the public." If this concert had a theme it would be "In Memoriam of Adel Euro", AKA Adel Qais Adil Faraj Al-Jaf, the twenty three year old dancer who lost his life on July 3rd, 2016 during a terrorist bombing that also claimed the lives of 250 others in Baghdad. Mr. Faraj was mentored by Battery Dance and encouraged to pursue his dream of becoming a dancer. In tribute to his memory, the concert was opened with a powerful solo - performed and choreographed by Hussein Smko - and trio - performed by Mr. Smko, Ali and Hayder Alkaabi - that called upon the special strengths of its charismatic performers and illustrated that there is much to be learned from our fellow dancers in the Middle East. The trio was choreographed by Sean Scantlebury, Mr. Faraj's mentor at Battery Dance Company. The overall message: It takes a village of people from all over the world to affect change for the greater good. A potent statement, particularly given the close proximity of the festival to the former Twin Towers.

Continuing this generous spirit were two excellent performances that could not have been more dissimilar. The first - by Eryn Renee Young's XAOC Contemporary Ballet - featured a stable of Amazonian ballerinas who managed to dance large despite the relatively small size of the stage. I have often observed of Ms. Young that she puts too many bodies onstage to the detriment of her performers. Though her work is meant for Bolshoi-sized arenas she has not yet reached that status. Keep going, Ms. Young; your company's performance of "Allagi (The Consistency of Change)" is proof that you will be on such stages soon enough. While I was initially rebuffed by what I considered a case of coy smiles and romantic ballerina affectations, I was soon won over by the incredible finesse and athleticism of the dancers. In particular, the efforts of Jacline Henrichs, Michelle Thompson Ulerich, and Rawinan Asawakanjanakit bowled me over and pulled me into the groove. It was during this piece that the many people walking along the promenade of the park stopped dead in their tracks to watch and enjoy. Again, I'm not entirely sure of the smiles - or how they related to "the consistency of change" - but one thing is for sure, this piece is a winning tapestry of simple repeated ballet steps that unexpectedly up the ante through a series of turns and jumps that criss-cross through a continuous ménage to pleasing effect. Perhaps that is why the smiles were so prominent; the dancers knew of the treat that was in store.

Razvan Stoian
Battery Dance Festival
Photo Credit: Battery Dance Festival

Bringing the concert to a fantastic close was the world premiere of Razvan Stoian's "Saudade". Even if the weather had not suddenly turned from pleasant sunshine to gale force winds with frightening torrents of rain; even if the stagehands had not yelled that the performance might have to stop (this did nothing to deter the performers); even if Mr. Stoian and Ms. Anda Roxana Stoian had not delivered flawless performances - despite the slick stage and unpredictable elements - I would still find cause to applaud. "Saudade" was simply a marvel. With unwavering focus, these two splendid artists pulled us into their world as they zeroed in on each other - like a ray of light to a black hole - and discovered that there was no escaping the inevitable loss of identity that comes from finding your other half. It sounds bleak but rest assured that the acrobatic couplings and contemporary verve of "Saudade" amounted to so much than what one frequently experiences in "contemporary dance". Instead of unrelenting angst, there was a special sense of wonder that never devolved into slick circus tricks for effect. This is my interpretation of course: a couple strove in futility against losing their independence and self-sufficiency to love. Even if that meant marching off the edge of a cliff into the ocean - a fantastic visual trick - these two could not resist the pull that was "domesticity". What they could resist was the weather. Come rain or come shine, the show must go on and with these two wondrous artists it did. Before their dance had ended, the rain had come to a stop and the sun had returned on the edge of the clouds to show us that there is a reward for sticking through to the end. Perhaps it was the spirit of Mr. Faraj reminding us to dance as if this might be our last day on earth. Thankfully Battery Dance Festival continues through Saturday August 20th, 2016.

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