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BWW Interview: President and Artistic Director Jonathan Hollander and Battery Dance Free Summer Festival

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Interview: President and Artistic Director Jonathan Hollander and Battery Dance Festival

BWW Interview: President and Artistic Director Jonathan Hollander and Battery Dance Free Summer Festival

Battery Dance celebrates the 40th Anniversary of its free summer festival from August 12-20, 2021, in partnership with Battery Park City Authority. The President and Artistic Director of the Festival is Jonathan Hollander.

The 40th Annual Battery Dance Festival features 16 international dance films from August 12-14 at 7pm ET via YouTube. 40 in-person and live-streamed performances will be staged at Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Park, New York City, from August 15-20 at 7pm ET. In total, 32 premieres by 53 dance companies are offered to international audiences, promoting Battery Dance's mission of connecting the world through dance. To register for live performances or to view virtually, visit https://batterydance.org/battery-dance-festival/.

Battery Dance Festival is New York City's longest-running free public dance festival established by Battery Dance as the Downtown Dance Festival in 1982. Pre-pandemic, it drew audiences of approximately 2,000 people each night in its iconic setting. The Festival went virtual last summer, attracting 30,000 viewers across 206 countries. This summer, it will run as a hybrid model with six nights of staged performances for in-person and live-streamed audiences, preceded by three nights of virtual performances by international artists.

Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing the festival's President and Artistic Director, Jonathan Hollander.

Jonathan Hollander began his life in dance at U.C./Irvine with Eugene Loring and afterwards as a scholarship student with Merce Cunningham when he moved to New York at the age of 19. His experience of living in India as a teenage exchange student and meeting some of the leading dancers of the time made a deep impression - and led to his co-founding the Indo-American Arts Council and programming Indian dance every year at the Battery Dance Festival. He received the Federal Cross of Merit from the President of Germany in 2018 for his role in founding "Dancing to Connect", an arts education program that has been implemented in 60 countries to date. Battery Dance, which he founded in 1976 in NYC's Financial District, turned 46 years old on July 1 and the Battery Dance Festival inaugurates its 40th Season on August 12th.

You have an impressive background in dance with eclectic credits. How do you balance such a busy career?

In the early years, I had minimal resources and support. The silver lining was that I learned to do everything -- from choreography to refinishing floors to preparing spreadsheets to ironing costumes. Now that Battery Dance has become an institution with a multiplicity of programs going on simultaneously, I credit my phenomenal colleagues and staff who are so dedicated, talented and nimble.

What piece advice do you have for young dancers passionate about the profession?

Dance is a strict and demanding task-master. You have to really love it -- love the practice of it as well as the performances. If not, then the career is not for you.

What was your inspiration for creating the Battery Dance Festival?

I was living and working in the Lower Manhattan Financial District where Battery Dance was founded. There was a huge potential audience but no theaters -- essentially a cultural vacuum. My first projects were staged on the corporate plazas downtown during the day when workers and visitors thronged the area. It was clear from the thousands of people who showed up to watch that what we had to offer was needed, was desired. However, it was a huge amount of work and money to set up stages, sound equipment, and arrange permits and all the effort for only a few performances. I have always loved the full range of dance styles and felt that there were not enough opportunities in the self-described "Dance Capital of the World" for audiences to discover the wonderful dancers and dance companies such as Diana Byer's New York Theater Ballet, the local Chinese dance company, Carlota Santana's Flamenco, Anahid Sofian's Middle Eastern Dance and so many others. So, like so many things I've done along the way, I plunged ahead not really knowing how much work it would take to launch a bonafide public dance festival.

Why do you think the festival has been so popular for over 40 years?

Who could not love the great talent we've unveiled, especially when it is offered for free? There is a modesty about the way we present -- no huge marquee, very humble signage... and I think people enjoy the spontaneity of it all; and the opportunity to see such great talents in a kaleidoscope of styles back-to-back on one evening (and during an entire week!)

How has the Battery Dance Festival had to adapt to the pandemic?

Last year we sprang into action and converted the festival to an all-virtual affair; and thanks to our partners at Battery Park City Authority and Weill Cornell, we were even able to film live-staged performances in our iconic location at Wagner Park safely. This year, we are thrilled to have a hybrid model with 3 nights of truly brilliant dance films from all over the world; followed by 6 nights of magnificent live and live-streamed performances from Wagner Park.

We know that there are a lot of innovative companies participating in the Battery Dance Festival and there an enormous variety of selections. How are festival participants chosen?

Each year we bring in a curatorial panel to review the large number (hundreds) of proposals received. It is a very demanding job to go through all of the stellar companies and choose those that meet our requirements. We need fairly short works that make a strong statement when presented on the festival stage -- with the sky and water in the background. Some works are beautiful but better seen in more intimate settings. It is really hard to say "no" to wonderful companies but we do our best to be inclusive and to cast a wide net creatively and stylistically.

Tell us a little about the team that brings the festival together!

Battery Dance is incredibly lucky to have Emad Salem as our COO and VP for the past 10 years. He is a steady hand and everyone loves working under his direction. This year, Gabrielle Niederhoffer has taken over as Festival Manager. A talented tap dancer who has taken a year off from her studies at Yale, Gabrielle has juggled the many tasks involved with aplomb. We have sensational summer interns - Samantha Paulik, Maureen Steinhorn - both of whom are finishing up their arts management studies; and Sedelsina Coote-Anderson on summer break from SUNY Binghamton; and Claire Montgomery from NYU, all lending their expertise and dedication. Our compelling graphics and videos are created by Claudio Rodriguez; and all things technical - from lighting to sound to staging to the demanding task of scheduling -- are handled by our Production Director Barry Steele. Michelle Tabnick is in charge of media relations and takes full advantage of all of the opportunities that the news outlets provide for free public events like ours.

Can you share with our readers any of your future plans?

We are in the middle of the creation of two new productions - by Robin Cantrell and Ana Maria Lucaciu - that will be premiered at the Festival next month and toured thereafter. We look forward to reinstating our live, on-site arts education programs in NYC public schools in September after a year when virtual programs were the only option. Likewise the resumption of our Dancing to Connect projects overseas in Germany, Nigeria and elsewhere; and in early 2022, representing the U.S. at the EXPO in Dubai!

For more information on Battery Dance Festival, please visit http://www.batterydance.org and follow the festival on social media @batterydance.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jonathan Hollander


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