Dance to empower

Jonathan Hollander of Battery Dance speaks on positive transformation through dance

In the times of #MeToo movement where more women are stepping forward and getting their voices heard, Shakti – A Return to the Source staged at Shilpakala Vedika (presented by Monsoon Raga Foundation in association with the U.S. embassy) was apt and relevant. This thought-provoking piece in Raag Durga bows to the female essence, the power of women and is part of a three-piece repertoire staged by western dancers of New York-based Battery Dance company and Indian dancers Unnath Haasan Rathnaraju and Swathi Gundapuneedi Atluri. This India tour has taken the team to Ahmedabad, Lucknow and Hassan (Karnataka) before Hyderabad.

Jonathan Hollander, president and artistic director of the company shares an interesting dichotomy the piece Shakti has with Indian women. “In Hassan I saw a woman in her 60s carrying a huge weight on her head. Her posture was erect and she didn’t seem to be bothered by it. It is a metaphor in a way because women are carrying so much weight,” he says, adding his dancers are phenomenal and down to earth people but become eclectic on stage. What the dancers say

Battery Dance has travelled far and wide across 70 countries using dance as a tool for building social cohesion and resolving conflict throughout the world. The dancers transform into nurturing teachers in conflict-zones to heal with dance. He observes, “The children are alike everywhere. Certain cultures are more fluent with dance, like Africa, where everybody dances. Since Indians are exposed to different dance styles, dance is important here. But in Europe, it is difficult to get kids to come out of themselves and be free and liberated that is what we try to do. We believe in the kids and try to get them to believe in themselves.”

Dancers during their performance  
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A big team of professional dancers make the company and they do not have a ‘guru shishya’ hierarchy. Jonathan calls himself the artistic director of the piece and the raw material has been created by these dancers. “I can’t claim choreography credit for a piece that was made up of all these voices coming into harmony. There is a good spirit where we don’t feel awkward about correcting somebody. They laugh at me because when I am watching the rehearsals I do something with my eyes so that I can see the whole and it looks like I am scowling.”

Jonathan Hollander
 
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Having been to India before, Jonathan calls the country his second home. In fact, Haasan-based Unnath Jain brought an element of India into their studio in New York. The team figured out a way to navigate and pick elements from him so that there is a collaboration and no undercurrent of domination. The dance vocabulary was created in the first four weeks and was developed in the time between Unnath’s back and forth India-New York visits.

Swathi Gundapuneedi Atluri
 
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By arrangement

Commenting on the present situation, Jonathan observes world is being seen in parts and ‘destructive’ is the order of the day. The team was in Lucknow when the news of Iranian missiles hitting bases in Iraq came by. “We seem to be on the brink of disaster politically. I have a dancer (living in my house) from Iraq, the base attacked by Iranian missiles. We cannot separate ourselves from what’s going on. It doesn’t mean that we stop and panic but continue with the things that we have been doing with even more earnestness. There is nothing we have done in the day that is destructive. Maybe, a lot of people might not be able to say that.”

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