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Jonathan Hollander – A choreographer par excellence

Many a times in life, we meet interesting people at different crossroads, some we forget easily and some etch a wonderful place in our heart. I am talking about one such person whom I look up to and regard him as the best in the business. I accidently met him on a social networking site and our first lunch meeting made me realise what an amazing personality he was. Superbly dynamic, highly creative, tremendously talented with humility as his second name, all bundled up into one man — Mr. Jonathan Hollander.

Jonathan Hollander is one of the outstanding choreographers of his generation and has taken a leadership role in international cultural exchange and social activism. He founded Battery Dance Company in New York City in 1976 and has choreographed over 75 works that the Company has presented in major theatres and festivals across five continents.

In 1982, he created the Downtown Dance Festival (now renamed Battery Dance Festival) which has since become New York City’s longest-running dance festival.  He established arts education residencies at the primary, middle and high school levels in New York City public schools; and served as Fulbright lecturer on dance in India in 1992, and Fulbright Specialist in Malaysia in 2011. Notable performances of Hollander’s works have been presented at Lincoln Center, Beijing International Modern Dance Festival, Taipei Arts Festival, Open Look Festival in St. Petersburg, Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, Alexander Theatre and Tampere Biennale in Finland, Hyogo Performing Arts Center  in Japan, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Krizanke Theatre in Slovenia, National Dance Theatre in Budapest, Varna Festival and European Cultural Month in Bulgaria, and on national tours and television broadcasts in Poland and India. Hollander’s work has been supported by the Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau of the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Embassies and Public Diplomacy Offices of Regional Bureaus; National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Ford Foundation and many others. Hollander received the Silver Mask of the Silesian Dance Theatre (Poland), the USable Award (Germany) and the Arts & Business Council’s Encore Award. Under Hollander’s leadership, Battery Dance Company actively supports the commissioning of new musical scores and the inclusion of live musical performance in its productions.

Hollander is collaborating with iKapa Dance Theatre in creating the Cape Town International Dance Festival. He has also facilitated U.S. tours by many of India’s leading dance companies and co-founded the Indo-American Arts Council in 2000.

Jonathan’s international exposure gave him the right perspective to focus on contributing to society through his Battery Dance Company, His earliest initiative was to establish arts education residencies at primary, middle and high school levels in New York Public schools. He started ‘Dancing to Connect’, an intensive 20-hour programme, that brings together a diverse group of students to engage in creativity and team-building through modern dance. Since 2006, the Company has successfully implemented the programme in 50 countries.

Jonathan travels the world but India is always his priority and will always be. He made his choreographic debut in India with ‘Moonbeam’, featuring Mallika Sarabhai and Sashidharan Nair. It was staged in Ahmedabad in 1992 and was later presented in New York. For his next production, ‘Seen by the River’, he collaborated with Badal Roy, the first Indian jazz musician, to break into mainstream. In 1995, he premièred ‘Songs of Tagore’ in New York with his dance ensemble. He toured 17 cities in India with the production which received rave reviews. The same year he presented ‘Purush: The Expressions of Man’ at The Music Academy It was greatly appreciated in India and also by the diaspora, when he later took it on an extensive US tour.

In 2014, Jonathan’s Company conducted an outreach programme in Mumbai and New Delhi for survivors of human trafficking to address the issues of exclusion in society.

In 2016, for the 40th anniversary of the Battery Dance Company, Jonathan choreographed ‘The Durga Project,’ to celebrate his long and eventful relationship with India. Initially inspired by the soul-stirring rendering of raag Durga by Pt. Rajan and Sajan Mishra, he later correlated it with the powerful imagery of Durga as the source of female power.

Jonathan is constantly seeking avenues to further explore fresh Indian concepts and showcase them to the world. Last week ‘The Durga Project’ stepped into Indian shores. Shakti — A Return to the Source, with a fervent hope that Indian audiences will appreciate his non-religious interpretation of Durga as a feminine force portrayed through the universal language of dance premiered at St Andrews Auditorium in Mumbai and weekend saw a house full opening in Pune too.

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