Battery Dance Festival has just wrapped its 40th season, streaming performances from the southernmost tip of Manhattan. The fare was a joyful jumble of work from wide-ranging dance traditions in a setting orchestrated by the weather gods, the US Coast Guard, which regulates boat traffic in New York Harbor, and Monsieur Bartholdi, whose La Liberté éclairant le monde stood steadfast in the distance, floodlit torch upraised throughout.

Ohiole Dibua
© Russell Haydn

I could have joined the throngs of dance fans sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the grass, squinting into the setting sun, celebrating the return of live dance. But I opted instead to watch four evening livestreams. They made for a compelling viewing experience, even on a 13-inch screen, thanks to the changing camera perspectives and whimsical dissolves. 

A handful of soloists made unforgettable impressions. Stick-twirling urban ninja Ohiole Dibua made me more kindly disposed toward Maroon 5 as he bounded cockily around the stage in Maps (“following the map that leads to you”) only to realize at the very last minute that he might be lost. Hoofer Demi Remick responded to Ella Fitzgerald’s free-spirited scatting in Honeysuckle Rose with unrestrained joie de vivre. New York City Ballet’s Taylor Stanley haunted Christopher Williams’ The Prayer of Daphnis – part of a larger project to remake Daphnis et Chloé from a contemporary queer perspective. Clad in a loincloth under a darkening sky, Stanley radiated both vulnerability and power, with spiraling floorwork and beseeching movements directed toward Lady Liberty across the water. Beatrice Capote fiercely summoned up the Yoruba people’s “mother of the salt-waters” in Yemaya: Rebirthing to Existence, in thrall to the piercing vocals of Jadele McPherson.

Beatrice Capote
© Steven Pisano

Harbor waves were particularly turbulent on the night Charles Renato’s CHR Project unleashed VIRTUOSO, a frenzied, precisely engineered interpretation of an eclectic array of music by Steve Reich, Astor Piazzolla, Vivaldi and Lionel Hampton for six crackerjack tap-dancers. Renato had picked apart then reconstructed the rhythms of each piece of music with the skill of a grand couturier.

The mood was more chill as a triple-masted schooner meandered by Luke Hickey’s A Little Old, A Little New. A jazz trio drifted inventively from Yes Sir, That’s My Baby to some newer stuff and back again, playful company for Hickey’s trio of tap-dancers who glided and swayed and teetered and inscribed enormous arcs with legs and arms against the golden sunset.

Amanda Treiber and Giulia Faria
© Steven Pisano

It Goes By Quick, Ana Maria Lucaciu’s commission for Battery Dance Company, was both playful and sinister. Five contemporary dancers did their best to ignore a potted tree situated downstage left. But this was no ordinary potted tree. It commented in an unnerving tone from time to time on the dancers’ movements, curated the score (“change to industrial”), exhorted the audience to “pay attention to the details, before they’re gone” and mused on the pointlessness of dance: “Who is this man wagging his little feet out there – is this our relationship, he makes me care for a while?” When a dancer expressed her annoyance, it retorted: “You, again… I’m on to you… I wonder what she gets out of this.” Whether a dig at audiences or control-freak choreographers, it was weirdly engrossing. 

Dancing Wheels
© Russell Haydn

Three markedly different works shared a quiet beauty. Jerome Robbins’ Rondo, built on an economy of steps that breathe and float and glide, was performed with unaffected grace by New York Theatre Ballet’s Giulia Faria and Amanda Treiber. Marc Brew chose a majestic score by Ólafur Arnalds for Od:yssey, set on Dancing Wheels, a company of dancers with and without disabilities. The dancers made sweeping circles with their arms as if casting nets into the harbor, while helicopters buzzed overhead. They raced across the stage on foot and in wheelchairs, wheels spinning more smoothly and stopping on a dime more readily than feet. From a wheelchair tilted or braced, they made sturdy shelter and support for one another. By contrast, Joshua Morales’ crew, known as STASIS, teetered constantly on a knife-edge in FLOWER. Combining disjointed, contorted movement with delicate, precise, floating and flowing gestures they appeared fiery yet fragile. This Brooklyn-born, Jamaican-influenced street style known as Flexn is the magical language Morales used to tell his story about growing up Hispanic in Brooklyn.

Jamal Jackson Dance Company
© Steven Pisano

The redemptive possibilities of storytelling through dance were most powerfully on display in Jamal Jackson’s high-octane 846 (Rite of Spring.) 8 minutes 46 seconds is the amount of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck before he died; this barbaric act, captured on video, provoked unprecedented protests around the world. Jackson recast the tale of the ritual sacrifice of a maiden into the ritual sacrifice of black bodies in America. He cut the Stravinsky score abruptly at 8 minutes 46 seconds – but not before three men had collapsed on the ground and been heroically revived by their community.

These performances were reviewed from the Battery Dance Festival video streams