KOCHI: We’ve all been told to dance like nobody is watching. There is something about unrestrained movements that liberates one’s soul. For anyone who believes in the spirit of art and its ability to reinvent people’s lives, ‘Moving stories’ is a soul-stirring visual experience. The documentary narrates the story of six dancers from the Dancing to Connect programme of Battery Dance Company, New York, who tour four countries for a week, connecting underprivileged children through dance.
They reach out to slum kids in New Delhi, who have been rescued from sex trafficking and gender abuse. In Bucharest, Romania, they pick up gypsy kids who have fought stigmas like ‘thief’ and ‘criminal’ all their lives. Busan saw 11 traumatized North Korean teens burdened by memories of their escape to South Korea, perform with seven Chinese defectors and nine South Korean teenagers. The ‘group’ from Amman, Jordan had just one boy, a hip-hop dancer who knows he may be killed if he ever danced in his home country, Iraq.
The teachers deal with both bullies and leaders, all with a broken past. Through dance they reinforce optimism in kids who were ‘pounded out of their creativity at a very young age’, to quote one of the instructors. The movie premiered last year in February, to a sold-out audience at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. But Dancing to Connect and Battery dance go beyond the scope of this movie. For Jonathan Hollander, who founded the company in 1976, the vision of inspiring the world through dance has a long way to go.
An artistic director and choreographer, Jonathan founded Battery Dance Festival which is now New York City’s longest-running public dance festival. He also collaborated to launch the Cape Town International Dance Festival in South Africa. Born in a musical family and exposed to all of the arts as a child, he was wary of having to choose between his creative outlets for the sake of a career. “When I found dance, I realised it was the channel through which I could move through life and keep all of my interests intact,” he says.
It is this interdisciplinary application of dance that probably charged his initiative to connect people with it. “It has been my firm belief that everyone should have access to the arts. Not everyone wants to pursue an artistic career but arts are a fundamental part of life, not a frill. Art makes people more intuitive, tolerant, self-expressive and collaborative. You can’t dance with someone you don’t trust,” he says.
In town this week for a screening of ‘Moving stories’, Jonathan has a deep connection with India and its cultural layout. Apart from co-founding the Indo-American Arts Council in 2000, he has worked extensively with Indian dancers and provided them with international platforms.
“India has so much potential that has not been exploited. There is no other country with such a rich dance culture. Yet, the country lacks infrastructure—dance studios and competitions still have stone floors, which is extremely unhealthy. I would love to see a time when arts gets better funding, support and maintenance,” he says. Jonathan has also performed across India, collaborating with regional dancers like Unnath H R, and adapting classical art forms. “I think global exposure helps regional art forms flourish with more attention and respect,” he concludes. At Lokadharmi Kochi On January 17, 6.45pm onwards