Not a choreographer, but a social activist

The Asian Age.  | Sandip Soparrkar

Life, More Features

In international dance forms, there are no ghungaroos. But I believe that there are many people who are like ghungaroos.

Each year, the Festival draws a combined audience of over 12,000 people.

In India while dancing, Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Odissi, Lavni and other classical and folk dance form dancers where ghungaroos (small metallic bells), these ghungaroos are also worshipped and taken great care of by the by dancers. Gungaroos are placed at the feet of lord Nataraj and before wearing them on the feet a dancer touches it to the forehead as a blessing of the god of dance.

In international dance forms, there are no ghungaroos. But I believe that there are many people who are like ghungaroos. They bring people together, they come with great values and morals tied together and with their warm and affable personality they join and bond the entire dance community and the dancing world together. One such extraordinary ghungaroo swaroop (form) person is American choreographer and social activist Jonathan Hollander. Who recently has been honoured with Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany that Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has bestowed upon him.

I called him a ghungaroo because he is one person who has dedicated his entire life to dance, not just as a dancer or a choreographer but as a bridge who believed in ‘dance beyond boundaries’. And this strong belief of his has taken him world over performing and teaching. Super impressed with his dedication to his art German President Frank Walter Steinmeier honoured Sir Jonathan Hollander with the Federal Cross of the Order of Merit, which German Consul General David Gill bestowed upon him in New York city recently.

The prestigious award, has been presented previously to dancers Pina Bausch, Sasha Waltz and John Neumeier, and soprano Renee Fleming and now has been given to Hollander in honor of his leadership in bringing together young people across borders through cultural exchange. Hollander has been cited for impacting the lives of people in America and Germany in a very remarkable way.

At the award ceremony, a short film on the illustrate work of Sir Hollander was shown, the film gave all present a short impression of why Sir Jonathan is deserving of this prestigious honour, his passionate commitment to international understanding, to societal solidarity and to strengthening civil society in order to face social, political and cultural challenges was brought to light through the film.

Mr Hollander is the president and artistic director, Battery Dance Company and Dancing to Connect. He  Established by Battery Dance in 1982 as the Downtown Dance Festival, today the Battery Dance Festival (BDF) is New York City’s longest-running free public dance festival. Audiences are traditionally drawn from the large downtown working population and residents, families, tourists, senior citizens and dance fans from the greater NYC metropolitan area.

Each year, the Festival draws a combined audience of over 12,000 people. The Battery Dance Festival provides a unique opportunity for outstanding dancers and choreographers to present original works of high artistic merit in a free public forum. BDF revels in the panoply of dance that our city offers, with strong emphasis on the inclusion of diverse dance styles and an international roster of performers. American choreographers such as Michelle Dorrance, Paul Taylor, Mary Anthony, Elizabeth Streb and Darrell Moultrie have all presented their works alongside pre-eminent companies from Asia, Europe, South America, Africa and the Caribbean.

While receiving the honour Sir Jonathan said, “I feel extremely humbled receiving this honour which has earlier been given to veterans and stalwarts form the art world. But I also know that with awards comes responsibilities and with an award as prestigious as cross of merit the pressure is even more. I promise that I will keep working towards the field of dance and take to t to a new level and break all boundaries and borders.’

Honourable German Consul General Mr. David Gill, before honouring Mr. Jonatahn said, ‘In my last position, as the Chief of Staff for the former German President Joachim Gauck, I signed many proposals for the Order of Merit but usually did not know the dedicated people behind the files. Now as Consul General I have the privilege to meet those wonderfl people and have the joyous duty of presenting them with the award.’

He further added, “Today we are gathered to honor Mr Hollander’s commitment and his very special and outstanding contribution to the German-American friendship as well as to exchange and understand different people all over the world. Whats fascinating is to see Jonathan’s rooted commitment in social, liberal and humanistic values.” From very early on in life Sir Jonathan was socially very conscious and developed an interest in international cultural exchange through dance and body.

Thus, at just 25 years old, he founded Battery Dance and some years later the festival which is New York City’s longest-running dance festival and recently it celebrated its 37 years. For more than ten years he also exported its spirit to Germany. Out of the 2006 project “Dances for the Blue House” the educational program “Dancing to Connect” arose. This fascinating initiative toured in over 54 countries. What makes this project so extraordinary is the way it speaks to relevant issues such as the confrontation of the past with the extinction of European Jews by Nazi Germany, or the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the subsequent reunification of Germany as well as of the continent.

His current program “Dancing to Connect for Refugee Integration”, launched in 2016, contributes not only to the integration of refugees but also creates a sense of familiarity among young people, between those who have not had to experience war and terror and those who arrived traumatized in Germany. By dancing together the participans lose their sense of mistrust, insecurity and fear and instead experience empathy for each other and at the same time convey fundamental values such as human dignity, respect and tolerance. One thing extraordinary about Sir Hollander projects is: they build bridges and overcome borders. In times where we observe that the trend towards building new walls, fences and borders, seems to be part of the political mainstream this cannot be honored enough.

To me Sir Hollander is a friend, who is active in so many countries. Let me congratulate and thank him today particularly for being aware of the value of the friendship among  the people of different countries. He has many friends all over the world, indeed, partners in well-known foundations, he is connected to in order to pursue his successful outreach, and many admirers, who love him and and his illustrate work. But I feel Sir Hollander, through his cosmopolitan, future-oriented work, he indeed make a major contribution to solidarity across borders. He act not only as a choreographer, but also as a social activist. He is a promoter of intercultural exchange and a source of inspiration for all of us. The energy and constant enthusiasm he generate while launching new projects is impressive and we do hope for more to come. Heartiest Congratulations Sir.

The writer is a World Book Record holder, a well known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with two National Excellence awards and one National Achievement Award by the Govt of India. He can be contacted on sandipsoparrkar06@gmail.com

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