By Steve Barnes
When dancer and choreographer Karesia Batan moved to Long Island City 10 years ago, she initally found it difficult to get in touch with the area’s creative community.
“Queens is a big, creative borough,” Batan said, but the task that faced her was finding a way to connect with the other dancers and artists who she knew were living and working here. One method of doing that was to form The Physical Plant, an LIC-based dance and production company that has what it calls a “two-pronged purpose”: creating meaningful dance works and producing innovative dance programming that taps into the many cultural and artistic threads that run through the borough.
Created in 2010, The Physical Plant has pursued many avenues toward fostering Queens’ growing dance scene. Perhaps the most ambitious of those is the Queensboro Dance Festival, a six-evening event that will bring the work of 27 Queens-based dance groups to the stage of the Secret Theatre at 44-02 23rd St. in Long Island City. Running from Tuesday through next Sunday, the festival covers a broad range, both in terms of geography and style. Featuring companies from all across the borough—Briarwood to Long Island City, Floral Park to Howard Beach—it puts the whole tapestry of what makes Queens unique on display. The dance genres represented are as diverse as the neighborhoods they hail from, with Indian, Brazil Zouk, hip-hop, Chinese, contemporary, Mayan, ballet and Filipino dance all on display.
While Batan comes from the world of contemporary dance, she says that discovering and presenting the dance traditions of other cultures is a major focus of the festival. Calling the Queensboro Dance Festival a place where “cultural and contemporary dance intersect,” she cites that diversity and energy as part of what makes the Queens dance scene so special. “You don’t have to go to Manhattan or Brooklyn to see dance,” she says. “It’s all right here.”
This is the festival’s third year, and each year the number of companies presenting their work has grown. Batan says that she is always keeping her eye out for groups that have not yet participated in the festival, and that spirint of inclusion and experimentation has resulted in its increasingly broad range of work.
That range includes such performers as NSquared Dance, an Astoria-based company that peforms what it calls “narrative-driven works” that tell “off-kilter stories.” NSquared is back at the festival for the third time, as is the Cole Collective, a tap-dancing group that is based in Astoria as well. Tap is also represented by #Taplife, a company from Howard Beach, back for its second festival appearance.
The international scope of the festival is illustrated by two companies that are new to its lineup this year. SIA Academy, from Floral Park, works in the tradition of Indian dance, while the Jessica Feng Performance Company, from Flushing, performs Chinese dance.
Batan also makes a point of stressing the ties between the cultural community she works with and the larger community she lives in. The festival’s mission is not limited to the six nights of performances. Its Facebook community page serves as a sort of cultural bulletin board, letting festival participants share ideas and information. It also hosts meet-and-greets, events at Queens businesses and arts institutions, free dance classes and free outdoor previews, which all serve as opportunities for Queens dancers to connect with one another and engage the local public. A few of those previews have taken place along the LIC waterfront in Hunter’s Point Park in July and September, sponsored in conjunction with the Hunter’s Point Park Conservancy.
Another way of joining the dance community with its audience is the festival kickoff party being held Friday at LIC Beer Project at 39-28 23rd St. In addition to providing a venue for the festival participants to get together, Batan says it also lets people “see a local business,” and get to know the area. Several other businesses from the surrounding area have provided prizes to be raffled off at the event.
The Queensboro Dance Festival has also joined forces with other cultural institutions in the borough. A partnership with Flushing Town Hall provided festival participants with tickets to events there.
Those efforts are all part of Batan’s mission to make the festival a player on the borough’s cultural landscape, as well to strengthen the dance identity in Queens and bring together a vibrant community. “It’s been an encouraging mission to fulfill,” she says.