Amusing Monday: Dancing in reaction to climate change

When concerns about climate change inspire dancers to burst out with highly emotional dance movements, the audience does not need to be science-minded to feel a little of the weight hanging over our world.

Diana Movius, an environmental anthropologist and climate policy analyst, has been living a second life as a choreographer and director of a dance company in Washington, D.C. She recently revived her 2015 dance production called “Glacier,” which portrays the stages of calamity as ice cracks and melts away.

“The experience will be different for everyone, but my hope is that people come out of watching ‘Glacier’ with a sense of having witnessed something that is being lost, and a sense that [climate change] is something we should try to stop,” Movius told Washington Post reporter Stephanie Williams before the dance’s revival in February.

I heard about the performance last month from a podcast interview with Movius for Yale Climate Connections, which is featured in the first box on this page.

Dance reaches people in way that scientific papers and policy discussions never can, she tells Anthony Leiserowitz of Climate Connections in the interview. “It’s a way to make something that feels far away or feels overwhelming just very immediate and emotional and sort of tangible.”

A brief excerpt from Glacier can be viewed below. A longer, 36-minute version, can be seen at the bottom of this page.

I’ve written about various forms of art and music in “Amusing Monday” on many occasions, but for some reason I’ve never looked at how people are expressing themselves in dance — and I was surprised to find the number of videos featuring dance in topics related to water, the environment and climate change.

KT Nelson, a San Francisco choreographer, created a production called
“Dead Reckoning” a few years ago to show how humans have lost their way and are blindly sailing into environmental disaster.

“’Dead Reckoning’ came from a sabbatical I took in 2013 to Death Valley,” she says in a video produced for KQED in San Francisco (video below). “One of the things that really hit me is the great magnitude of nature. It made me realize how powerful nature is. Even though we are so teeny as individuals, we are having a huge impact on this world.”

Dance reviewer Janice Berman writes in San Francisco Classical Voice: “Nelson’s piece is pure delight, not of the sunny sort but of the soul-pleasing variety. It has swoop in its soul, but it also has fearless judo kicks, and partnering so close and interdependent it reaches the stage by piggyback, legs around another dancer’s neck.”

Nelson explains her sense of climate change from an emotional standpoint: “The natural world to me is a friend, a best friend,” she says. “I think if a dear friend is sick, any one of us would turn around and care for them. Yet here is our planet. It’s in trouble, and I don’t think we realize that we need to care for it.”

The on-stage production is shown at 4:50 in the video. I find that it helps immensely to hear KT Nelson’s explanation of the dance movements. The final segment and the question that follows at the end are both insightful and provocative.

KQED also produced an entertaining and thought-provoking series of videos on the subject “If cities could dance.” For the city of Seattle, the producers chose to work with Angel Alviar-Langley, known as Moonyeka. She is affiliated with Lil Brown Girls Club, a mentorship program she founded in Seattle for black and brown girls. Read “Dancer Moonyeka Creates Safe Spaces in Seattle’s Popping Scene and Beyond” on KQED’s website. For the full lineup of “If cities could dance,” which spans two seasons so far, visit the KQED Arts Channel on YouTube.

Another impressive project was a master’s thesis titled “Using Dance to Communicate Issues of Climate Change” by Amelia Unsicker of the University of California, Irvine. Unsicker actually studied the merger of dance with the problem of climate change. To complete her Master of Fine Arts in Dance, she choreographed and performed with others a stage production called “Carbon Footprint: Watch Your Step.” The 27-minute performance can be viewed on Vimeo.

Amelia also choreographed an outdoor performance called Notre Terre, which can be seen on her website along with her explanation of what caused her to begin studying climate change — “how it is communicated and how artists have created work that engages viewers on the topic.”

Another dancer-choreographer interested in climate change is Jody Sperling of New York, who in 2014 joined an Arctic expedition as a choreographer-in-residence aboard the U.S. Coast Guard ice breaker CGC Healy. Jody was able to dance on the Arctic ice, and her dancing became the subject of an award-winning film “Ice Floe.”

Later, she produced “Bringing the Arctic Home,” which brings that experience to the stage with original dance performances, music and costuming along with special lighting and projections. Excerpts from the program can be seen in the video above. Writer David McKay Wilson interviews Jody for Wesleyan University Magazine.

GLACIER: multimedia climate change ballet by Diana Movius from Diana Movius on Vimeo.

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