Although the scientific community has reported the facts about climate change, it has not been successful in communicating the issue to the public in deeply affecting ways. The arts, on the other hand, are able to depict images and set forth narratives that put climate change on a human scale first, and then connect with emotions to create a personal experience.Perhaps no other art expresses a narrative as viscerally as dance. With vibrant visual enactments and symbolic gestures, the dancers’ movements resonate with audiences, compelling them to decipher the meaning and grasp the message. Touched by the emotive aspects of the dance, audiences can be moved and their understanding lead to deeper engagement with climate change.
Around the world, dancers and choreographers are collaborating in different ways to get across the story of the environment, to connect us and to build momentum for positive change.
SAPPHIRE DANCE CREATION’S work entitled Ekonama: The Beginning in the End is an eclectic blend of Chhau tribal and martial art dance from Purulia, India, and modern dance. It was created as part of the Microsoft Create to Inspire Fellowship in Kolkata in 2015. The story revolves around a tribal community that lives in seclusion and depends on their gods for protection. On a fateful day, a catastrophic storm brought about by climate change hits the earth, the sea levels rise to bring about the end of humanity including the community whose gods fail to protect them. It draws a vivid image of a world drained of all its natural resources.
WATER IS RISING: MUSIC AND DANCE AMID CLIMATE CHANGEis a work created by Judy Mitoma, a professor of world arts and cultures at UCLA who was very familiar with the remote island nations of Tokelau, Kiribati and Tuvalu in the Pacific, their people and their unique dances. Mitoma took notice when their representatives came to the United Nations COP meeting in 2009 to plead for their islands that are being submerged as a result of climate change. She decided to help put together a project to bring the islands message to the public in Los Angeles and in a cross-country tour.
MARRUGEKU is an intercultural dance company of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians that bridges urban and remote dance communities. Their production, Cut the Sky is an interdisciplinary production of dance-theatre set in the future about a group of climate refugees facing extreme weather events and propelled back and forward in time revisiting conflicts with mining companies and the destruction of the land.
DANCING EARTH CREATIONS is an indigenous contemporary dance company based in San Francisco and Santa Fe founded by Rulan Tangen. In 2019 its Seeds: Re Generation will perform at the Kennedy Center where Tangen is being honored as a Kennedy Center Citizen Artist for her work. The production evolves from intertribal artists in exchanges with Native elders, farmers, foragers, seed savers and food and water justice groups and rooted in restoring the land and peoples and promoting ecological awareness.
In The Gambia, Africa there is the acceptance that the role of musicians is also to educate as do KANYELENG performers, traditional communicators – powerful women who write their own songs about important issues and travel around their area performing them. Their style encourages audience participation, clapping and dancing. The result is that people are engaged and tend to remember the messages. The Kanyeleng groups have been used by ActionAid International to deal with climate change. The songs carry serious messages about climate resilient sustainable agriculture, and farmers learn new lessons from their songs.
Jody Sperling traveled with scientists to the Arctic to conduct research for choreography projects with her company, TIME LAPSE DANCE. While she was there she danced on the Arctic glacier ice – becoming the first person to do so – and with colleagues aboard the ship filmed the dance which is entitled Ice Floe. The focus of Time Lapse Dance is producing programs that merge choreography and climate science. Sperling and her Company have created a repertory of dance performances based on the trip entitled, Bringing the Arctic Home.
Jill Sigman is a choreographer, teacher and company director of THINKDANCE. She is known for projects that intersect dance, theatre and installations and involve audience participation. She uses non-traditional environments, formats and ways of engaging. Her piece, The Hut Project involved building huts out of scavenged materials to create spaces that disrupt people’s expectations of disposability, reuse and value. Then she hosts performances and conversations in the space.
Lynn Neuman is the director of New York City-based ARTICHOKE DANCE COMPANY. Artichoke Dance offers unique public performances and educational art experiences to help people become more physically, socially, and environmentally conscious. In 2006, Neuman was struck by how much trash (particularly plastics) littered the streets of New York. This led to over 10 years of groundbreaking environmentally focused dance work rooted in community involvement and education including large scale upcycling projects intended to inspire audiences to coalesce around pressing environmental issues and advocate for change.
Corey Baker director of COREY BAKER DANCE teamed up with Royal New Zealand Ballet dancer Madeleine Graham and Director Jacob Bryant to perform Antarctica Live, a ground-breaking dance-film project inspired by Antarctica highlighting the threats of climate change. It premiered as part of Earth Day celebrations at Somerset House, London in April 2018. After two years of planning, the piece was filmed in Antarctica in temperatures ranging from -2.4 to -16 degrees Celsius. Funding supported an interactive touring exhibition with the film and a documentary.
The dance company ODC was founded by Brenda Way with Co-Artistic Director and Choreographer, KT Nelson. Their program Embodying Climate Change is a repertory of works about climate change that includes Dead Reckoning, Uncertain Weather, and Unintended Consequences. The company explores how the medium of dance compellingly communicates timely issues bringing people to the table to amplify its shared reach and impact. As Nelson has said, “We have scientific evidence, we have statistical analysis. I think maybe the missing ingredient is our emotional world. Dance, because it is human beings on stage in a world, can help us embody the meaning of climate change.”
Diana Movius is a choreographer, dancer and the founder of MOVEIUS CONTEMPORARY BALLET, a part-time ballet company based in Washington, D.C. Movius, who works by day as a Climate Policy Expert, has a Masters in environmental anthropology and did fieldwork in the Amazon. She was also responsible for Dance on 14, a building she renovated in Washington that is used by dance and theatre companies. Movieus’s Glacier: A Climate Change Ballet creates an onstage Arctic environment where the threat of polar icecap collapse is set to movement by dancers with live video projections.
REBECCA KELLY BALLET is based in New York, but is in residence at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts in the Adirondacks in the summer. Founder and Artistic Director Kelly has long been involved with environmental issues and partners with organizations sharing the goal of raising awareness and providing solutions to stewardship of the environment. Her works deal with forests, water, acid rain, climate change, and endangered species.
DAVALOIS FEARON DANCE is a New York dance company formed by the Dancer of the same name. Ms. Fearon creates work that increases awareness about social and environmental issues that appeal to a wide range of audiences. To that end, her choreography explores topics related to the environment such as Consider Water inspired by domestic and global water issues.
Karen Kaufmann is a dance professor and the director of the CoMOTION DANCE PROJECT. Based in Western Montana, the company performs professional education performances, touring communities and schools. Their performance piece Changing Balance/Balancing Change is an immersive arts experience that weaves dance, music, narration and movement to teach climate change science concepts and impacts. Their work, Fire Speaks to the Land, explores fire science and forest ecology. The Company partners with the Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center, The Glacier Park Conservancy, The U.S. Forest Service and The U.S. Geological Survey’s Climate Change in Mountain Ecosystems Program.
Spector Dance was created in 1997 by artistic director Fran Spector Atkins and media artist, William A. Roden. Their dance performances explore themes that raise awareness of critical social issues. Ocean Trilogy is their multidisciplinary performance and education outreach program that highlights innovations and possibilities from cutting-edge ocean research. In 2019 Spector initiated the first annual Monterey Ocean Arts Festival.