People often ask me: why did you create a climate change ballet? I wanted to communicate what climate change feels like.
Art can impact climate change because it affects our perceptions and prompts gut feelings about the issue. The immediacy of live performance connects us on a visceral, emotional level to the climate crisis in ways policy discussions and news articles cannot.
I have a foot in both the climate policy and dance arenas. I trained professionally at Charlotte Ballet and have continued dancing and choreographing in Washington DC with my dance company, MOVEIUS Contemporary Ballet. Concurrently, since 2007, I’ve been working for leading think tanks and multilateral climate policy organizations. Keeping up dual careers is not always easy, but it is incredibly rewarding when I can combine those two fields.
Working in the climate field, I am filled with a sense of profound admiration for colleagues worldwide that devote their lives to this issue. In the United Nations negotiations, which I’ve attended on and off for 10 years, there’s a sense of drive, urgency, and desperation as delegates stay up working until 4a.m. But, this feeling of purpose, of drive, of caring enough to survive on 2 hours of sleep, was hidden away inside a convention hall.
I realized that a work of art could share this feeling with a broader audience. Meaningful live performance can prompt an immediate gut reaction. Could a show strive to reproduce the same gut feeling about climate so recognizable to those deeply engaged?
Yes. A show can spark that hard-to-define, visceral, and painful feeling of caring about climate change. It’s a real-time experience of something that amorphously looms in the increasingly-near future.
In my unscientific experiment of GLACIER: A Climate Change Ballet, this hypothesis has been validated by audience members. At Global Climate Action Summit last year in San Francisco, GLACIER became the first ballet ever to take part in an international climate conference. After every show people waited in line to talk to me.
Representatives from an association of local policymakers gave me their cards, asking if we could find a way to bring the ballet to their hometowns. Someone floated the idea of a tour to red states. Two Chinese delegates asked if we could raise funds to come to China. Professors from Stanford and Iowa asked I would consider bringing GLACIER their campuses. Would I consider creating a new ballet to tie into their environmental curriculums? I collected a ton of business cards from folks who wanted to bring GLACIER to their city.
Audience members THANKED me for creating the piece. Members of Natural Resources Defense Council bought a row of seats, thanking me as they filed out. It’s rare to be thanked for making a dance piece. Most of the time, the choreographer is the one saying “thank you for coming!”
Art, and especially dance, can also explore nontraditional viewpoints. Glaciers are not alive, but what if they were? How would they feel and what would they say? These viewpoints may not be scientifically real, but they provide another lens with which to relate to climate change. Dance is a great medium to personify many things, from abstract concepts to actual characters.
In GLACIER, dance personifies ice and climate change.
Reporters have asked what I hope to achieve with the ballet. There’s not just one goal. Putting the piece out into the world has value alone. Art is always open to interpretation, and one can’t dictate the experience. But certain things do indicate an effective, arresting performance.
If the piece sparks a gut feeling of caring about climate change, however fleeting, that is success.
If I’ve created something that resonates with my climate colleagues, where they instinctively know that “this is why I do what I do”, that is success.
If an audience member tears up, that is success.
If an audience member wants to bring GLACIER to their school, hometown, or country, that is success.
So far, all of those things have happened, and I’m looking forward to more feedback following our performance of GLACIER at Climate Week in NYC, from September 23-25, 2019.
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