How Might Artistic Dance Works Increase Audience’s Awareness of the Urgent Need to Preserve Natural Environments?

Vieira, A.P. How Might Artistic Dance Works Increase Audience’s Awareness of the Urgent Need to Preserve Natural Environments? Oral presentation and abstract published at the Proceedings of the Performance Studies International Conference, Melbourne, Australia. 2016.
Apoio: Secretaria Estadual de Cultura de Minas Gerais, Edital Circula Minas – Intercâmbio 2016.7
This practice-oriented study that I have conducted in Brazil explores connections between ecoperformance, ecological awareness and natural environments. The objective is to explore ways that artistic dance works might contribute to increase audience’s awareness of the urgent need to preserve natural environments. The artistic research evolved into two performances, the first one is “Margo”, an artistic diving in the Santa Barbara waterfall, considered one of the most beautiful and crystal clear in Brazil. This waterfall has, so far, resisted to human exploitation. The second performance is “Karvo”, which was created to explore the fragility of the ‘Cerrado’ land surrounding the waterfall. ‘Cerrado’ is a savannah-like ecosystem that covers a fifth of Brazil’s territory. Climate change has impacted this environment in such a way that it has altered the frequency and intensity of the ‘Cerrado’ disturbances, including wildfires. These performances reveal a holistic body investigation and reflection on how human’s lack of ecological awareness poses a threat to the Santa Barbara River, its waterfall and surrounding land. This could mean an end to the Kalunga reservation – these people descend of African slaves who were fugitives from the gold mines of Goias state. Kalungas lived isolated from society until 1970, when they were accidentally discovered by engineers who wanted to build a hydropower plant at this location. The study reveals the the researcher’s search for shedding light on the issues surrounding ways in which performance intersects with climate and environment change.

Recently, some artists’ endeavors are creative engagement in dance performances, at natural spaces, as critical responses to ecological issues and challenges such as pollution, natural resources depletion including clean water decrease, global warming, species extinction (e.g., Fernandes, 2014; Sebiane-Serrano, 2013; Stewart, 2010; Stone, 2015). According to Stone (2015),
Efforts to maintain and protect the environment have recently gained notable attention. Scientists, philosophers, educators and artists, among many others, have initiated positive actions that seek to change the ways that humans relate to the ecosystem. As well, members within the dance community have inadvertently established new movement values that seek to promote and encourage ecological balance. New ideologies in environmental ethics support a non-anthropocentric value theory that recognises the intrinsic value of all species to the function of an ecosystem. (s/p)

This study adopts the tendency discussed by Stone (2015) as I seek to explore the question: How might artistic dance works increase audience’s awareness of the urgent need to preserve natural environments? My search aimed on shedding light on the issues surrounding ways in which performance intersects with climate and environment change. The paper presentation relates to the 22nd Performance Studies International Conference “Performance Climates” theme because it discusses interfaces between dance critical ecoperformances, ecological awareness and natural environments.

My efforts are to create and share with the large audience ecocritical performances in order to mediate the dynamic process of bodily discussing ecological issues with people stimulating their consciousness and sensitivity. I use the term ecocritical performances as it involves the ability of actively and reflectively distinguishing what is appropriate from what is less appropriate in our interactions with other people, nature and animals. I strive to conduct artistic research as suggested by Somers (2011), as a “deep-ecocritical practice [that] accompany an often ludic sensibility and a developing awareness of a variety of effects of practices on the material, immaterial, atmospheric, audio and visual aspects of landscape in which we dwell.” (p. 291) From my own artistic experience in dance, my argument is that there are others performers and researchers who believe in self-change and environmental sustainability and, therefore, want to persevere in the quest for ecological balance.

Journey

The artistic research evolved into two performances, “Margo” and “Karvo”, both informed by embodiment of the ‘really alive” space poetics (an approach I have developed and explain it better later in this paper), the somatic-performative approach (Fernandes, 2014) and structured improvisation. The performances, under my direction and interpretation, had a fluid configuration based on the respective environments where they were performed. Process and product intertwined while the performances progressed as I dynamically explored and interacted with space – considered as a co-dancer. Data includes my journals about my perception of the performance and also the film and pictures taken. It was analyzed through a qualitative method, Bond and Richard’s (2005) experiential inquiry.
The performances were fully filmed and, as this is a research in progress, in the next phase the films will be edited to be transformed into videoarts that will be shared with audience in different places in Brazil and other countries as well.

Kalungas

The Santa Barbara river and waterfalls (there are two waterfalls, the big and the small) are located 25 km away from the city of Cavalcante, Goias, Brazil – on the north side of the national park Chapada dos Veadeiros. With 10.000 inhabitants, Cavalcante lies 320 km north of Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. Cavalcante also surrounds the Kalunga Historical Site, where descendents of African slaves, called Kalunga, are still living to this day without too much contact with the modern world. The Santa Bárbara Waterfall is located at the Engenho II settlement of the Kalungas.

Engenho II settlement of the Kalungas

The Kalunga was made into a reservation by the Federal Government to these people who were fugitives from the gold mines of Goias state. Kalungas lived isolated from society until 1970, when they were accidentally discovered by engineers who wanted to build a hydropower plant at this location.
The first performance, “Margo”, is an artistic diving into the big Santa Barbara waterfall, which has, so far, resisted to human exploitation.

“Margo”

The second performance, “Karvo”, was created to explore the fragility of the ‘Cerrado’ land surrounding the big Santa Barbara waterfall, considered one of the most beautiful and crystal clear in Brazil. (figure 3)

“Karvo”
I first arrived at the Kalunga’s reservation and talked to people there to know better about their culture, history, way of living, language, and traditional practices. The ‘face-to-face meeting’ with the Kalungas, allowed me to conduct this research journey with a quality that is essential to me: with bodily interactions. We exchanged stories, jokes, anecdotes, ideas. As I write about those moments, I can still feel the spiritual connection we established and that remains inside me since that prior experience left deep, intense traces.
I also allowed myself to spend ‘talking’ time to enjoy the Kalunga’s presence at the first moment, since I am a ‘city person’ and my rhythm is clearly different to that of the Kalunga people who live in the countryside. Although I am a dancer and a dance teacher-researcher, I spend much of my time during the week days in front of a laptop and/or reading books and writing. I try to walk and ride my bike as much as I can, but I still drive a car often to go to the work at the university. This manual work with machines (computer, car) creates a different body than that of the Kalugas, since they are non-industrialised agricultural workers. As Somers (2011) reminds us,
Rhythm in different contexts is not, therefore, neutral but is cultivated and effects our subjectivity. Industrial rhythmic landscapes, which are frenetic and disjointed can, one supposes, only contribute to a fragmented addicted psyche. Rhythmic landscaping within the sound ecology can thus territorialise the body itself. (p. 256)

Participating into a dialogue with the Kalunga people changed the way I had first planed to do the performances. Rather than searching for the best time and place to perform, I would allow myself to be taken by the feelings and bodily sensations of the moment – that is, the perceived encounter with nature would be the initiator and ‘advisor’ of the performance itself, telling where, how and what to perform. Through my desire to explore my own direct experiences with the landscape, native people and nature, I reached out to the field (the trail to the waterfall) with the companion of a Kalunga guide.

As I walked to the first waterfall (the small one), whose nickname is ‘Santa Barbarinha’, and exchanged more thoughts, laughter, smiles and ideas with the Kalunga guide, I realized that one can strengthen the relation between knowledge and action by foregrounding lived experience itself as a valid basis for both practical artistic action and theorizing. One can never learn about how to do and make critical ecoperformances only through abstract theories; we need to live nature if we want it to be our co-performer. Furthermore, one could wonder: Did I break an ethical boundary that ‘should’ exist between researcher and participant (the Kalunga guide)? I do not believe so. My body feels still thrilled from the generosity of all Kalunga people, particularly the guide, who gave me their precious time, taught me meaningful stories, and who shared with me their emotions, bodily sensations, thoughts, imaginations, hopes, and interactions. This anecdote from my research journal reveals some of my insights:
“As we walked to the Santa Barbarinha waterfall, I felt warm hues.
My body told me how I had developed rapport with the Kalunga guide and nature.
I felt as if I was flying above the wonderful green trees present everywhere.
The unfolding journey was so magical so far!
I wished it could never end.”

The tremendous three kilometers hiking trail was made through dirt terrain, hills and flower fields. At the first small waterfall, Santa Barbarinha, I made the Yoga ‘Sun Salutation’ on the huge stones surrounding the water.

‘Sun Salutation’

Water salutation

I repeated the ‘Sun Salutation’ many times, as the energy flowing inside my body gave place to a ‘poetic of transformation’ through creative movements and pauses. From these moments, I had learned and suggest now that by approaching transformation as metamorphosis of the holistic performative body, a focus on what I call corpoetic – corporality + poetic may be a sustainable mode of living and creating critical ecoperformances in and through dance.
When I finally jumped into the water, my ‘entire being’ became alert with its coldness. In a state of ‘immediate awareness’ of self and nature, I felt there were moments of body transcendence or embodied being as I dived and felt no gravity, and the fresh and transparent water embraced me. It truly was a sensuous experience – immersed at the complex combination of intra and inter connectedness with the water, I felt ‘present’ at that ecologically preserved natural environment. An anecdote from my research journal illuminates the moment:

“As I hold my breathing diving into the water in that new environment
I did not feel as if it was completely alien;
Actually, I felt I belonged to it and it belonged to me.”

Preserved natural environment at the at the Santa Barbarinha waterfall

I consider this first stop, at the Santa Barbarinha waterfall, my ‘please to meet you’ salutation to that stunning place, and the moment I was asking for permission to do my artistic work there. I really took my time and stayed there for more than one hour. The Kalunga guide patiently waited for me. I did not want to stop that delightful state of being with/in nature that brought a memory deep within my consciousness (the aquatic world into my mom’s belly?), but the journey had to continue till the big waterfall – Santa Barbara.
We took then the other two kilometers trail and experienced the scenic beauty again: rocks are all over the place, plants grow down and upward, the sky glows through a refracting barrier of the river Santa Barbara. I felt privileged of being there, and this feeling enhanced and enriched the embodied experience.
The first performance, “Margo”, is an artistic diving in the big Santa Barbara waterfall. I spent some minutes on complete stillness on a rock, admiring the visibility of the water. Then, suddenly, I put my white dress on and jumped.

The performer is about to jump into the water.

Floating, diving, trying to jump and to turn inside the water. My performative self became an evolving entity, continuously constructed and reconstructed in relationship to my inner life intimately connected to the astonishing sub-aquatic environment.

Floating

Beyond the sensuous experience, by analyzing the films, which recorded the performance – one I made with my gopro camera, and the other made by my colleague photographer (figure 8) – I realized the pleasure on my face during the dives expresses an aesthetic appreciation of the physical attributes of the aquatic world: different colors, shapes and sizes of the stones and rocks, the white sand, the green-blue water, the splendorous green trees surrounding the water fall. My hope is that the desire I feel when I watch the film recordings – to care and protect this fragile and at the same time strong resource and environment – will be shared by other viewers when they will be edited into videoarts.

The photographer-performer

Pleasure

Stones, rocks, white sand and clear water

Warm hues at the cold water

On our way back to the Kalunga settlement, we decided to take a different trail. As we arrived at a totally burned area of the Cerrado, I became certain the other performance site was there.

Burned Cerrado

The second performance is “Karvo”, which was danced on the fired ‘Cerrado’ land. ‘Cerrado’ is a savannah-like ecosystem that covers a fifth of Brazil’s territory. Despite the adaptive characteristic of Cerrado vegetation to fire, frequent fires have harmful effects on this ecosystem. These fires compromise the natural heritage of the protected areas, requiring constant monitoring. Indeed, climate change has impacted this environment in such a way that it has altered the frequency and intensity of the ‘Cerrado’ disturbances, including wildfires.

It is shocking to see the black land so close to the green-blue river and waterfalls. As I started moving barefoot over a bed of charcoal, my body feels pain (although the charcoal is cold, its texture is unpleasant and uncomfortable to my skyn). Strength and courage guide my gestures and moves, as my movements become much faster than the ones I made diving. Some angriness is coupled with fear; but I trust my embodied intuitive knowledge. Feelings of togetherness with earth inspire my improvised movements, as my emotional state changes so quickly. I do not feel peaceful anymore; my desire is to cry and to embrace the Cerrado – in a a sense of seeking to connect with nature in a way that we become one. From this inner feeling and sensation, I was able to spread into outer space with much more connectedness. The dynamics between me and the environment was key to build that bridge, which gave, to my point of view, a dreamlike quality to this dance performance – this happened because the environment became so “alive” to me, and I experienced it differently from ordinary reality.
I did experience that particular space as a dynamic agent, as if it seemed “really alive” – although it actually looked killed by the fire. As I left the burned Cerrado, I felt unharmed, but as if I had taken part on a healing ceremony
Burning in-outside

Burning at diving
These two performances, “Margo” and “Karvo”, reveal a holistic body investigation and reflection on how human’s lack of ecological awareness poses a threat to nature; my focus was to call attention to the challenges faced by the Santa Barbara River, its waterfalls and surrounding land. This could mean an end to the Kalunga reservation. Indeed, we need to be aware that to preserve local natural environments may have widespread impacts on the overall survival of natural ecosystems.

This study reveals my search, as a researcher-artist for shedding light on the issues surrounding ways in which performance intersects with climate and environment change. The sensory pleasure derived from the colors and the affirmation of being in a different environment at the waterfalls changed completely when I reached the burned Cerrado. I hope the videoart to be made will impact the audience as this contrasting lived experience affected me.

My wish is that the artistic story/performance about the Santa Barbara waterfall and its surrounding Cerrado that will be shared through my body, may be treated as recommendations for ecological acting. In our praxis, in bringing life and nature (in)to our performative narratives (in this case, the videoarts), we are recommending a certain way of standing in a sustainable and respectful manner in our world.

References

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Fernandes, C. Perforgrafias: Pulsões Espaciais Somático-Performativas. Revista A.DNZ. Santiago: Universidad de Chile, Departamento de Danza. V.1, n.1 (2014), p. 60-71.

Kramer, P. (2012). Bodies, rivers, rocks and trees: Meeting agentic materiality in contemporary outdoor dance practices. Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts, 17(4), 83-91.

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Stone, J. (2015). Environmental dance: listening to and addressing the big questions gently. In C. F. Stock & P. Germain-Thomas (Eds.), Contemporising the past: envisaging the future, Proceedings of the 2014 World Dance Alliance Global Summit, Angers, 6–11 July. Retrieved 10 novemb er 2015 from:http://www.ausdance.org.au