Dancing in the Arctic

May 12-June 24, 2014
Chukchi Sea, The Arctic

Click to READ the Arctic Spring Blog, including Jody Sperling’s most recent posts about dancing in the Arctic. See below for a description of the upcoming Ice Melt project.

From the Artistic Director:

“This Spring I will be embarking on a six-week journey to the Arctic as research for a choreographic project entitled Ice Melt. I’ll be accompanying a scientific expedition aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Healy that will be studying the relationship between the thinning Arctic sea ice and increased phytoplankton blooms that may be altering the polar ecosystem.

The interdisciplinary team of scientists is headed by biologist Dr. Kevin Arrigo, ice specialist Dr. Don Perovich and physical oceanographer Dr. Robert Pickart. Pickart (Bob) is also organizing an ambitious outreach program as a corollary to the science that includes myself (as the first “choreographer-in-residence” aboard the Healy), a writer, a visual artist, a photographer and radio documentarian.

From our vantage point in the Chukchi Sea (north of the Bering Strait), I’ll have a chance to witness firsthand the transformation of sea ice from solid cover to open ocean. I want to glean as much as possible about the sea ice so that I can find ways to express its dynamism and fragility on stage. The focus of “Ice Melt” will be on the mutable character of the ice itself, rather than on the wildlife. While the polar bear’s plight is tragic, it’s also well-advertised; the ice’s plight is less well understood.

The Arctic’s seasonal cycle, from solid ice cover to open sea, plays out the larger big-picture drama of the disappearance of the summer ice shelf. “Ice Melt” narrative is a trajectory of loss–from overwhelming expansiveness, to nothingness. Climate change is dramatically affecting the extent, thickness and age of Arctic sea ice extent. Some models predict that within 40 years the Arctic could be entirely ice-free during the summer months.

Over the years, I’ve developed a dance idiom that meshes movement, fabric, lighting and projections. While my original inspiration was modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller, I’ve been moving the genre in new directions. The white flowing costumes my dancers and I wear are perfect vehicles to suggest the blanched ridges and wind-whipped surfaces of sea ice.

For this project, the costumes–fashioned by designer Mary Jo Mecca and textile artist Gina Nagy Burns–will form mobile screens for media projections I will gather on the trip. I’m delighted that my long-time collaborator Bessie-Award winning lighting designer David Ferri will design the lighting.

Dr. Larry Pratt, a physical oceanographer at the Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institution is my chief science adviser and has been helping me forge connections with the scientific community. (It was Larry who, happily, introduced me to his colleague Bob!)

For years I’ve been deeply concerned about the effects of climate change. With this project I have the opportunity to align my artistic vision with a personal yearning to acknowledge what’s happening in the world right now. While a dance on its own can’t significantly alter the course of the crisis, it can, as with an elegy, help us confront the impending loss and savor its beauty through mourning.

I’m planning to share the work as it develops in conjunction with discussions on climate science and education. Please stay tuned for details.”

-Jody Sperling