On/An Offering: What Can Dance Offer Sustainable Practice?

by Malik Nashad Sharpe ’14
What linkages can we form between experimental art making and practice, discourse on environmental sustainability, and action against anthropomorphic climate change? Throughout my practice in performance making, I’ve long been concerned with the question: What can dance do? Certainly, it can’t do everything—in fact, it might be silly to think that it can change the world. However, dance has a very pertinent role in the creation of culture, and the choices we make in relation to our planet also have cultural foundation. Culminating in a multi-sensory performance, titled On/An Offering, I choreographed a structured improvisation and prepared a mostly locally sourced organically-grown dinner to provide audiences with an experience that opens up the question of the role of dance and probes the possibility that dance can have a direct role in combating climate change and promoting sustainable practice.


I put out an open call on my Facebook page to gauge interest in the project and to scope out possible participants. Many responded, and I eventually ended up with five fantastic, driven, and curious people, some of whom identify as dancers, and others who have immense interest in a sustained movement practice. After the first rehearsal, the connections became clearer, and then clearer. The structured improvisation had a set of simple tasks, which allowed the performers to attach metaphor, history, and interest to build a collective psycho-somatic state at once immensely complex and specific. The first obvious connection was making a collective decision to move forward in the score together. Imagine a world where decisions impacting the environment moved forward without leaving any nations behind? Imagine if the Marshall Islands’ call to tackle impending climate catastrophe was not only heard by everyone, but thought about, and decisively acted on collectively?

After the first rehearsal, we took our practice outside. I thought it would be essential for this work, to actually feel the grass prickle the soles of our feet, the breeze of the wind brushing up against our skin, the gnats buzzing around our ears, all under the guise of fostering a deeply-felt connection to our organic environment. How can we move forward creating the world we want without hyper-realizing our physical connection to it? We must get reacquainted with the earth. A second connection materialized: What if there is a lack in physical connection to our environment that is preventing some critical and preservationist engagement with it?
Soon after, the connections between dance, choreography, performance, and environmental sustainability practice and discourse became quite clear: bodies using a collectivized energy, sustaining energy through time and space, becoming essential parts of 3a whole, relying on each other…There is still so much to be uncovered. On/An Offering left me with the beginnings of a much larger project, one in which art becomes an essential part of discourse dominated by policy and politics. As I go on, and onwards (to Tokyo!), I hope to continue to interrogate this practice, and to uncover the hidden but multiplicitous linkages between performance and the promotion of environmental sustainability.




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Malik Nashad Sharpe ’14 is the 2014 Summer Sustainability Researcher in the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives.