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BWW Reviews: Karole Armitage's ON THE NATURE OF THINGS at AMNH


For three nights only, after hours at the American Museum of National History, the spotlight was put on climate change. However, this issue was not presented through demonstration, lecture, or film, but rather through dance. With a narration written and performed by biologist Paul Ehrlich and support from Museum Curator Rob DeSalle, Karole Armitage's On the Nature of Things creatively showed the emotional dimension of a global yet intimate topic.

As lights dim in the two-story Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, all eyes focus towards the center on the glistening whale that nearly swallows the entire room. Underneath its belly, the audience shifts its eyes to Meguma Eda. A symbol of peace and harmony, Ms. Eda is effortlessly beautiful as she roots her self into the ground and glides into breathtaking extensions. Dr. Ehrlich, who had earlier apologized for a cold, is an omnipresent force with his narration. As Cristian Laverde König enters in for a duet, the synergy is astounding. Delicate yet strong, independent and still interdependent, the pair is remarkable.

But as the narrative steers toward a darker path, chaos and danger ensue. Dr, Ehrlich's unintentionally deteriorating voice surprising adds to the deconstruction. The rest of Armitage Gone! Dance Company rushes in in a frenzy. In close proximity, the audience can see every twitch of the muscle, every tension. But even in the vast hall, the audience's eyes drift and float every which way as a dancer on pointe flitters here, a dancer distorts and contorts his body there, and another dancer lays on his back over there. The levels and the differences are overwhelming, bringing gravity to an often-misunderstood topic.

Lights shift to a reddish hue, hitting the dancers' orange leotards and making them appear bare. This rawness digs the audience deeper into the chaos. Suddenly a group of guest dancers appear, adding to the turmoil. Eventually, the randomness turns into synchronicity, though no harmony is restored. At one point, the dancers push each other out of the center space, a symbol of what anyone could recognize as limited resources and space on this Earth.

As the chaos dies down, the audience is left with a stark image. The ballerina on pointe nearly collapses; her body deteriorating slowly, contracting her back, bending her knees, arms flying about widely. It seems all hope is left until young dancers from Manhattan Youth Ballet join them. Like flowers blooming and rising from the ashes, these young dancers are delicate, extraordinary, miraculous, and captivating. Peace and harmony seem to have been restored.

On the Nature of Things is less about performing or personifying and more about humanizing. Or perhaps, let us take out the notions of the "person" and "humans" and instead realize that the Earth has a soul much like ours. The Earth has emotions and a language yet we don't often hear it. Karole Armitage hears it, and through her piece and her dancers, she translates it for us in a powerful way.

Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

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From This Author Jessica Abejar

Jessica Abejar is an artist with a love of storytelling. As a dancer/choreographer, she most recently performed at World Youth Day in Brazil, where she (read more...)