Living Fossils

Living Fossils

Amidst a record-breaking national heat wave and second year of rampant wildfires, a group of dancers construct a new form of environmental advocacy in the California redwoods.

"Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon,
There is no sense in trying"
- Bob Dylan 

Walking down a dirt path, dilapidated houses covered in graffiti cling to the edges of steep, heavily-wooded, mountain slopes, seemingly seconds away from collapsing. Amidst what appears to be an abandoned hippy commune, a message in white lettering on wooden slats hammered into a post reads: “I’d turn back if I were you.” We continue on around a bend to a clearing carved around a circle of imposing redwood trees. Four figures clad in burgundy robes move in ritual patterns, swirling leaves on strings, a fairy ring quartet. 

“Surrendering to the dirt,” is how Miche Wong describes this communing beneath the sacred canopy of nature’s tallest sentinels. A means to bridge the persistent disconnect between human beings and the natural environment, as nearby wildfires rage on. “When they die, other trees feel it far away.” No different from the mourning we experience, she purports. “As dancers we are are a medium for an emotional connection with nature,” engaging the “environment as a partner….to excite people to discover nature.” And in discovering it, to revere and protect it. 

Choreographer, Michael Spencer Phillips, created Megaflora with this driving intention while recruiting local dancers to participate in his latest multi-media experiment in environmental activism. As his partner and producer, Dino Kiratzidis explains, Megaflora frames “the environment as protagonist,” one with, “inherent theatrical potential.” Most simply, the work places the human body in relation to the extraordinary beauty of the natural world, while pointing to our unfortunate, tenuous relationship with it. “A return to primordial expression…to see ourselves as part of the ecosystem,” not separate from it. A repudiation of American individualism, the hubris of extractive capitalism and the immeasurable destruction its structures and systems have wrought. 

Phillips conceived of Megaflora, the third in the series of site-specific dances, during last year’s lock down as the worst recorded wildfires in history raged across California and the Pacific Northwest. Frustrated that the news defaulted to scientific objectivity and sensationalizing the unfolding manmade disaster in terms of impact on humans and their property, framing the fire as a malicious, unprovoked antagonist, Phillips decided to take his choreography from the studio in to the wild.  

Wong sees this collaboration as a challenge to the conception that solving climate change as an individual rather than mass, collective effort. “Artists reimagine, change spaces, give a glimpse of what can be different. Another world to live within.” Through the process of creating the otherworldly, the dancers experienced their own physiological and emotional transformations––a series of surrenders––and the realization that fire is not the enemy. In fact, fire is a necessity for the maintenance of forest ecosystems. While the climate once dictated the scale and movement of forest fires, forest fires now dictate the gravity of their own impact. These are the meta-terrestrial reverberations of violent extractive capitalism, the result of human intervention in weakening, if not entirely destroying, forest ecosystems and depleting our only protection from the brutality of the unfiltered sun.

No rational person is arguing that there aren’t external factors at work, or that climate change is not in and of itself a naturally occurring phenomenon. But human recklessness coupled with a blind eye to the gross mismanagement of its repercussions has turned the earth into a powder keg. This time around, there is no convening of celestial deities or malignant asteroids to blame. We did this and it is now irrevocable. “Surrendering to the dirt,” may now be our only option as living fossils. 

Filed Under: Articles & Essays

Text by

Sidd Joag is a visual artist, journalist and producer working on issues closely related to social inequality and human rights, and the managing editor at ArtsEverywhere.

Photographs by

Emma Kazaryan is a multimedia journalist based in New York City. She holds a master's degree from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Creative Writing with a minor in Photography from Baruch College, CUNY.
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