Dance group takes a leap forward in environmental communication

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Students of North Macedonia’s Bullfrogs Ballet bow at the end of a performance.

Reese Carlson

When you think of environmental justice, pirouettes, jumps, and pliés don’t come to mind.

But for Michigan State University theater professors Derrick McNish and Rob Roznowski, dance and theater are the perfect vehicles to convey such serious themes.

“The cultural impact of creating art with a social justice context can be enormous,” Roznowski said.

MSU theater students from East Lansing, Michigan, and North Macedonian ballet company Bullfrogs Ballet collaborate on Ripple Effect, a project funded by a $20,000 grant from the U.S. Embassy and MSU’s Office of Research and Innovation. I am. It addresses environmental issues such as water pollution and industrial pollution that both North Macedonians and Michiganders face.

North Macedonia is located in southeastern Europe, approximately 5,000 miles from Michigan.

“Our students will be exposed to art students, dance students and theater students from North Macedonia,” McNish said. “We will discuss similar environmental issues we face, potential solutions, and the role the arts can play.”

Michigan State University students can enroll in classes created for Ripple Effect next fall. McNish said students of all majors are encouraged to enroll. You don’t have to be a dancer.

“Students will decide which aspects of water, water safety, water pollution, etc. are most important to them and their communities,” Roznowski said. “We will be creating a variety of theater styles and plays designed to communicate these issues.”

Bullfrogs Ballet is a dance company located in Skopje, North Macedonia. Although open to dancers ages 5 to 25, the program focuses on the age group closest to his MSU students. The grant will cover the cost for Roznowski and McNish to travel to North Macedonia to work directly with ballet students. North Macedonian ballet instructors will then travel to East Lansing to conduct workshops with MSU theater students, McNish said.

“While working on a similar project with the U.S. Embassy in Russia, I saw that the U.S. Embassy in Skopje advertised that they were interested in projects with arts and social justice themes,” McNish said. Ta. “I reached out right away because that’s what I do here at Michigan State University.”

Depending on what the students decide, the project can look very different. Dances are choreographed to express the issue of their choice. Props related to environmental topics chosen by students may also be featured, McNish said.

Roznovski said he would consult social and environmental justice experts from North Macedonia and the United States on the project. These help bridge the gap between art and environmental justice.

MSU geography associate professor Amber Pearson is the social justice consultant for the Michigan side of the project.

“Water security is an often ignored issue facing many places, including the United States,” Pearson said in an email. “Many people around the world lack safe, reliable, sufficient or affordable water to live a fulfilling life.”

Pearson studies how physical and social environments improve health, often in the face of socio-economic adversity.

“The idea is that we can get young students involved in these themes through art forms that interest them, for example dance or drama,” McNish said. “This increases interest and brings the topic into focus, especially when the public comes to see the final product.”

Dance has been scientifically studied as a form of justice and communication. In her 2018 article by Columbia University graduate and performer Sadie Mosco published in Consilience Journal, dance is a universal language and can be used to communicate complex themes such as environmentalism and climate injustice. The idea is being considered.

This article looked at studios that employ unique forms of dance to communicate scientific concepts and how they were received. One piece used earth and water as part of a performance that conveyed the connection between humans and nature. As the dance progresses, the clay eventually takes on the role of props, set pieces, costumes, and performers.

Nonscientific people are more likely to engage in scientific topics when they are presented in unconventional ways, such as dancing, Mosko reported. This dance puts the concept in a new context without using statistics or threatening new world-shaking disasters. Viewers are led to reconsider their opinions in their own way.

McNish and Roznowski hope the ripple effect will inspire more environmental theater.

The hope is that the art community across borders will take up issues like the environment and create art that inspires communities to talk about it, McNish said.

“It’s sustainable and it allows other people to get involved in these issues.”

Ripple Effect will debut in November 2024 as a live stream from North Macedonia and East Lansing.

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