On a balmy evening in mid-July, a multitude of curious guests at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden gathered by sundial at the golden hour, just as the relentless sun was no longer at its zenith and the summer insects tuned up for their orchestra of buzzing and humming. We were guided down a path and stopped when we came upon a large lump of dirt--a bulge in the ground as if the earth was pregnant. It was indeed, and what was birthed was none other than the Artistic Director of ETD--Eryc Taylor--conceiver of EARTH, the company's most ambitious project to date, and the choreographer of the first piece "The Big Bang". Taylor's limbs lifted languidly from the soil with majesty and strength, embodying both the Creator and that which is created, as could have been portrayed in various mythologies. He rose to full standing with stoic intensity like Atlas carrying the weight of the world, then flailed violently as if possessed by the spark of divine manifestation, all while solidly rooted to the ground. ETD principal dancers Nicole Baker and Chris Bell emerged from the distance like celestial attendants and enacted similarly alternating gestures of stillness and eruptive extremes. Thus "The Big Bang" began the evening of immersive dance segments from ETD's EARTH as part of Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Twilight Tuesdays. It was captured on film by PBS for a new television series, All Arts. The program--a 5-part series scheduled to air Labor Day weekend--will highlight artists who are using their art form to address the global climate crisis.
This occasion was also the first public, non-workshop debut of "three and a half" pieces the evening-length work which is to be comprised of multiple parts, five of which are commissions choreographed by exemplary past recipients of the ETD New Choreographer Grant (NCG), with Taylor's own work bookending the production. Additionally, this special event marked Taylor's own return to performing after about a decade of being behind the scenes running a non-profit dance company, directing, choreographing and shining the spotlight on others. He described the experience as "transcendental" and proclaimed, "I haven't felt so much freedom and self expression in a long time. I felt emotionally charged and spiritually elevated to another space and time. I was connected to something as powerful as fire." To those witnessing his triumphant return to the stage (or the soil in this case) it was easy to relate to those overwhelming emotions--the performance was mesmerizing!
Taylor's impetus to create EARTH was the urge to present a visual, physical and auditory "wake up call" to the impact of humankind's actions on global warming and the destruction of the planet. Taylor pairs the chosen NCG recipients with a composer (Daniel Tobias and Salomon Lerner) and the two collaborate on a dance performance based around a particular themes: Earth is Created, Man is Born, Civilizations Rise, Man Forgets the Earth and Mother Nature's Warning. The indoor performances will be visually aided with videography and images from David Kagan and ETD photographer, Shannel Resto.
Following "The Big Bang", the audience was led to an open field, to encounter "Earth is Created" choreographed by Robert Mark Burke. The meditative performance featured six dancers, two male four female. Each one operated like parts of a machine functioning together to produce something new. They used the expansive natural grass stage to run in circles backward and forward, flung each other around during partnering--their bodies stiff and rigid--and formed bent, twisted shapes in the greenery.
The next piece was Jordan Ryder's "Man is Born". Set on five dancers, Ryder utilized primal, tribal, sensual and at times animalistic movements and expressions to tell the story of humanity's arrival. A steady heartbeat and gasps of breath underscoring the composition set the tone. There were dynamic pairings between a male and female dancers that evoked both Adam and Eve as well as the duality and polarity of masculine and feminine, positively or negatively charged qualities in other forms of life such as animals and even amoebas and atoms. When the cast would cluster together and move in a domino-effect cascade of gestures, as one unit with many parts informing the actions of the others, it was like a network of cells in the human body. Then they'd transform into feral creatures engaging with each other in ways that called to mind our ancient ape-like ancestors.
Just as the sun was beginning to set, the final segment from the first half of ETD's full production of EARTH brought all the dancers together in a huddle with arms outstretched dramatically towards the sky as if worshiping the sun, or perhaps begging forgiveness to Mother Earth for the damage done by her own children.
The attendees of all ages were utterly captivated throughout the multiple-part event. Of the manifold immersive dance and theatre events around NYC and beyond, settingEARTH in and amongst the beauty of nature served the intention of the piece most fully. Surrounded by the splendor and fragility of nature, the production's call to action took on a more visceral and immediate meaning that fostered a heartfelt desire to protect the natural wonders of our beautiful planet amongst the rapt onlookers.
Photo Shannel Resto