Dancing Place, Dancing Change

July 15, 2016
Maya L. Kapoor

Against projected scenes of white glaciers collapsing into the sea, dance graduate student Magda Kaczmarska spun, reached, crouched, and curled, improvising to music composed in response to the intertwined realities of warming global temperatures, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels. UA dance instructor Erika Colombi accompanied Kaczmarska by reading aloud from the most recent assessment report from the International Panel on Climate Change. The duo’s embodied environmental performance riveted audience members at an Arts, Environment, and Humanities Network lunchtime event in December 2015.

At the intersection of environmental research and the arts, dance and other performance arts may sometimes be overlooked. “Dance can be intimidating,” said Colombi, who directs the UA School of Dance outreach program and teaches at Pima Community College. “It’s easier to think about painting a picture or writing a poem. That’s more accessible to people. But dance can do exactly the same things. You can tell stories about the environment or science with your body through movement.”

UA dance instructor Erika Colombi tells stories about the environment and science through choreography. (Photo: Ed Flores)

Colombi’s MFA work in dance and choreography at the UA is a case in point. Colombi camped out in Iceland for a month; inspired by the connections that people held to the Icelandic landscape, Colombi crafted a thesis that focused on landscapes, universal ways of knowing, human experiences with landscapes, and human beliefs about landscapes.

Colombi has more than 30 years of dance experience, included working as a professional ballet dancer and earning an MS in Dance Pedagogy at the University of Idaho. “The first time you make up a dance it’s about breaking up with your boyfriend. It’s something very simple, superficial, emotive,” she said. “I enjoy working with different things.” For one project, Colombi worked with a chemistry class on how sodium and chloride bond to form sodium chloride, or table salt. “There’s a little bit of movement there when the sodium chloride reacts with different chemicals,” Colombi said. “We had students interpret that.”

Participating in an Arts, Environment, and Humanities Network event was a fantastic way to connect with new colleagues, Colombi said. “I loved seeing all these different artists coming together,” she said. “I learned a lot. I think it’s important that we bring this interdisciplinarity to all parts of campus. That’s part of the mission of the UA and it’s really powerful to marry these subjects you wouldn’t otherwise think of together.”

For many attendees at the AEHN lunch event, Colombi’s and Kaczmarska’s performance marked a first encounter with environmental dance and choreography. It won’t be the last—Colombi already is developing plans for a second ENR2 performance this fall, details to be determined.