On Monday morning, at the United Nations Climate Action Summit that she famously crossed the ocean in a solar-powered yacht to attend, 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg pulled no punches while admonishing her audience for their consistent failure to heed the warnings of scientific research. “How dare you?” she said to the room filled with world leaders. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, and yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing.” If, as a viewer, you aren’t thrilled and inspired by Thunberg’s passionate urgency, then Glacier: A Climate Change Ballet, which is starting a limited run this evening at the Ailey Citigroup Theater in New York City, may not be for you.
Helmed by artistic director Diana Movius, the Moveius Contemporary Ballet company has set out to create a production that incorporates timely and thought-provoking topics into innovative dance techniques. The performances on display this week, which will run from September 23 to 25, include references to the melting polar ice caps, the devastation of the 2008 financial crisis and the first photographs taken of the Earth from space: a healthy mix of planet-related existential crises, all of which serve to emphasize just how fragile life here is in many different ways.
Movius herself is something of a polymath. Both a professional ballet dancer and a trained policy expert, she’s studied with famed dancers like Patricia McBride, written papers about climate change and deforestation and put in work at organizations like the World Bank and the Center for Clean Air Policy. For her, the two disciplines complement one another. “Dance is a great medium to personify love and despair,” Movius told Observer. “In Glacier: A Climate Change Ballet, the dancers convey emotion through their movements, particularly in the ‘calving’ and ‘melting’ sections where they crash to the floor and ultimately bid adieu to the audience, and you can’t help but feel the emotion inherent in the movement. Glaciers are not alive, but what if they were? How would they feel and what would they say? Dance can explore this lens.”
Because Glacier, originally developed in 2015, has the unique distinction of being the “first ballet about climate change to be choreographed by a climate policy expert,” there’s something truly refreshing about the artistic impact a hybrid creative work like this has had. “At Global Climate Action Summit last year in San Francisco, after every show people waited in line to talk to me,” Movius continued. “Representatives from an association of local policymakers asked if we could find a way to bring the ballet to their hometowns. Two Chinese delegates asked if we could raise funds to come to China. Professors from Stanford and Iowa asked I would consider bringing Glacier to their campuses. Various audience embers and have suggested a tour to red states.”
Ballet gets largely-undeserved flack for being an elitist and rarified medium, but Glacier rejects this notion by seeming urgent, dramatic and deeply earnest, perhaps something like a viral Greta Thunberg speech.