REVIEW: MOVEIUS Contemporary Ballet: Excerpts from ‘Glacier: A Climate Change Ballet’ and ‘Rite of Spring, Crash of Fall’

Excerpts from Glacier: A Climate Change Ballet and Rite of Spring, Crash of Fall
MOVEIUS Contemporary Ballet
Millennium Stage
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, D.C.
October 13, 2018

By Carmel Morgan

What do climate change and financial collapse have in common? They’re the subject matter of dances I saw at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. DC, of course, is a center of policymaking. Local choreographers, acutely aware of this political environment, often create dances that address contemporary concerns. Modern dance is well known for works that express social commentary. Ballet, while perhaps better known for fairytale themes, can also wrestle with the urgent topics of today. MOVEIUS Contemporary Ballet, founded in 2010 by Artistic Director and choreographer Diana Movius, does just that, by applying the language of classical ballet to current issues.    

Movius trained with Charlotte Ballet’s Patricia McBride and danced principal roles at Stanford University. In addition to being a choreographer, she is a “climate policy expert,” and she established Dance Loft on 14, an affordable rehearsal and performance space in DC.  

The evening opened with excerpts from Glacier: A Climate Change Ballet, which premiered in 2015. Glacier incorporates video projections by Robin Bell (widely recognized for his #resist projections on DC’s Trump Tower) with choreography designed to mimic the melting action of glacial ice in the face of global warming. The dancers plunged into the problem, frequently falling to the floor like cracking sheets of ice, hands slapping the stage. Yet, this melting didn’t move me. The dancing, featuring a sea of flowing arms and sharp extended legs, although pretty, remained cold. Footage of a polar bear swimming, his fur rippling in the water, entertained more than some of the dancing. The massive bear surprisingly displayed equal, if not more grace. I understood Glacier’s dire warning, but the message was nearly drowned out by the intense concentration of the dancers, which emphasized more precision than passion.      

By contrast, the premiere of Rite of Spring, Crash of Fall delivered emotionally powerful storytelling. It focused on the financial crisis of 2008. In Part I, The Crash, dancers in black suit jackets took on Igor Stravinsky’s iconic Rite of Spring score. Movius adeptly matched the movement to the music. Elbows pointed down and hands in front of their chests, they madly “typed” in time to the discordant clanging. This motif repeated. The dancers’ bent hands resembled cunning rodent claws. Led by CEO Carrie Denyer, along with whistleblower Kimberly Thompson, a quintet in suits sailed across the stage in wheeled office chairs, greedily brandished cash, and stacked boxes that ultimately were revealed to be empty.    

In Part II, The Aftermath, a few everyday Americans impacted by the crisis sifted through scattered boxes, lamented their fate, and then protested. Those in suits, fists in the air, battled back. A group headed by Thompson, who carried a placard displaying “Occupy,” briefly marched through the audience. Thompson’s valiant efforts tragically result in a violent stabbing; her heart pierced with a “For Sale” sign by the CEO. Although Rite of Spring, Crash of Fall ended, the real life drama continues as Wall Street still wields extraordinary control over the masses.           

Photos credit Rob Cannon (top) and Enoch Chan (bottom)

Carmel Morgan began her dance training in Knoxville, Tenn., where she became a founding member of the Tennessee Children’s Dance Ensemble, the country’s only professional modern dance company using artists 8-17 years of age. While living in Memphis, Tenn., she danced with the modern dance collective Project: Motion and also performed with the modern dance improvisation troupe Breeding Ground. Carmel began working as a freelance dance critic for what is now CriticalDance.com in February 2007, and previously served on the board of the Dance Critics Association. She has been enjoying dance in the DC Metro area for more than a decade. When not writing about dance, Morgan works as an attorney for the U.S. government.