We’ve been sharing interviews with Kickstarter Film Festival participants via daily project updates, and their responses have been a joy to read. Karl Cronin, the Dancing Ecologist, offered some lovely insights about his mission to research the movements and rituals of plants and animals and create public-art dance pieces to document them. His thoughts below.
Have you found certain plants or animals to be more or less challenging than others to portray?
Yes. I have generally found plants to be easier than animals. The earliest entries in the Somatic Natural History Archive were of species I found that would stay still long enough for me to work with them. With animals I usually have to observe their behavior and replicate from memory, whereas with plants I can move in sync with them. Motile creatures like to move (which as a dancer I can definitely appreciate).
The challenges that come up in the archiving process are central to this project. How can I begin to understand the physical experience of a grasshopper, Aspen clonal colony, or common house spider? The attempt at understanding the living circumstances of other species is the goal. When I find it difficult to relate physically to another species, it tells me a lot about what it means to be human.
Do you spend a lot of time coming up with and practicing the movements for each species? What’s the process like?
I spend a lot of time watching and listening with each organism, doing my best to work past my own limited understandings of what its experience might be. For instance, when I worked with a prairie dog colony last fall in Santa Fe I immediately gravitated to their alert posture and chirping calls. The more time I spent with them I realized that what I was observing was behavior caused by my being there. In time, as I remained there quietly, I began to witness other behaviors.
I take all my experiences from my field expeditions back to the studio where I create a movement portrait that conveys some key aspect of each species. This movement architecture is important to me, as it is the compositional architecture within which I can infuse my thoughts, reflections, feelings from the encounter. There is set choreography for each archive entry, but also a responsive, improvisitory component that allows me to express what it felt like to be there and connect that with an audience.
Anything else you’d like to share?
As a movement artist, this work has already taught me a great deal. I see each species I work with as a teacher; their biological expression and behaviors become my tutorials. This work reminds me that there is so much to explore and discover beyond the boundaries of what we already know. Whenever I stop and really listen/see/feel, I discover things I never could have imagined. I look forward to sharing this process and work with others!