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Environments for Interactive Dance

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In the late summer of 2000 I attended Natur/SpurProjects in Ecology and Art, an open-air performance and exhibition festival in Dreieich, a small town south-east of Frankfurt. The second event of its kind curated by cultural anthropologist Ute Ritschel, Natur/Spur took place along a one-mile stretch of the tiny river that runs through the town and past the homes of its residents. Twenty-one artists participated in a month-long series of installations and site-specific performances exploring the natural environment and eco-system of the river. Some of the works drew attention to its local history and the fact that it was first ‘modernised’ in the 1970s, when engineers rectified its meandering course and forced its water flow into a concrete bed, and then ‘re-naturalised’ it in the 1990s after frequent flooding and the grave disruption of the river's biosphere led to protests by ecologists and the Green Party. The little river now runs again in all its organic splendour and wilderness, lined by trees, plants and flowers, feeding its insects and birds and various species-visitors. The artists were careful not to ‘intervene’, as site-specific actions are often construed, but to approach the organic life systems of the river with aesthetic, holistic/ meditative or scientifically-inflected ideas and performance gestures that linked the chosen materials or actuations organically, as traces or nutrients, to the existing temporal and environmental flow-totality of energy transfers and biochemical cycles.

Freia Leonhardt, a butoh-trained dancer, created a mermaid-like character and, walking slowly through the river for half a mile while the audience followed along the shorelines, interacted with water, bed and shore as if she were navigating between different habitats and niches. Others built sculptural works with found materials (wood, branches, bones, glass, footprints, etc.) that created real and metaphorical continuities with the river, joined or bridged it or alluded to the mixed traces of nature and culture in a small urban environment. Referring to the river's inexorable fluidity, others dealt with the concepts of time, erosion, pollution, refuse, regeneration, and alchemical process.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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