Dubbed the “Punk Ballerina” by Vanity Fair, Tony-nominated choreographer Karole Armitage trained as a ballet dancer from age 4. Having danced professionally for three years and as a modern dancer for five. Armitage ventured on her own in 2004. She became artistic director of the New York based dance company Armitage Gone! and began incorporating dances for it from her own catalogue over 30 years.
Known for creating contemporary work by blending dance, arts and music, Armitage choreographed two Broadway productions, “Passing Strange” and “Hair,” for which she received a Tony nomination. She has worked on videos for Pop Queen and King, Madonna and Michael Jackson, as well as with Cirque du Soleil’s 2012 tent show, “Amaluna.” Now she’s bringing her latest project to Wilmington: “Fables on Global Warming.”
The dance tells a story of three extinct animals: a passenger pigeon, a Carolina parakeet and a big thicket hog-nosed skunk. The dancers in the project portray anthropomorphized animals which form a minstrel band, wandering through evolving ancient scenery of global fables. “Global warming is the single most important issue of our time,” Armitage informs on picking this particular theme. Based on ideas of climate change, preservation and responsibility, the show reaches audiences of all ages.
An hour long, the show uses Aesop, La Fontaine, traditional American Indians and Chuang Tzu to tell familiar animal fables. “My favorite part of this whole thing has been reinventing the 19th century story ballet by adding performance art and new dance ideas into the form,” Armitage notes.
“Fables on Global Warming” has received assistance from scientist Dr. John Harte of UC Berkeley, in tweaking the story to be sure the global warming metaphors used remain accurate. “Dr. John Harte has the longest running research project on global warming on the planet at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, so his expertise helped,” Armitage states.
The cast consists of seven dancers and three musicians from all over the world. In essence, they bring their own beauty and execution to the show. “It’s exciting to see such brilliant athleticism,” Armitage says. “I combine the poetry and refinement of ballet with the intellectual ideas of modern dance and add the visceral rawness and energy of rock and roll. I explore new geometries of movement that make it look different. Each dancer brings a strong unique personality to the stage.”
Singer/songwriter Corey Dargel plays the skunk but also has written entertaining, witty lyrics to perform in the show. He also acts as the narrator. “Through him we hear words that help convey the story,” Armitage tells.
The Carolina parakeet also becomes the flutist in the show, while the trombonist plays the passenger pigeon.
Visual director Doug Fitch designed the costumes and puppets used as props—something Armitage admits are used unconventionally. “They become part of the dancer’s way of moving,” she explains. “There’s a scene where each dancer wears a puppet on a body part, like the foot, knee or elbow, and the movement is generated by that body part.”
When given the theme for the story, Fitch was inspired by the art of Papua New Guinea and Northwestern American Native cultures.
“The staff at the Cultural Arts office is always interested in providing opportunities that connect the campus and community through a broad range of arts experiences,” Courtney Reilly, assistant director of cultural arts, explains. “It goes without saying, that we were also interested in this work because of its high artistic merit. Karole Armitage and her creative team are innovative visionaries and they understand the importance of engaging audiences—in short, this new work has it all, beauty and brains.”
Throughout the week-long residency, UNCW planned a number of outreach events to engage thousands of students and members of the community. A conversation with the artists happned on Tuesday, October 22nd, to showcase Karole and Corey’s career, unique artistic vision and creative process. The Cultural Arts coordinated two different opportunities to bring together artists and scientists from the university and community, to explore the potential of art and science collaborations. Also, during Saturday’s dessert reception, the audience will be able to meet with the artists and speak with representatives from organizations that protect and improve our local environment, including Cape Fear River Watch, Surfrider Foundation, UNCW ECO and North Carolina Coastal Federation.
“In addition, nearly 2,000 students from New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties will attend free school performances,” Reilly adds. “UNCW Watson College of Education students have helped to create and implement a performance guide, which directly connects ‘Fables on Global Warming’ to the common core and standards in literature, science and the arts.”
The project makes for an engaging way to reach a broad range of audiences through a multitude of arts and exploration of scientific theories on climate change—“an issue that is important and relevant on a global and local level,” according to Reilly.
Tickets for “Fables on Global Warming” run between $8 and $20. The performance takes place in the in the Kenan Auditorium on the UNCW campus. Saturday’s performance takes place at 8 p.m. and will be followed by a dessert and wine reception with artists and performers.
Karole Armitage’s ‘Fables on Global Warming’
Kenan Auditorium, UNCW campus
October 26th, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $8, students; $20, GA
Box office: 800-732-3643