An Interview with Choreographer and Dancer Cassie Meador, Part II

The Sacredness of What We Share

This is the second part of a two-part interview with Cassie Meador of Dance Exchange. You can read the first part here.

You make me think about the difference in the speed of individuals’ thoughts, including panic about the climate, and the speed of being and acting together. They seem to be two completely different timescales.

This work at the intersection of art and science is about supporting and creating spaces where people can reflect and ask questions, where they can search for answers while being held by the strength of community. We’re not just consuming facts and information, but moving the ideas and deepening the questions as we connect to the range of emotions we experience when we’re facing the realities of the climate crisis.

My kind of shorthand for this has become moving to notice and noticing to move. We’re moving to notice more intimately our relations with all that we share on this planet, and we’re noticing how this moves us towards the individual and collective actions we can take. For me, this is a thru line, and I come back to it when I feel off track, or a sense of unclarity about how I should be contributing.

I was actually wondering if you had any phrases, thoughts, or other sources of energy for when you face a challenge regarding your work. How do you deal with skepticism either from inside or from outside?

I have a son; he’s a year and a half. And because of the pandemic as well, there’s been a stretch of time that has been less about making work. I haven’t made a dance in a while, I mean in a performance project sort of way. I’m just embarking on a new work, and I was thinking, I didn’t feel like leading that alone. All of it is hyper-collaborative and co-created with the individuals and communities we’re working with, but I needed the strength of a larger collaborative team on it. It’s not a direct response to your question, but it has to do with that.

A Moving Field Guides workshop, photographed by Jori Ketten. Cassie Meador started developing Moving Field Guides on the How to Lose a Mountain 500-mile walk, and uses dance to support connection, appreciation, and ultimately stewardship and advocacy for the environment. Initially developed in partnership with the US Forest Service in 2011, Dance Exchange has since led more than 200 Moving Field Guides nationwide.

Would you mind talking a bit more about this new project?

We’re just at the beginnings of Future Fields, a performance project that’s going to cultivate the communal exploration of climate change and agriculture. We’re exploring how food is or could be grown and experienced in a changing world. I’m really excited to be co-leading this project with two other dance-makers: Christina Cantanese and Dr. Jame McCray. In our work together, we’re interested and invested in the ways that dance-making can yield new ways for personal and local experiences to be woven together – the larger stories of how climate change is impacting our lives and shared planet. We all live in different parts of the country, and we want to see the project unfold across these different locations: one urban with Jame, one suburban with myself, and one rural with Christina. We’re looking for ways the outcomes can grow from the relationships that are built and from the individuals and communities we gather at each site. 

Is the diversity of locations due to the virtual landscape of the pandemic? 

It was in place before the pandemic. We’ve always been interested in how creative outcomes would be held and evolved in those sites. Of course, there is this shared lens and research together, and things that are particular to the sites. We’re early in the development, but all of this early investigation is happening online. Without the pandemic, we probably would have leaned more into gathering in those sites and spending more time and shared space together. This shared time is now being pushed in this online direction.

This reminds me of the story you shared of being on tour and feeling disconnected from nature. During the pandemic, how have you been able to find togetherness with the natural environment and togetherness with other people?

This is definitely something many of us are working on right now. I’m trying to figure out how these moments, when we meet behind screens in Zoom boxes, can be about finding a deeper connection to our bodies and ourselves –and that might be about turning away from our screens and heading back outdoors. I work a lot with K-12 educators and they are spending so much of their time with students behind screens. We try to offer them approaches to kinesthetic learning that keep us and our bodies moving.

In terms of the Future Fields projects, so many of us have to adapt to gatherings and conversations taking place online. This spring and summer, we’re going to be working with the American Society for Microbiology to design and host a creative conversation tentatively titled Research Re-imagined. We’re going to make and share art in this online format to propel a conversation about the relevance of soil microbiomes and the ecosystem services they provide in our changing climate. In a way, we don’t have to go to each location where the scientists, farmers, and artists are doing their work. We’ll bring those people together to connect and engage with each other online. They will be invited to explore creative tools and approaches for expanding the way science communication can engage individuals and communities through the arts. There will also be opportunities for small groups to generate ideas to collaborate across disciplines, and to further activate the research by sharing artistic responses to it, not only through dance-making, but through writing and media arts, too. Although we’ll be hosting the event online, people attending will still be invited to move and create alongside one another.

Over years of participatory dance-making, Dance Exchange has pioneered and developed tools for connecting subject matters with movement. I think embodying scientific information allows for a deeper understanding and richer engagement with the content, particularly with a subject like soil microbiome research, which can be challenging to visualize given its microscopic scale and underground location.

I wish we had similar activities in school. It sounds like such a great way to explore, and it is so inviting as well.

This is why I’m not only committed to the creation of performance work, but to working with educators and looking at how dance can support the ways that we’re learning within education systems.

A moment from a Moving Field Guides workshop. Photo by Jori Ketten.

Do you have a climate vision or a dream for the climate?

I might answer this in more than one way. One thing that’s coming to mind at the beginning of this Future Fields project is how we’re listening deeply to our past, present, and potential futures to create this vision. Jame, one of my collaborators on the project, offered this question: How do we become good ancestors, ones who gift future generations vibrant and growing lands and knowledge? One vision I hold is that we’re engaged in answering these questions together. A vision can be something that is tomorrow or it can be something that is far off. It is always in process. I hold a vision where each of us is able to discover and bring our different capacities and strengths, commitment, and love to this challenge.

I see this emerging and happening, and it’s one of the things that strengthens and motivates me. We’re growing our capacities to approach movements and actions about our climate holistically and systemically. I see us deepening the connections and  reciprocity of care needed, while recognizing the sacredness of what we share on our planet.

I’m reflecting on that vision, and I think it’s a lot about how we are in process with one another too. I appreciate your answers. You have given me lots of food for thought. Thank you.

(Top image: Photo of a Moving Field Guides workshop for K-12 educators, by Vinnie and Beth Mwano.)

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Biborka Beres is a senior student at Bennington College in Vermont, studying dance, drama, and philosophy. Her interests and works lie at the intersection of socio-political change and the performing arts. In her interviews for Artists & Climate Change, she is continuing her process of exploring how the arts can create models, practices, and imaginary worlds which allow humans to coexist peacefully with nature and with each other.

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