By Marylee Hardenbergh
The 2020 dance performance, Equinox: Moment of Balance occurred at precisely the same time all over the globe. It took place at the moment of the September Equinox, when the sun crosses the equator, when the length of daylight and the length of nighttime are equal and balanced.
The Sacredness of Embodied Unity
One of our dancers, Liesi Shannon, spoke about her experience of the event, saying it was unforgettable:
“This uniquely beautiful dance performance was one of the most transformative and meaningful events in my life. Our dance was a form of prayer. Our movements embodied sacred rhythms… vibrations of heaven and earth combined with a deep heart energy. Each of us were individual living vessels. dancing simultaneously. We were linked, synchronistically joined in a network of dancers throughout the world. We shared all this: movement rhythms, universal vibrations and heartfelt intention. We embodied this loving energy. We actually became the love itself and offered it in healing waves to our shared planet.”
In addition to creating site-specific dances, I have placed performances on specific dates. Why? To mark the beat, the steady celestial rhythm, counting out the relationship between our earth, our sun, and our moon. Since I choreograph outdoor performances, why not have them occur on special dates: solstice, or equinox or the full moon? This puts us in touch with a steadying influence. We can count on their regular occurrence. Literally, count on them.
This dance took place on September 22, 2020, the Equinox. It was the Autumnal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere and the Vernal Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere.
Time: the Date of the Performance
A big part of my decision to go ahead with the performance was the fact that this year, in 2020, the Equinox fell on the same day. For those in Melbourne, Australia, the moment of Equinox was 11:30 PM, while for those in California, the time was 6:30 AM. September 22nd was to hold all of the time zones for our Moment of Balance. The impetus was too strong not to create a dance. (In the interest of full disclosure… it turned out we had one amazing dancer in New Zealand who performed at 1:30 AM on the 23rd.)
Time: the Length of the Performance
The date also influenced the length of performance. The year was 2020 and the Equinox fell on the 22nd of the month, and the dance reflected this by its length: 2 minutes and 20 seconds, precisely. Coincidentally, the number of seconds in two minutes and 20 seconds turns out to be 140 seconds, which easily divides into seven sections of 20 seconds each. Seven is considered a sacred number; it is the number of days that God took to create the world. There are also seven colors on the spectrum rainbow. Choreographically, the number seven also mirrors the balance of the Equinox: it has a balanced middle section (section four) with three sections on each side of it. This central section is where the most important movement theme of the dance was placed, where each dancer scattered her seeds of balance and harmony.
The meanings of the dance movements portray balancing dualities: the up and down directions, right and left, gathering and scattering, going full circle.
The seven sections were: ● standing in place and settling;● bringing earth energy up from the ground;● gathering in from all sides;● sowing each dancer’s own seeds of balance, goodness, and harmony;● spreading the seeds around the world;● holding the globe;● and bringing the stars back down to the earth, Gaia.
I was encouraged to come up with a story for the sequence. Once upon a time, there was a young woman who grew up, taking her nourishment from the earth. When she grew tall, she became able to see both sides, and to gather data from both sides, and to bring those into harmony. She created her own collection of wisdom and a plethora of “seeds of balance” that she scattered with love out to the world. She made sure that these seeds went to all corners of the earth by circling around the world. Then she held the whole globe and treasured it. Finally, she reached up to bring the nourishing energy of the stars down to Mother Earth.
The theme and the choreography was a team effort.
Over the years I have learned that dances that are large in scope and in number of participants necessitate a team. I first contacted Catherine Baumgartner, with whom I have worked for over 30 years and who is now a Project Director for organizations. She enthusiastically endorsed the idea and we set about gathering the team. The Advisory Committee contained a balance of three Dance Therapists from the Western and Northern Hemispheres (Sarah Campbell Arnett, Susan Kierr, and Sue Orkand in the USA), and three Dance Therapists from the Southern and Eastern Hemispheres (Maria Sangiorgi and Tricia Lee in Australia and Connor Kelly in Guam). This was a serendipitous event! Professor of Dance, Beckah Reed, joined us occasionally. Our group met virtually, and together we decided on the theme of the moves and length of music. The group was so willing and creative. Each woman came up with a movement that had emerged from their body and signified balance. We recorded these moves on our Zoom call, then Catherine and I created the final choreography based on these recorded movements.
Dancers were invited to participate via an event page on Facebook. When Global Water Dances’ Artistic Director Vannia Ibarguen asked if they could be partners, the Sacred Dance Guild’s President Wendy Morrell also signed on as a partner, and both advertised the dance to their groups. The result was that there were 99 dancers involved around the globe.
Participants came from Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Guam, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, the Northern Mariana Islands, Peru, the Philippines, Portugal, Switzerland, Scotland, Thailand, and the USA. Since dancers were participating in many parts of the world, the “net” of connecting dancers created a strong container, shaped like a web or a plexus.
Sacred Dance Guild members, teachers and board members from Australia. Maria Sangiuorgi danced in Melbourne at 11:30 PM Tricia mary Lee danced in Western Australia at 9:30 PM.
The music, precisely 2 minutes and 20 seconds as we said, was specially created for the dance by Morgan Schoonover and Nathan Gebhard.
Morgan is a sound artist living in Minneapolis. Taking root in socially engaged art, Morgan’s pieces are invitations to listen to the “unheard” of our every day. She creates participatory creative systems as a way of fostering connection and challenging the notion that art comes from a singular “genius.”
Nathan Gebhard is a dancer, actor, musician, composer, videographer, and editor living in New York City. We have created videos together for over five years. We worked closely on two Minnesota State Arts Board grants, with Nathan creating the storyboards for films of my dances River Body and Confluence.
Morgan created the foundational aspect of the music, with seven different chords played for 20 seconds to mark the seven sections. Nathan built upon this base, orchestrating the music to reflect the movements of each section.
Connecting with the Dancers
Catherine Baumgartner, the longtime colleague of mine who served as our Project Manager writes this about bringing the dancers together:
“In the weeks leading up to the Equinox, we held a series of optional Zoom calls during which we reviewed the logistics and technical specifics for the performance and practiced the movements. These served as a way for participants to meet other performers and discover some of the locations represented in the group.
On the day of the event, a half-hour prior to the performance, the full group of dancers called in to a conference line that we used to coordinate the start time and broadcast the music. This is something I have done for several simultaneous multi-site performances, and it is always delightful to hear the check-ins from around the world: “This is Ioanna from Greece…..This is Pat from Ontario….This is Alba from Brazil.” As people introduce themselves, each site becomes known as a coordinate in this planet-scale moment we are creating together.
For the performance itself, the music is played over the conference call as a way to ensure genuine simultaneity. Each dancer records their own video, which is later shared with the project team for incorporation in the produced video. After the music ends, there are a few moments of silence, and then the dancers are unmuted and there’s an eruption of joy: “Yay!…. We did it!…..That was beautiful!””
The Final Video and Slideshow
Choreographing and directing simultaneous dancers who are thousands of miles apart is ephemeral, and capturing and preserving the essence of such a dance is an art form in and of itself. It can be a challenge to find a medium that captures the story the dance is telling along with the performance moment. With the film, we aimed to tell the story and to evoke the feeling of the dance performance.
The slideshow is another way that we recorded the experience and gathered the images of the dancers. It is set to the song “Yes” by talented Minnesotan singer-songwriter, Barbara McAfee (www.barbaramcafee.com).
Making the Final Film
Nathan had agreed to create the final video of the dance early on in the planning. Producing the film’s sound was a real team effort. Morgan Schoonover suggested adding the spoken voice, and asking the dancers to send us words. Catherine Baumgartner devised an online method to collect the words; we created a sentence stem and asked all the dancers to complete this sentence: “When we dance together, we…”
And here is the poem:
Dance is a prayer
Into the far corners of the earth
We let our feet dream
Bringing our hearts closer with a common rhythm
We dance in the “In-Between”: of dark and light, night and day.
One deep, deep breath
And the dance moment comes to rest…
We sent this poem to some of our dancers and asked them to make a sound recording in their native tongue. Deep gratitude to Antinea Jimena (Spanish), Belkiss Amorim (Portuguese), CJ Domasig (Tagalog), Ioanna Kotiva (Greek), Juni Endo (Japanese), Mary Kamp (English), and Orit Sonia Waisman(Hebrew) for reading the poem, and also for translating a few lines (such as “Dance is a prayer”) into their own language.
Morgan wove these speakers’ voices into sound art, saying
“It was important to me to echo the participatory process of the dance through sound. Using the words and voices of the dancers seemed to be a powerful way to draw that connection. I remember being inspired by the different cadences and timbres of each dancer’s voice, particularly the way dancers would occasionally match up with one another. Ultimately, the edited piece moves between celebrating the separations and unities of this particular momentous dancing community through solos and a chorus. The final sound piece is of course composed, but its connective nature was already present in the raw material.”
Embodied Unity and Threads of Dance
Overall, it was such a lovely experience to feel embodied unity with almost 100 dancers at one exact moment all together. There are three aspects of the dance that feel like separate threads, braided together to create the final product. One is the actual dance itself. These are the bodies moving, creating unison choreography; this is ephemeral and has almost a feng shui quality to it. It is a moment in time that arrives, is fulfilled, and then passes away. Another thread is the ensuing reaction from all the dancers. This thread holds a sense of celebration and reflection on the meaning of the dance, which sometimes comes after the performance. The third thread is, for me, a big question: how do you portray simultaneity? And perhaps more importantly, how do you create a film that portrays all of the dancers, where they were in the world, and their movements? I have shown two versions of videos resulting from the performance: one is the slideshow and the other the final film. I am grateful to the Sacred Dance Guild journal for offering me this opportunity to write about this experience.
Marylee Hardenbergh is a Board Member of the Sacred Dance Guild and founding Steering Committee Member of the Global Water Dances.https://globalwaterdances.org She is a site-specific choreographer who teaches community-based performance internationally. She has been the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards for her choreography. She practiced as a board-certified dance movement therapist for over 40 years. As a Laban Movement Certified Analyst, she has taught and directed Movement Choirs using her love of Space Harmony.