SKAMATO is a new ska-influenced work with choreography by Michele Brangwen and music by Tim Hagans celebrating the non-GMO tomato. SKAMATO is the first movement of UNSANTO, a new work from the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble about changes to the food we eat. See the New York premiere of SKAMATO at the Mark Morris Dance Center on Saturday October 24 at 5 p.m. Performed by Roberta Cortes, Robin Gilbert, Brit Wallis & Michele Brangwen, dancers; Tim Hagans, trumpet; Seth Paynter, saxophone; Thomas Helton, Sousaphone & double bass, and Joe Hertenstein, drums.
I don’t think it’s strange or unwarranted when intelligent people, active and interested in life, respond to a comment from me about GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) with a roll of their eyes, or just enough silence for the forthcoming non sequitur to not drop like a conversational stone. There is so much going on in the world that demands more than a fair share of our attention and worry: issues with violence, war, healthcare, education. Now we are expected to address demons in the simple and restorative act of buying groceries and stocking the kitchen.
When I say I’m doing a dance about GMO’s, it seems like an even more obtuse concept. The problem of the prevalence of GMO’s in our food supply is no doubt a scientific and global one, but I feel that at the same time, it’s an intensely personal and poetic affront to who we are as individuals and as a society. Therein lies the conundrum. It’s almost too difficult to contemplate the subject and its ramifications. When the food supply becomes corrupted it not only impacts our physical health, it also has the potential to interfere with our senses, emotions and memories.
If you aren’t sure what the problems are that are caused by GMO’s, let me try to briefly explain. A GMO has a twin monster sibling that goes everywhere it goes. It’s not just a question of GMO crops being cultivated to enable the use of stronger pesticides – like Monsanto’s widely used Roundup which has just been declared carcinogenic – the pesticides are also within the plant itself. Seeds laced with Neonicotinoid, which is a pesticide that permeates the plant as it grows are now commonly used in agriculture. This is what is killing the bees. It has been found in Gerber baby food and is suspected of causing a host of health issues in humans including Autism. Efforts to ban Neonicotinoid in the United States have failed.
Even GMO’s not sent to your supermarket for consumption cause disastrous results in our food supply. Most of corn raised in the US is GMO corn and it goes not to feed people, but acts as a government subsidized source of cattle feed and high fructose corn syrup. The price of corn is so devalued by the GMO seeds that farmers are forced to plant only those seeds and to accept a subsidy. Corn-fed cattle require being fed anti-biotics, which leads to complications when humans consume the meat, and we know what HFCS does to people’s metabolisms.
I have spent quite a bit of time as a choreographer trying to make work that journeys through difficult subject matter. I have set myself the task often of creating a narrative that can generate an emotional arc. When I think about food, I think about its ability to provide not only comfort and sustenance, but a connectedness to the world around us. When I am upset, I like to cook. The smell of vegetables and herbs simmering reminds me of everything good, and I am profoundly interested in how people feel about the food they eat. From childhood, we have memories of food: the tastes, the smells, the associations and the memories they trigger.
So I decided to approach the subject matter of a work about GMO’s from the perspective of joy and humor. When we stand against GMO’s we are defending something that is a powerful force of nature. After all, it may well be our vitality and own life force, our sheer elation at being in a world that has such magnificent things as tomatoes, that will enable us to stop the destruction of the food we eat. I approached SKAMATO with the idea that the hope for the future is in the joy to be found now.
See the New York premiere of SKAMATO at the Mark Morris Dance Center on Saturday October 24 at 5 p.m. Free. The program also includes a performance of RAIN GIRL with choreography & text by Michele Brangwen and music by Tim Hagans, and SURROUND SOUND, new music by Rufus Reid performed by Thomas Helton and James Ilgenfritz, double bass. Performance is followed by a reception in the lobby.
More info at www.brangwendance.org
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