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Dance and the Environment

Off the Cuff with Betty Salamun of DanceCircus

Apr. 2, 2014
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Betty Salamun founded DanceCircus 40 years ago to fill a void in dance in Milwaukee. Her choreography is deeply concerned with nature and the environment. It’s the subject of her upcoming show Surface Tension, a five-part program inspired by the sheer beauty of water. Surface Tension uses various media including painted sails by visual artist Melanie Ariens that mimic the colors and waves of the Great Lakes, the surface tension of vibrating instruments by composer Mark Mantel, and poems that allude to the healing properties of water. Salamun spoke with Off the Cuff about the show and the evolution of her work.


Would you talk about the metaphor of surface tension?

Surface tension is a scientific phenomenon. Still water has enough tension so that the molecules will be able to float things on the surface, little things like water bugs, feathers and seeds. It actually gets more viscous the more pollution there is, so surface tension can also support oil. It’s not just a metaphor for pristine water, but also for what else affects and causes surface tension. It’s about the beauty of the water and what happens if we misuse it.


A lot of your work with DanceCircus has been interdisciplinary. Why?

When I started collaborating with other artists, it was with other choreographers. I found that I wanted another relationship going on. I started moving towards “talk dance” where I would work with writers and poets, and I began writing my own stuff. Then I wanted costumes that reflected stuff, so I started working with visual artists. Then I started working with composers, and I enjoyed that kind of interaction. Gradually I started working less and less with other choreographers, and more with artists of other disciplines. It’s just been really fun to have other people and resources feed the process. It really transforms the choreography.


You’ve been choreographing since the 1970s. How has your work evolved?

Evolution is a natural progression for any artist. I think what’s interesting is that the through-line of the environment has been so constant in my work. Some of my first works were based on environmental issues. It’s been this interchange of pushing the envelope regarding what environment means and what art means, and bringing the two together. It’s been interesting to switch focus between the sheer beauty of the environment and the issues and the problems, asking people to think about that. It’s not just about the issues and the angst, but also about how our natural environment inspires us, how it’s beautiful, how it refreshes us and how we need it. Art does the same things.


Surface Tension will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 12, and at 3:30 and 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 13, at Danceworks Studio Theatre, 1661 N. Water St. Tickets are $15 general admission, $20 premium reserved and $10 student/senior/artists. Call 414-277-8151 or visit dancecircus.org.


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