First launched in 2011, the evocatively titled Global Water Dances was a biennial world event hatched by movement specialists at a 2008 conference in England. The idea was to involve choreographers, dancers and community organizations around the world in an effort to focus attention through artistic expression on the critical need for safe drinking water.
This weekend, Global Water Dances Cincinnati joins the party as one of 64 participating locations, all of which share the goal of coordinating their efforts. At the start of Cincinnati’s 45-minute piece, the project’s artistic director/lead choreographer, Fanchon Shur, has assembled dancers who will float hand-painted silk scarves as they cascade down the stairs of the Serpentine Wall at Sawyer Point. During the event, nearly 30 dancers perform in various groupings and one solo. Also featured is a live World music score with live percussion and chorus arranged by composer/music director Shari Lauter (who also designed the scarves).
The free event takes place in conjunction with Paddlefest/Pedalfest 2013 on Saturday, just as some 2,000 canoes and kayaks paddle by on the Ohio River, providing a moving backdrop along a waterway that’s been called the living heart of the history of Cincinnati.
Shur and Lauter promise an intriguing combination of dance (with additional choreography from local favorites Heather Britt, Diana Ford, Diane Germaine and Ka-Ron Brown Lehman), music and spectacle in four parts, including the aforementioned dramatic introductory processional. In one section of movement and music to be broadcast at globalwaterdances.org, contributing choreographers were instructed to follow a kind of storyline of water, using movement ideas like swimming, or being without water (as in a drought), or receiving gushing water from a deep source.
Officially, the overarching form of dance employed is a “movement choir,” wherein large numbers of people move in some choreographed manner, explains Shur, who has drawn on the work of Rudolf Laban (1879-1958) the noted modern dance artist and theorist who laid the foundation for movement study.
He developed his exploration of the choirs in Ascona, Switzerland in the early 1910s. By 1924, there were 12 registered movement choirs throughout Europe, particularly in Germany. The tradition spread and his student Irmgard Bartenieff brought it to the United States. Today it still exists. Contemporary choirs relate to the roots of the movement, but also to contemporary society and its issues.
“You can tap deep places communicatively and work together in a harmonious way if people use the shared language of dance,” says Shur, who has enthusiastically been putting the project together for months.
Although Shur says the skill levels of the Global Water Dances Cincinnati performers vary widely, in her choreography she’s worked to create a sense of drama, mystery and tremendous detail within the dancers’ technical limits by using the hand-painted scarves as part of their bodies.
“Laban’s method dictates that effort is sourced in the center of the body and moves to the periphery,” she adds. “Each dancer is defined by the quality of the way they exert themselves in space. It’s a strong, gravity-based style of movement that allows for improvisation within a structure.”
Lauter says she loves water, and has already created two works funded by the City of Cincinnati which feature the Ohio River. “I actually came from a family of boaters,” Lauter says. “Growing up, every weekend since before I could walk or talk, we were on the river. It’s such an integrated part of me.”
Her music for Global Water Dances employs musicians and singers and a multitude of instruments like the doumbek, djembe, djun djun and congas (all drums), plus African agogo bells and shakeres, Latin cowbells, orchestral flutes, rainsticks, and maracas.
Perhaps the most intriguing instrument is the guiro, a water drum assembled from gourds. During the conclusion of the work, dancers with bowls will collect river water from a kayaker and then pour it into the guiro, which is struck with padded mallets. “It makes a gorgeous, round and beautiful percussion sound,” Lauter says. “It’s just so significant, because without water, it could not be played, and that’s the underlying implication of the entire event, that we cannot survive without safe drinking water.”
GLOBAL WATER DANCES takes place in conjunction with Paddlefest at 10 a.m. Saturday at The Serpentine Wall at Sawyer Point. More info: globalwaterdances.org/location/cincinnati.shtml.