Making Climate Change Personal in On the Nature of Things

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A female dancer posing before a background showing a polar in a snowy Arctic environment.
Dancer Emily Wagner rehearses in front of the polar bear diorama in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life.
© J. Cervantes

Later this month, the award-winning Armitage Gone! Dance Company, led by founder and Artistic Director Karole Armitage, will premiere their piece On the Nature of Things in the Museum’s Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. The dance, accompanied by narration written and performed by biologist Paul Ehrlich, was inspired by Dr. Ehrlich’s writings on climate change and created specifically for the hall, incorporating iconic exhibits like the polar bear diorama.

The result is a one-of-a-kind performance that explores the issue of climate change—and the loss of biodiversity that accompanies it—in a cultural context to illuminate the complex relationship between mankind and the natural world.

“It’s really talking about how a change of consciousness is necessary for humans to adapt to what is happening,” says Armitage. “It’s a meditative essay, scientifically and also artistically.”

Just as researchers turn to the Museum’s world-class collections to answer and spark scientific questions, artists find inspiration in the Museum’s exhibits and halls. With a topic like climate change, which can sometimes feel too large and sweeping for one person to approach head-on, framing the conversation within a work of art can help make it more relatable, says Curator Rob DeSalle, who worked with Armitage to bring the piece to the Museum. 

“Art is a wonderful medium to attract people to science,” says Dr. DeSalle. “And it’s important to have that different perspective. A piece like this can really help to personalize issues like climate change.”

A woman wearing a dance leotard, in an exaggerated pose with arms and legs spread wide. She is surrounded by models of fish and dolphins.
Megumi Eda rehearses  before this month’s premiere.
© J. Cervantes

Making climate change personal is also at the heart of Dr. Ehrlich’s narration, which he will be performing live. It’s a powerful call to action, says DeSalle.

“Ehrlich’s writing in this piece is quite emotional, in contrast to much of his work,” says DeSalle. “It carries a strong message that we’re losing our biodiversity, and we need to get emotional about that.”

While On the Nature of Things addresses serious and urgent issues, Armitage sees the piece as a hopeful one—focused not on the problems that climate change presents but how each of us can help to address them. 

“The most important thing to take away from this production is that change is possible,” she says. “It’s just about changing your mind. And we can do that so easily. And we really have to.”

Hear more from Karole Armitage and Rob DeSalle about the inspiration for On the Nature of Things

On the Nature of Things runs three nights only, from Wednesday March 25 to Friday, March 27. Tickets are available here.