On a sleepy December afternoon in the small Irish town of Cloughjordan, diners at Middle Country Café seem at once bewitched and bewildered to find their winter salads being tossed by a troupe of dancers. It’s the concluding part of Instant Dissidence’s year-long dance and food activism project As If Trying Not To Own The Earth. Punters gamely choose their ‘preparation method’ (a song to soundtrack their salad’s assembly) from a selection of pot-luck options, and are served the same seasonal dish via dances of sometimes wildly different flavours.
To the screeching guitars of Warrant’s Cherry Pie, Gerard Headley and Diogo Santos eyeball each other from either side of the preparation station. There’s all the tension of a high-stakes poker game as Thilde Andreasen deals out steel mixing bowls for them to tussle over before their contents are disgorged, one by one, into a serving dish. Santos dings the service bell to indicate that the salad is ready – and to signal his victory.
The opening bars of Purcell’s Food of Love introduce a prone Andreasen, who mouths the words while Headley and Santos arrange her limbs to balance the bowls in poses that are variously yogic, Egyptian and Greek. The three remaining ‘flavours’ are dynamic variations on a cocktail-shaking theme. With lifts here and arabesques there, bowls fly behind backs, over heads, under legs, the dancers flinging them around with the assuredness and abandon of seasoned mixologists.
It’s all delightfully deft and deliciously daft but, as the latest in a series of responses to the climate crisis, it’s also designed to get people talking and thinking about eating sustainably.
‘In the process of this kind of interaction… people will come in and say ‘why are you doing this?!’ People will start talking to you about it because they always do… and it’s fun – like, who moves forward with something if they think it’s painful? Now, if they think it could be interesting, people do move forward, I think’, says artistic director, Rita Marcalo.
Marcalo’s climate ‘artivism’ began in 2018 following the IPCC’s dire warning that countries would have to radically cut their carbon emissions before 2030 to avoid dramatically increased risks to life-sustaining ecosystems and human populations by mid-century – a message (over)simplified in media to: ‘12 years to save the planet’.
‘I made a pledge that over the next twelve years I would create twelve works, each holding a mirror up to our civilisation and reflecting the way in which humanity is addressing – or not addressing – this warning.’
In spite of Covid restrictions, she has made good on her promise with yearly work that has tackled the climate issue – head-on at first, but as her attitude changed, so did her approach.
‘I’m trying to just keep this sense of listening to the world and really responding to what’s happening – not being too fixed in what I want to do.’
In 2018, Extinction Rebellion caught Marcalo’s attention and the piece that followed – The Rebellion – included protests in its rehearsal process and Imagination Cafés in its post-show discussions, where audience members were invited to share their visions of a greener future.
‘It’s interesting when I look back now because, at the time, I still thought that Extinction Rebellion was going to make a difference and governments were going to respond and that systems would start to change. And some of that did happen but the work that I’m making now is much less hopeful and is more about – ok, so if everything is gonna break down, what are the things that we need to model?’
That modelling began when Covid hit and made one potential future scenario a present day reality – because a warmer world is one that is more susceptible to pandemics.
‘I had to ask questions around, how do I make work remotely? So that first year of lockdown, I commissioned dancers to make work from their homes because that’s what everybody was doing! Nobody could go anywhere.’