Breaking the Ice

Sperling's cape, made of white silk, is meant to mimic a patch of floating ice.

Climate change research. A U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker ship. A journey to the Arctic. And…a choreographer?

If you’re thinking one of these does not belong, think again. Earlier this summer, choreographer Jody Sperling completed a six-week journey to the Arctic aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy. She was the ship’s first choreographer-in-residence, researching and creating movement for a new piece, Ice Melt, that she hopes to premiere in early 2015.

Sperling, who creates contemporary work in the idiom of Loie Fuller (known for her pioneering techniques in theatrical lighting and fabric) doesn’t really see the jump from Fuller to the Arctic as much of a stretch. “I’d been interested in doing a piece about the Arctic,” she says, “and white silk, one of my main tools, is a perfect vehicle for expressing sea ice—a white, flexible, dynamic surface.” But there were, Sperling admits, a few “dropped jaws” among the Coast Guard when she was first invited aboard the Healy by one of the ship’s primary investigators, whom Sperling had consulted when researching Ice Melt in its early stages.

While aboard the ship, Sperling—who is collaborating with a projectionist for this piece—focused on gathering images, videos and sound recordings of sea ice, particularly noting its texture and biology. She commandeered the ship’s helicopter hangar as her studio and used a blue tarp as her portable dance floor.

Now that she’s back and focused on translating her material to her own company, Time Lapse Dance, Sperling hopes to include discussions on climate science and local impacts of climate change with performances of the finished piece. “I’ve always been concerned about climate change,” she says. “Making this piece is a way for me to align my principles with my aesthetics.”


Photos by Pierre Coupel, courtesy of Sperling

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