“Elemental Journey: Air, Land, Water” is a collaboration by choreographer and artistic director Josée Garant and composer Harold Meltzer, a five-piece tapestry of movement and music through the topography of our own South Florida that also includes the talents of the Amernet String Quartet; the poetry of Mia Leonin; and video/new media by artist Jacek Kolasinski.
The Amernet String Quarter was founded in 1991 while the artists were still at Julliard. They have since played all over the world and have enjoyed residencies at several universities and institutions. Since 2004, they have enjoyed the appointment of Ensemble-in-Residence at Florida International University (FIU).
Poet Mia Leonin has authored two books of poetry with Anhinga Press and has been honored with various awards and nominations, including the Academy of American Poets Prize. She has been writing about the performing arts and dance in Miami since 2000 — including for Artburst — and is a full time creative writing instructor at the University of Miami.
New-Media Artist Jacek Kolasinski is assistant professor of visual arts in the Art and Art History Department at FIU. A native of Poland and former student at the University in Krakow, Kolasinski’s work encompasses complex installations in international venues and site-specific works using single- and multiple-video channel projections. This current collaboration is just one of a growing number of large interdisciplinary projects and his work has been presented in recent exhibits at the Frost Museum of Art and live-interactive work at The Colony Theatre.
Composer Harold Meltzer co-directs the ensemble Sequitur and teaches composition at Vassar College. His many honors and recognition include 2009 Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the 2008 Barlow Prize. Meltzer’s work has been commissioned and premiered in world-renowned music institutions and performance houses.
Artistic Director and Founder Josée Garant has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as a modern dancer, choreographer, and faculty at such prestigious institutions as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. She currently teaches at New World School of the Arts and at Harid Conservatory. In 2009 she founded Josée Garant Dance Inc. with David Dacquisto. The company set out to educate, increase awareness, and advance contemporary dance through its performances, collaborations, and education programs.
This latest offering, on Feb. 11 and 12, incorporates the multi-format creations of the artists already mentioned to bring “together the experience of nature and its fragility in the urban world.” The performance explores South Florida’s natural elements like the sounds and movements of birds in the air; the speed and unpredictable rhythms of lizards; the life of the mangroves from seedling to interwoven growth; the tempestuous but sometimes tranquil waters; and the life-sustaining coral reefs and oceans beyond.
In between teaching class, rehearsing, and driving from one end of Miami-Dade to the farthest reaches of Broward, Garant shared her inspirations for the source material:
Q: What inspired you to create this work about our specific ecosystem in South Florida?
A:“The dichotomy between the lusciousness of the tropics with the harshness of the concrete and fast pace of an urban city like Miami was very peculiar to me when I first moved here. I became very concerned about the fragility of nature and about how urbanization affected it. I started to wonder about human beings and how, too, we get affected not only with urbanization but also with the natural environment.”
Garant’s work is a self-described interpretation of our natural environment and her inspiration was her everyday experience as a South Floridian with moments of appreciation for birdsong; the open vastness and stillness of the Everglades; the whimsical speed races of lizards as she drank her morning coffee; and her many kayak trips through our mangroves. But also amid her reverence for this natural world is her concern with the urban spread and the decay and destruction of our vital reefs, their ecosystems, and their natural protection to our shores. Her desire to share this concern is evident in her next response:
Q:What would you like the audience to appreciate about the source material?
A:“First I would like to create awareness. I am certainly not against urbanization but we need to be aware about its impact on life. I would like to create a refreshed awareness of the beauty of both rural and urban environments. … This concert is really a humble personal impression of the beauty of both. With Elemental Journey, I am not trying to make any big statement — it is simply a poetic journey that I hope the audience will find refuge in.
“I also wish the audience to appreciate how contemporary art can bring different aesthetics to a subject matter such as nature. I grew up in a family where contemporary music and visual art were predominant. We were a very active family culturally.”
And in terms of her multi-format approach and collaborations with the artists involved, Garant says she loves “ the richness of experience that a multi-faceted performance can provide to an audience member. One can always find something that touches them. I like that all collaborators bring their own voices on the subject and that each can hone their own place in the concert. I find exchanging ideas with other artists important. For me, it is a means to reconsider and question other facets of my work.”
Elemental Journey: Air, Land, Water may paint a visceral canvas that will resonate with local audiences that share a daily familiarity with our environment. South Florida is a community of nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts as much as it is a community of developers and architectural visionaries. As audience members maybe we can partake in Garant’s vision to allow a newfound appreciation for what has always been here to make sure it will always be here — while at the same time explore this appreciation through the malleable and transcendent medium of dance and the arts.
Josée Garant Dance presented the world premiere of “Elemental Journey: Air, Land, Water,” at The Colony Theatre,1040 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, on February 11.
This article first appeared in the Miami Sun Post.