Velocity Dance Center is working to make the 2015 Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation the world’s first carbon-neutral dance festival. The incredible lightning talk given by Kidd Pivot dancer and SFDI 2014 faculty member Eric Beauchesne inspired this goal. Read the transcript of the speech below.
The SFDI Lighting Talks are part of an annual conversation series curated by Tonya Lockyer.
We bend our knees, we stretch our feet, we run, cast our limbs and jump in hope of winning over gravity.For as long as we remember, humans have dreamed of flying, have invented techniques and tools in order to take off.
For centuries, dancers have also been part of this quest and some of us have obviously reached remarkable altitudes, seeming to even spend more time in the air than on the ground, provoking gasp and admiration.
Starting ballet at 18, I quickly understood that creating the illusion of lightness was central in being a successful dancer and so I worked tirelessly on entrelaçés, entrechats six, saut de basque, and double tours en l’air. Years of training passed, countless masters coached me, but sadly I was never able bring anybody to tears with the ethereal nature of my dancing. Yet, I was finding myself spending more and more time in the air, busy becoming a traveling artist.
My name is Eric Beauchesne; I am a Canadian dance artist. I am a member of Kidd Pivot, a Vancouver-based dance company directed by choreographer Crystal Pite.The title of my Lighting Talk is “Beyond the ephemeral nature of dance”. I would like to discuss the positive impact dance artists can have in the fight against climate change.
Now don’t worry, you will not want to drown yourself in a tar sand pit after this. My talk is not aiming at reminding us that we are facing a climate crisis and that our addiction to fossil fuel is the primary cause. The reality is we all know this and are reminded daily of the urgency of the situation. Instead, I would like to share an event that has inspired me deeply.
So here I am, a few years ago, going on a short tour to Tokyo. And when I say short, I mean it. I left Montreal on a Monday and came back on Friday, the same week, spending literally as much time in the air as on ground, to dance a 13-minute duet.
Now don’t take me wrong, I enjoyed every second spent in Tokyo and took delight in performing in that wonderful country. But as the week progressed, a sense of dissonance kept growing in me and the same thought kept popping into my head: “In the context of the climate crisis, to keep going this way is simply unsustainable.”
Being someone who has spent the first part of his life fishing and hunting in the beautiful marshes of Québec, it is no surprise that environmental issues have been part of my interests. I remember becoming silently angry with fishermen who would not respect their catch and outraged with contractors who would destroy wetlands to build houses. And so when climate change became a public issue, I naturally and quickly got concerned. Yet I remained silent. If fact, I’d say I remained silent for the first 35 years of my life, convinced somehow that I didn’t have much power to change anything.
It was during my trip to Tokyo that I hit a wall.
For years, I had convinced myself that becoming an artist had made me a more open minded, forward thinking and progressive person. I was congratulating myself for being a member of Greenpeace, for using a Klean Kanteen water bottle, and for buying organic food. The reality was, the very fundamentals of my dance career were and are still based on traveling to perform and teach, which means flying around the globe according to where I am needed. Which also means releasing tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Just to give you an idea of the kind of impact I am talking about:
CO2 emission per capita in non-industrialized countries in 2011: 3 Tons *
CO2 emission per capita in the US in 2011: 17 Tons *
CO2 emission per Kidd Pivot dancer in 2011: 26 Tons **
My trip to Tokyo: 7 Tons **
In other words, my 13-minute duet emitted more than twice the average emission of someone living in a non-industrialized country.
My Tokyo epiphany was so strong that for a while I considered quitting my dream job in order to stop extensively pouring CO2 in the atmosphere. I was rejecting more and more that the art form I had fallen in love with at 18 was creating dramatic and lasting effects, not only on the generations to come, but also on all living beings. I thought: “This is going exactly against the very nature of dance, which is to be ephemeral.”
Yet like most of us, I had to pay the bills and survive financially. So I kept traveling with a growing inner conflict, in search for ways to change the how we operate.
So I started thinking and reading about carbon mitigation. After discovering ways to reduce my personal carbon footprint, and realizing that it would take years to change the way dance companies plan their tours, I decided to investigate the field of carbon neutrality and carbon offsetting.
For those not familiar with carbon neutrality, we could simplify it by saying that one pays someone to remove the equivalent of CO2 being emitted by a specific activity. If your flight emits 1 ton of CO2, then 1 ton of CO2 has to be removed from the atmosphere somehow. The most common project type is renewable energy; such as wind farms, biomass energy, or hydroelectric dams. Other types include energy efficiency projects, the destruction of landfill methane, and forestry projects.
Reading and digging made me more and more curious and I slowly got interested in knowing what the next Kidd Pivot tour impact would be and how much it would cost to offset it.
Well a few weeks later, Crystal Pite and I found ourselves meeting one of the most respected offsetting companies in Canada. In less than an hour, not only were we getting to know the impact of our coming tour, but we came out with a sponsorship in the form of a full offset of the 138 tons of CO2 which was going to be emitted by the transportation of the company members and material.
You won’t be surprised to hear that I came out from that meeting completely thrilled to have initiated what was going to be, most likely, the first carbon neutral tour of a dance company. I was also dazzled by the fact that it had been fairly easy and, even more, that this could have happened years before.
Now make no mistake, carbon offsetting is not the ultimate solution. Reducing dramatically our addiction to fossil energy needs to happen and will remain the ultimate goal in order to tackle the crisis we are facing. But this first little success naturally boosted my enthusiasm, confidence and appetite to get more involved and raise awareness about this important topic.
I started to think: “What if I start asking people who invite me to teach to compensate for the carbon emissions emitted by my visit?” And again, even though I was afraid they would refuse or cancel the invitation, all organizations, without exception, have not only accepted to cover the extra cost but they have congratulated me for being one of their first carbon neutral guests. And so I would like to say, congratulations Velocity for having been so supportive from the very beginning of our conversation and for buying the carbon credits necessary to offset my trip.
Overall, this experience has made me convinced of two things:
First: I don’t need to wait another 35 years to get involved.
Second: If a small-scale artist like me can make a difference, everybody can.
It also made me realize something: The way we do business is clearly unsustainable and whether we like it or not we will have to move away from this model. The question is: are we going to wait or be pro-active about it? I certainly believe that the sooner we find ways to reduce our impact, the better we’ll survive the transition that our economy will go through soon.
If dance organizations have built themselves and survived on miniature, tiny, microscopic budgets, it is because they are grassroots-based, highly creative, and gather deeply motivated people. I do believe these are the core ingredients that will enable dance organizations and dance artists to tackle this problem, transform the way we operate, and bring our art form back to its basic nature, which is to be ephemeral.
Offsetters is the Canadian offsetting company which sponsored the complete carbon offset of the Kidd Pivot Tour, mentioned by Beauchesne in his speech. They are “Canada’s leading provider of sustainability and carbon-management solutions”, helping organizations and individuals understand, reduce, and offset their environmental impacts.
Interested in what you can do to join Velocity in lessening your environmental impact? After reducing carbon emissions and environmental burdens, carbon offsetting is the best option. Beauchesne offers these resources for carbon offsets that are permanent, additional, traceable and verified by a third party.
* Source: International Energy Agency – CO2 Emissions from fuel combustion – 2013.
** Estimated carbon emissions which includes flight + transportation of set.