Ingrid Tranum Velásquez expresses Tekeraoi am Mananga!

Ingrid: I want the audience to engage in the piece physically—to add their movement, exhaustion, and progression to the work. I think when you have to understand issues that are very difficult to comprehend or cope with, movement can bring you closer to the matter. Therefore, I wanted to create a frame where the audience could make their movement part of the piece instead of sitting still and watch and try to embrace it all intellectually. Press photo from Ingrid Tranum Velásquez ‘Tekeraoi am Mananga!’ sight specific performance by photographer Per Morten Abrahamsen

Performance

Ingrid Tranum Velásquez expresses Tekeraoi am Mananga!

Speaking with Ingrid Tranum Velásquez and Pelenise Alofa about their performance Tekeraoi am Mananga! or Good luck on your journey!

by Ingrid Tranum Velásquez, Pelenise Alofa & J.Scott Stratton

What if the land that you stood on was potentially going to be gone in your lifetime? What if the country where you have your home, your life, and your livelihood simply ceased to exist—leaving you without a nation? These questions are what Danish artist and choreographer Ingrid Tranum Velásquez has worked to unveil in Tekeraoi am Mananga! In the Kiribati language, from the small sinking Pacific island of the same name, it means Good luck on your journey!

Without getting overly political, one could say that Kitt Johnson is a woman that has spent her time well. Over the last three decades, she has broken through the gender imbalance within the industry. Time and time again she has produced noteworthy choreographic works through her dance company X-act.

Now usually, I try to avoid taking a very heavy stance on political matters in my writing. However, I don’t believe that climate change at its core is a political matter. It’s merely an inevitable truth. Engaging in discourse on humanity’s effect on the world’s environment is tantamount to engaging in discussion on whether the earth is round. I find the debate utterly ridiculous and surprising that it takes up so much real estate in the political discourse of the world’s stage.

The world is warming. The seas are rising. We did it. End of debate.

A choreographic voice for the voiceless

Recently, environmentalism and ecology have found a foothold in many of the works coming out of the global choreographic scene. Artist’s and academics, it seems, have been the ones tapping into this concept of the Anthropocene. Dancers and choreographers around the world are finding a voice for the voiceless in topics of water conservation, melting ice, and climate action beyond debate.

Locally, Danish choreographer Tina Tarpgaard’s work ‘As I Collapse,’ was a considerable departure from her traditional oeuvre to explore concepts of ecological sustainability. And while other Danish choreographers like Kitt Johnson and Tora Balslev have been more indirect with the exploration of internal ecologies, Ingrid Tranum Velásquez has chosen to meet the topic of the human effect on the environment with a clear message.

The threat of climate change is present, and for some…imminent.

Up until the recent coverage in the NY Times and Washington Post regarding the looming threat of climate change on this small country, many people might not have heard of the Republic of Kiribati — a nation of islands and atolls in the central Pacific. However, the island and its people are only one of many Pacific island nations under threat.

A series of sinking islands

Imagine your home. Sunk into the ocean, with no hope of retrieving it. What happens you and your fellow refugees flee this sinking land, with literally no land to go back to?

This is the imminent risk for the small island nations like Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tokelau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and others. The potential threat of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from lands that no longer exists was a serious topic of discussion by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) during the Paris agreements.

Global displacement as a result of climate change is a topic that needs more daily recognition in the western world. It needs more discourse, more awareness, and more general empathy for the people that are affected.

It’s this drive to bring more awareness and contextualization of the problem that shaped the concept and the framework behind Ingrid Tranum Velásquez’s work Tekeraoi Am Mananga!

Velásquez is known for her use of nonprofessional bodies within her work. She often employs locals, or everyday people that are relevant to the concept, and combines them with professional dancers. This is what she has done with Tekeraoi Am Mananga! She has enlisted the help of Kiribati native, and global spokeswoman for global climate change reform, Pelenise Alofa, the National Coordinator for the Kiribati Climate Action Network.

Ingrid Tranum Velásquez expresses Tekeraoi am Mananga!
As a choreographer, Ingrid Tranum Velásquez has established herself as an artist that specialises in working with non-professional bodies. In Tekeraoi Am Mananga!, she worked with locals from the island nation of Kiribati, who brought their own experience with their native dances but without any formalised professional western dance training.

My first question is for Pelenise. Can you tell me a little bit about what is happening in your nation of Kiribati, giving some background behind the premise of this work?

Pelenise: Our coming to Denmark is about working on solutions. The solution is within all of us. We can choose to ignore Kiribati or take action to save Kiribati. We are doing lots of things in our communities to build resilient people. We plant mangroves, build sea-walls, provide rainwater tanks, food security, water, sanitation and hygiene, climate change awareness, climate change assessments, work with media and journalists on advocacy locally and internationally and much more. We build partnerships with many international NGOs and institutions to help us share our stories. This Next Door Project is a good example.

The present government is supporting adaptation and tries to bring lots of development at the community level to all islands in Kiribati. One of the significant actions that our government has done was to give up part of our oceans, almost a million square km, in the Phoenix Islands as a marine protected area.

This area is the fishing area that brought lots of income to our economy. To declare it closed for fishing was a sacrifice. The day the Phoenix MPA was closed…more than 400 fishing boats were forced to leave this fishing area.

This is the Kiribati gift to the whole world—the protection of this ocean would help the world to conserve carbon and also provide fish as food for the world. Even though we look at this action as a sacrifice and a loss to Kiribati, we have found that it was not a loss. It has brought more income to Kiribati because there was an increase and growth in the fish stock.

All developed countries need to sacrifice some activities or way of life and to step out of their comfort zone to save Kiribati and by doing this…you are actually saving yourself and the world.

As an old Kiribati song goes “Koburake ngkoe ae tungan te Aonnaba” …rise up, spring up, Kiribati, you the tunga (world) or water stopper or blocker of the world. This song is more than forty years old, even before the climate change problems came. The song calls for Kiribati to rise up/spring up out of the water for the world to see because without Kiribati, the tunga, the world will sink. So our action to save Kiribati is really about saving ourselves.

With the imminent rising sea-waters threatening the future of many islands and coastal nations all around the world, so what brought your focus to Pelenise’s tiny nation of Kiribati in far reaches of the south pacific?

What are your thoughts on this Ingrid?

Ingrid: According to the prognosis, Kiribati could be the first country to disappear as an entire nation! This makes the country a matter of international attention—and takes the questions of climate change to yet another level. Whole countries are threatened to disappear from the world map. It’s a new situation for humanity. How do we, as global citizens, deal with it?

Therefore Kiribati was for me a place of urgent attention and whose story needed to be told and shared.

Shifting topics to the work, you mentioned to me in an earlier meeting, that you like to craft your choreography around “professional” bodies and nonprofessional bodies. Can you tell me about this?

Ingrid: In general, that is often part of my choreographic practice, for example, in Happy End and Vi ses, Rafiq-e-man! However, this time I am not working with nonprofessional choreographers. But with a dancer and a musician from a very different dance and music culture than mine. This meeting between cultures is stimulating. What happens to the movement language when we join forces?

Ingrid Tranum Velásquez expresses Tekeraoi am Mananga!

Shifting topics to the work, you mentioned to me in an earlier meeting, that you like to craft your choreography around “professional” bodies and nonprofessional bodies. Can you tell me about this?

Ingrid: In general, that is often part of my choreographic practice, for example, in Happy End and Vi ses, Rafiq-e-man! However, this time I am not working with nonprofessional choreographers. But with a dancer and a musician from a very different dance and music culture than mine. This meeting between cultures is stimulating. What happens to the movement language when we join forces?

Your subject matter often relies on the wisdom of these inexperienced bodies to ensure authenticity to the piece? Does this often leave you in a position of playing both choreographer and dramaturge?

Ingrid: Just to clarify, in this piece, the performers are not inexperienced as in my other works. They hail from another cultural tradition of dance. However, the notion of authenticity is of the same importance and value to me.

When documentation meets artistic interpretation, it creates a space where we are more open to experiencing the world from new perspectives.

Tell me about the decision to make this piece site-specific?

Ingrid: I want the audience to engage in the piece physically—to add their movement, exhaustion, and progression to the work. I think when you have to understand issues that are very difficult to comprehend or cope with, movement can bring you closer to the matter. Therefore, I wanted to create a frame where the audience could make their movement part of the piece instead of sitting still and watch and try to embrace it all intellectually.

How will you use the locations to create a sense of immediacy for a Danish audience?

Ingrid: We researched a lot trying to find out which areas in the cities we perform would be flooded first. Naturally, the harbor areas turned out to be a threatened area in all the cities. That is why we start there.

However, it is quite complicated to determine– for example, exactly which place in the city will be first to go? There are so many factors involved in that calculation. But it was essential for us within the areas we found, to pass through places where people lived. We choose the route from this.

We need to understand that this is about people. That even though climate change may not be of urgent concern in our everyday lives here, it is right now somewhere else (and it will also come here…it is our own children and grandchildren that will have to deal with this…it is not that far away either). So make the audience sense the human stories in this matter.

For example, we flooded an apartment, which the audience will pass by and look into. So the choice of making it site-specific is to move the audience closer to the reality of this. If we flooded a room in a theater, it would not have the same impact as it does walking past it in the street.

Also, I have been very interested in the bigger cities as a setting–being that big capitalistic oriented/structured cities play a key role in the story of climate change. It creates constant contrasts and comments when moving through the city with this story.

So Pelenise, as an outspoken advocate for the plight of your nation, how has it been working in a new form of communication around this subject?

Pelenise: This is definitely a new form of communication and my first time to participate in it. My team is learning this new way of communication. Of course, we came from Kiribati with our language, songs, and dances to share with the people of Denmark in this new way of communication. I found that this is a better way of sharing our stories so people here could understand— particularly as they could not understand our dances and songs. Integrating our skills with Ingrid and her team is very powerful, and our team could also take back to Kiribati this new form of communication to use when we do our awareness programs.

The other most important thing I’ve learned through this integration of art and skills between the two countries is that we are working together to look for solutions to the climate change problem. This is the only way we can solve the climate change problem, when people from the developed countries, developing and least developed countries could always work together, then and only then, could we sit and talk sense about climate change.

What thoughts or information would you like people to take away from this performance?

Pelenise: The performances in our songs and dances in Denmark tells you that Kiribati and the whole Pacific are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. People living in many island countries are already suffering from extreme weather events. For Kiribati, we have flooding, king tides, inundation of our lands and the contamination of our well-waters and coastal land erosion.

Climate Change is a human rights issue…it takes away our right to self-determination, life, integrity, security, identity, lands and resources and undermines our economic and social development.

But what I would like everyone/audience to go away with is the Kiribati Emblem/Motto: Te Mauri, Te Raoi and Te Tabomoa. (Health (protection), Peace and Prosperity).

These three words never change in their context and position. As I-Kiribati, we carry Mauri with us everywhere. We greet people saying, Mauri. Our life and our attitude is to begin at Te Mauri, which is our protection. These are our values, knowledge, and skills that we learn from our parents and is most important.

When we have Mauri with us, we bring Te Raoi—”peace to our community”. And when there is peace in the community, there is prosperity / Tabomoa to our country.

Further, prosperity is not measured by material things or money but happiness and good health of the people and the way we care for each other. By understanding Te Mauri, Te Raoi and Te Tabomoa, then we would be able to make changes in the way we look and act in our world.

Ingrid: The work is a sort of choreographed audio walk. I want people immersed in the images and story of the journey they are on. I believe this format enables them to. I want them to, through this immersive experience, to feel connected to the stories they meet. To erase the distance, we in everyday life create towards the awareness of climate change because it feels too big—too overwhelming to think about.

This distance keeps us from acting, and action is needed if we as humanity is going to write the end of this story. I want people to walk away with awareness and a realization that this is real. And an urge to actively take part in how the story continues from here.

For people that won’t be able to attend this performance, but are still interested in the story of your nation and what they can do to help, what would you say to them about what they can do on a personal level?

Pelenise: At the personal level: first of all, you must remember that you have a right…this is your civic right that no one can take this away from you. And because you have a right, this goes with responsibility and duty as a global citizen. Here in Denmark, there are so many things that you could do on a personal level.

You could reduce the use of energy or lobby your government to use a new form of energy that does not pollute the atmosphere: e.g. Windpower, Wavepower and turning off lights that are not needed.

Take action and be interested in political issues. Use your network to have your own leader that would support climate change or Green issues.

Take the time to browse the internet to look for Kiribati, read more about our vulnerability and get in touch with KiriCAN (Kiribati Climate Action Network), so we can work together to save Kiribati.

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