Earth Day 2021: How To Repurpose Everyday Items and Choreography

Created by Martheya Nygaard (kNOwBOX dance Co-Creator & Managing Director)

April 21, 2021, Dallas, Texas, USA

In September 2020, YeaJean Choi and I recorded a podcast interview with Jonathan Burrows to talk about why and how he created A Choreographer’s Handbook. As you might have heard in the episode (listen if you haven’t already) I have been a huge fan of Jonathan Burrows and have overly flagged and highlighted the handbook. As I prepared a small offering for the annual celebration of Earth Day, I wanted to share ways to creatively approach what it means to repurpose. Our conversation with Burrows and his book came to mind. Both Burrows and the handbook explore notions of self at the foreground of creativity, inventiveness, and imagination.

Top Left to Right: Martheya Nygaard, YeaJean Choi, Bottom: Jonathan Burrows

Repurpose : to give a new purpose or use to

More on Jonathan Burrows:

Jonathan Burrows is a choreographer whose main focus is an ongoing body of pieces with the composer Matteo Fargion, with whom he continues to perform around the world. The two men are co-produced by PACT Zollverein Essen and Sadler's Wells Theatre London. His A Choreographer's Handbook has sold over 15,000 copies since its publication in 2010, and is available from Routledge Publishing. Burrows is currently an Associate Professor at the Centre for Dance Research, Coventry University.

More on A Choreographer’s Handbook:

On choreography: "Choreography is a negotiation with the patterns your body is thinking"

On rules: "Try breaking the rules on a need to break the rules basis"

A Choreographer’s Handbook invites the reader to investigate how and why to make a dance performance. In an inspiring and unusually empowering sequence of stories, ideas and paradoxes, internationally renowned dancer, choreographer and teacher Jonathan Burrows explains how it’s possible to navigate a course through this complex process.

It is a stunning reflection on a personal practice and professional journey, and draws upon five years’ of workshop discussions, led by Burrows.

Burrows’ open and honest prose gives the reader access to a range of exercises, meditations, principles and ideas on choreography that allow artists and dance-makers to find their own aesthetic process.

It is a book for anyone interested in making performance, at whatever level and in whichever style.

As Jonathan said in Episode 59 of Dance Behind the Screen podcast

“I thought anybody who choreographs knows from the very outset you are overwhelmed by a multiplicity of things...physicality, physical memory, habits, the room you're in, the room you might be in when you perform it... You couldn’t deal with this by following a linear way of thinking…”

How does this connect to celebrating earth day?

For the past several years many documentaries have surfaced to remind us of the importance of taking care of our planet (Our Planet, A Plastic Ocean, and Night on Earth to name a few). Additionally there are several dance organizations and creative projects whose purpose is tied to land and culture, sites in nature, and practices of sustainability (Building a Better Fishtrap, dance to the people, and Global Water Dances, among others included below). Negotiating the gravitas of my impact on the planet coupled with my responsibility as an artist, educator, and creative thinker, lead me to research what it means to repurpose both in my “pedestrian” and artistic life. Keeping Jonathan Burrows' contributions in mind I am curious how we as artists can further explore giving a new purpose or use to the many materials we engage with in order to support the longevity and sustainability of our planet and creative life. I offer three tips to consider when repurposing everyday items and choreography.

Dance Behind the Screen Episode 59 YouTube Video

Three Tips For Repurposing Items and Choreography

Tip 1 - Reuse what you have available to you

“Visit art galleries and try to observe the ‘how’ of how each thing that was made and compare that to the ‘what’ of what you perceived from it.” (Burrows, 45)

Items: Whether it’s a water bottle, tupperware, utensils, or a shopping bag consider how you might be able to maximize your use of this item. In 2017 I committed to bringing my water bottle everywhere with me. I love my Hydro Flask 40-Ounce with Straw Lid!

Choreography: “Listening to what the material is telling you to do requires as much concentration, control and sensitivity as any other way of working.” (Burrows, 114) First, collect footage of your dancemaking (maybe from rehearsals, social media posts, past performances, those random days where you video yourself improvising - we all have those). Now consider how you can reuse this digital material to inspire a new dance. I create albums on my iPhone or Google Drive with footage from all of my rehearsals as an archive to reuse for future creative projects.