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Art into activism

Utahns turn art into activism: ‘When we dance, we can’t help but feel part of nature’

By Kathy Adams | Salt Lake Tribune

Events taking place between now and early October seek to put focus on climate change, land conservation and respect for nature.

Summer Series • Three ecology-based community dance programs collectively dubbed Summer Series are the brainchild of Salt Lake City resident Liz Ivkovich, who is combining her college degrees in dance and environmental science with her passion for social justice to reconceptualize commonly held definitions of "the environment." 

"The environment is anywhere people live, play, work and learn — not just pristine wilderness areas preserved for privileged populations," Ivkovich said. "We need to also be advocating for a healthy environment in everyone's backyards and homes." 

To encourage that perspective, she has teamed up with local nonprofits Seven Canyons Trust and loveDANCEmore for a series of community dance programs and activities along the Jordan River.

The first evening in May brought together neighborhood youth programs to dance along the Three Creeks Confluence. On June 24, the coalition will lead a contact improvisation jam to help Seven Canyons Trust celebrate $1.2 million in grants it received last month to restore natural urban waterways at 1300 South and 900 West near the Jordan River.

The culminating Summer Series performance in August will be an immersive dance theater piece co-directed by Ivkovich, Alysia Ramos, Ching-I Chang Bigelow and Ashley Anderson. The narrative takes its inspiration from Utah-raised Terry Tempest Williams' 2012 novel "When Women Were Birds," based on her mother's diaries. Williams was recently appointed writer-in-residence at the Harvard Divinity School and has written 15 books, including last year's well-received "The Hour of the Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks" and her influential 1991 memoir "Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place." It will be performed at Bend in the River on the Jordan River Parkway Trail.

Ivkovich, who lives in one of the city's west-side neighborhoods and works at the University of Utah's Sustainability Office and Global Change & Sustainability Center, said she takes the long view on art and sustainability.

She delineates political art from environmental social justice work, describing "social justice as a much longer, ongoing process," clarifying that political work might choose a topic to make a dance about, whereas environmental justice art is work driven by the larger ecology/environmental movement.

"My choreography is always about the same subject, yet hopefully evolves through stages reflecting my understanding of the issues and my engagement with communities," she said.

Ivkovich fosters the belief that the environment is something we are composed of, not something outside us: "There is a constant interchange between us and nature when we are breathing, and dancing heightens awareness of our breath. So when we dance we can't help but feel part of nature."