Michele Brangwen Explores Love as Wellspring of Activism 

There is a moment in Faces of Sun and Wind where the quartet of dancers whirl in one direction, then the other. There is a fleeting snapshot of connection through the hands, in pairs, before each digs into the space around them, upper bodies swaying side-to-side. Their arms propel them into repeated high releases before they jut backwards into the air with an assemble. They could be the personification of wind’s wily spirit, or they could be embodying the sensation of finding oneself in the middle of a restless gale. 

In Michele Brangwen’s latest work, which will have its Houston premiere on March 9 and 10 at the MATCH, she takes on the renewable energy sources of sun and wind as subject matter, as well as their possibilities for uniting the masses in progressive activism.

Brangwen, an avid consumer of podcasts, started to ruminate on the topic after listening to a broadcast on microgrids, and how communities can take autonomy over where their energy comes from. “If you look at something like water as a commodity, it’s done, it’s stolen, appropriated contaminated,” says Brangwen. “People who have a rich supply of water have it taken away. It made me think about what will happen with sun and wind if they are taken and commodified. Who will be the overseer?”

Playing with the concept of a microgrid in rehearsal seemed natural for Brangwen because of its parallels to her own process. A microgrid is created by the pulling together of resources to create one independent, self-generative supply. A microgrid is often attached to a larger grid and can detach itself and supply its own energy in cases of power outages. 

“What fascinated me about this idea is that it’s like a microcosm of activism,” says Brangwen. “People come together, pull their energy, and create this force, or fuel. I feel like I work in a microgrid all the time.” 

Brangwen is without question referring to the collaborative nature of her work, which draws inspiration and input from her team of artists, many of whom she has forged longstanding friendships with. Dancers Christian Laverde Konig and Lindsey McGill, bassist and composer Thomas Helton, and trumpeter and composer Tim Hagans have worked with the company for more than a decade, while saxophonist and composer Jon Irabagon has been in the mix since 2017. Relative newcomers Meredith Fages (dancer) and Sam Knight (drummer) arrived in 2022. 

“All of these artists have the most extraordinary creative energies, and their thoughts and ideas fuel the improvisation,” says Brangwen. “I continue to be inspired and enchanted by their abilities and their choices.” 

Photo by Raymond Todd / Ivesian Arts.

On the idea of a microgrid as metaphor for activism, Brangwen takes inspiration from Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee who was fired from the megacorporation for organizing its workers during the pandemic. Smalls asserts that activism must start from a place of love, and Brangwen agrees. 

 “I know for me, the reason why I dance and the reason why I choreograph is because I love it,” she says. “I love music. I love movement. I love watching bodies moving to music. Everything about my approach to my profession comes from loving it.”

Brangwen sees the lack of love in the world as one of the prevailing reasons why capitalism still has a stranglehold on much of the world’s cultures, societies, and peoples. With wind and sun, we have limitless access to cheaper and cleaner alternatives to fossil fuel. Yet, gas and oil consumption are at an all-time high. 

“Capitalism depends on people not thinking about where their stuff comes from, not thinking about the journey of their neighbor,” she says. “Capitalism requires people to put themselves in a bubble. It’s easy to not understand your community and the systems that help you. Approaching things from a place of love opens your mind to better understanding.” 

This latest production of the Michele Brangwen Dance & Music Ensemble will be set to original music by Jon Irabagon, who proved to be a natural collaborator as he understands the company’s process and non-traditional performance format, which combines sections of set movement with moments of improvisation. For the choreographed sections of the piece, Brangwen focused on wind currents and the feel of sun on the human body. A lot of the movement was also inspired by Irabagon’s “energetic” score, which was developed out of many conversations on the subject matter. 

The program will also include “Unending,” a work that takes its cue from Pina Bausch’s Vollmond. The movement is free and ecstatic, and exemplifies Brangwen’s improvisational approach, which she compares to that of a jazz band. “Jazz bands will do a selection that is written, then a selection that is improvisation,” says Brangwen. “Those parts [the improvisaton], I feel really exciting. It definitely requires as a choreographer to let go and relinquish control.” 

Faces of Sun and Wind also includes Allure, a short film by composer and vocalist Angela Wang. The piece features company dancer Lindsey McGill, not only as a dancer, but as a choreographer. The final close-up of McGill offers a tidy segue into “Unending.” 

Brangwen’s work is abstract in an attempt to find the commonalities of the human experience. Again, she finds inspiration in the words of Smalls. “A hug doesn’t cost anything. A conversation doesn’t cost anything. Why don’t we go up to people and start talking to them and finding the common ground?”

And if all goes well, bask in the joys of sun and wind. 

The Michele Brangwen Dance & Music Ensemble performs Faces of Sun and Wind on March 9 @ 8pm and March 10 @ 7pm at the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston (MATCH), 3400 Main Street. Tickets available at www.matchouston.org

About the Author

Adam Castañeda is a dancer and arts administrator in Houston, Texas. He is the Executive and Artistic Director of the Pilot Dance Project, a non-profit arts organization with the mission to empower and transform communities through innovative dance, theater, and visual art. With his company he has performed in evening-length works by Ashley Horn, jhon r. stronks, Jennifer Mabus, Jaime Walne-Fruge, and Heather VonReichbauer. When not with the Pilot Dance Project, he enjoys performing with Suchu Dance/Jennifer Wood.

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *