In Australian Dance Theatre’s Adelaide Festival work Supernature, outgoing artistic director Garry Stewart continues his quest to understand the inextricable place of human society within nature.
Humans being nature
The human species’ relationship to, and placement within nature has long been a subject of interest for Australian Dance Theatre’s outgoing artistic director, Garry Stewart.
From as early as Devolution, in 2006, in which he choreographed dancers alongside robotic machines and prosthetics to create a work referencing biological ecosystems, through his Nature Series (The Beginning of Nature, The Circadian Cycle, and Colony), Garry has used his artform to ponder our position in the larger ecosystem of our planet.
Supernature, Garry’s piece for this year’s Adelaide Festival, is the next chapter in The Nature Series, questioning the notion that to right the ecological wrongs we’ve wrought, we should leave nature to its own devices.
To do this, humans would have to leave nature, and such a distinction cannot be made.
“We’re actually not separate from nature; we don’t get around as these sole subjects or sole entities,” he says.
“We have to get on with our reality of being able to live with nature… Rather than extracting human beings from a vision of nature, it’s to try and create a vision of nature with human beings in it.”
“In Supernature, one of the primary focusses of making the work has been to situate bodies in the process and fabric and structure of nature itself. And certainly, towards the end of the work, there’s quite an epic moment where dancers are really immersed in the materials of nature, and there’s this coming together of species, in a way.”
This subject matter is also a personal interest for Garry, who has based the work on news articles and books. In previous works he has employed the knowledge of biologists and roboticists as collaborators and consultants in order to create an accurate, though still metaphorical, presentation of his ideas.
All artistic works concerning the relationship between humans and nature necessarily lead to thoughts of what recompense we owe the environment for all we’ve plundered.
Supernature will do this too, but Garry hopes it will first tap into a sense of amazement.
“We enter into a state of awe at times with nature, when there’s something ineffable about witnessing nature, the beauty of nature or the scale of nature or the intricacy of nature in its processes,” he says.
“That creates in us a sense of awe and wonderment because it’s so beyond what’s possible for us, as humans, and beyond our human scale.
“I remember the first time I saw Uluru, and the first time I saw the Grand Canyon, and it just makes you want to cry.
“I guess I want to, in some way, create that sense of awe when you’re sitting, looking at something extraordinary in nature.”
Ultimately, the piece is about humility.
“We are part of the substance of nature and for all of our efforts, nature is much, much bigger than we ever will be, and we are subject to its forces,” Garry says.
“We are intimately and inextricably linked to nature, and our survival is absolutely dependent upon it, and therefore we need to show the planet more respect, and also take what’s happening more seriously, in terms of the environmental crisis that we’re participating in and causing.”
There are five works that Garry counts in The Nature Series, including Supernature, but he can still see a lifetime worth of creative exploration on the topic in front of him.
“I don’t see it as a closed book at all, because it’s such a huge subject matter,” Garry says.
“You could dedicate your entire life’s artistic practice discussing the subject matter, and it certainly it keeps evolving. It keeps evolving for myself, it keeps evolving for writers that I’m delving into, so it holds a personal fascination.
“My artistic connection to the subject matter will just continue as long as I feel that sense of awe and fascination, and also the desire to try and work through problems and issues and new discourses as they arise for all of society.”