When you think of dance, you most likely picture a stage or a dance floor, perhaps special lighting and costumes, and most probably some sort of a human-constructed setting. In this beautiful five-minute dance video, dance is taken to perhaps the most rugged place on earth and we may come away with both a different view of the dance and a different view of the continent that is the stage for “Antarctica: The First Dance." You can see this amazing film by clicking on the link below.

The Film's Purpose

The First Dance, the brainchild of Corey Baker, a New Zealand choreographer, has its roots deep in New Zealand. Perhaps because of its proximity to Antarctica, New Zealand has a long history of interest and concern for this continent. Antarctica New Zealand, the government agency responsible for carrying out New Zealand's activities in Antarctica, has long worked to both protect Antarctica and help others care about Antarctica as well. Along with the scientific work they do in Antarctica itself, their International Antarctic Center in Christchurch New Zealand brings Antarctica to people who haven't ever gone there and, in addition, their Community Engagement Programme sponsors projects such as The First Dance, to bring artists of all kinds to Antarctica so that they can bring Antarctica to a wider audience through creative and new ways, reaching people far beyond of New Zealand.

Antarctica © British Antarctic Survey

For those who haven't grown up in a culture that has inculcated a concern for Antarctica, the film tries to bridge that gap and show us why the loss of Antarctica's ice would be a tragedy—both because of its beauty and because of the ramifications that the melting ice would have for sea levels around the world. (If all of Antarctica's ice were to melt, it is enough to theoretically cause about 200 feet of sea-level rise).

Madeleine Graham in Antarctica: The First Dance © Jacob Bryant

It took Corey Baker two years of planning to make the film. His interest in Antarctica, concern about climate change, love of dance, and his desire to bring dance outside theaters and to a wider audience were his motivators. He found his dancer, Madeleine Graham, through his involvement in the Royal New Zealand Ballet, where he held auditions to find the right dancer. As Baker describes it,

"I told them, 'There's going to be 16-hour days, you are going to freeze, there isn't going to be a green room, you are going to have to pee and poo in a bucket.' I think less than half the company came to the audition." [1]

"Antarctica: The First Dance" aired for the first time on Earth Day in 2018. With choreography by Corey Baker, dance by Madeleine Graham, and filming by Jacob Bryant, the film exudes enthusiasm and awe for the amazing and endangered place it highlights.

"By showing up-close the beauty of this incredible place, people can feel closer to something that may otherwise seem abstract and unconnected." [2]

Dancing in Antarctica

The dance and filming were a huge undertaking, requiring 12 days of work for the five-minute production. Even in the Antarctic summer, Graham was only able to dance for very short periods at a time due to the frigid temperatures (-2.4 to -16 C or 3.2 F) she was working (and sliding across the ice) in—all without gloves. Every few seconds of film required hours of planning and set up due to the unusual and difficult conditions.

Antarctica was the director: it would tell you it’s too windy, too bright, or too cold. We had to listen and respond to that. [2]
Madeleine Graham and Corey Baker in Antarctica © Jacob Bryant

The film itself is beautiful. The huge expanses of snow, rock and mountain are awe-inspiring and, when watching the film, it is hard to believe that this rugged landscape has any vulnerabilities because it seems so strong and indestructible.

The dance is celebratory, both of the land and the dancer within it. The leaps and twist and slides emphasize energy and joy, as well as the wildness, freedom, and immenseness of the place.

“As dancers, we’re used to looking out into the complete darkness, so to be dancing and looking out into something so spectacular and inspiring gave me that extra kind of feeling and reason to do what I was doing.” [3]
Madeleine Graham in Antarctica: The First Dance © Jacob Bryant

The dance also portrays an intimacy between the dancer and the land. The beginning scenes in which Graham crawls up the rocky surface, the shots of her sliding through the snow, the close up of her with icicles dripping in the background—all of these shots remind us that as humans we can care about and love a place. Although the dancer is physically tiny in that vast landscape, she isn't insignificant; there is a relationship between her and the Antarctica she is dancing across.

Bigger Picture

The film hasn't been the end Corey Baker's concern for Antarctica. After the trip to Antarctica and the airing of the film, he later developed it into a teaching opportunity for students in schools in New Zealand and England. Through both dance and the sharing of information about Antarctica, he has spread both education and love of Antarctica. He also turned the experience into a 78-minute documentary with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of The First Dance, which also emphasizes concerns about climate change. By expanding on his lifelong interest in Antarctica and his experience making the film, Baker has continued to advocate for Antarctica both through art and through educational endeavors that showcase that art.

"Scientists are doing all the real work. They're out there digging, surveying, and researching for years and years and years. They're coming out with all these figures and statistics but, unfortunately, those figures and statistics don't necessarily communicate well to a lot of people. So I think the scientists were very on board and glad we were there to help tell this story in a different way." [1]

The dance project, and Baker's other Antarctica-related projects, all have numerous supporters, bringing home the reality that any major project is a group effort and, on the flip side, many people working together on a common goal, bringing their different resources and gifts, can accomplish amazing things—including, one hopes, huge things like the saving of a continent of such beauty, importance, and yes, fragility, as Antarctica.

In particular, Christians are called to care about what God cares about. If we find something we care about, and that God cares about and if we invest in that, and work with others who also care about it, who knows can be accomplished?

Reflection Question: Is there something you feel called to care about and do something about that you need help in accomplishing? Is there something being done that you want to throw your support behind?

Leave a comment below or contact me directly with questions or comments at info@circlewood.online


To learn more about The Ecological Disciple's parent organization, visit the Circlewood website.

[1] Harvey, Kerry. Dancing on Icebergs to Highlight Climate Change, Oct. 3, 2019. https://www.stuff.co.nz.

[2] Pal, Amrita. Antarctica Live, Aug. 21, 2018, https://blog.sciencemuseum.org.uk/

[3] Dancing on Icebergs, https://sfdancefilmfest.org/