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Emory’s watery series continues with Lori Teague’s “Questions to ask a river,” on the quadrangle

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Lori Teague, the director of Emory University’s dance program and an avid environmentalist, brings two passions together in “Questions to ask a river, or a creek,” a work reflecting on water’s adaptability and humankind’s role in its future. Part of the Emory College Center for Creativity & Arts’ yearlong exploration of water, the half-hour, site-specific dance will be performed in the Emory Quadrangle April 12-14.

Emory dancers rehearse "Questions to ask a river, or a creek" beneath John Grade's sculpture. (Photo by Lori Teague)

“My charge in my own life and others is to get people to love the beauty of the natural things around them,” Teague says. “Then they will think of the choices they make in the world and how it’s affecting our water, soil and the elements.”

As the title suggests, she started the work with a philosophical interrogation. “What questions do we have? Do we think things in nature have a consciousness in the way we do? How do things in nature respond to other things differently than we do?,” she asks. “I have a lot of questions. I am testing and exploring things. There is a lot of not knowing.”

After collaborating with sculptor John Grade on his “Piedmont Divide” installations on the quadrangle and at Lullwater Preserve, Teague knew she wanted to look at the evolving relations between nature and humans, flow and conflict. While in residence at Emory, the West Coast-based sculptor used more than 2,000 water bottles to cut beautiful plastic spirals in creating what Teague calls the “rain chandelier” suspended among four trees in the quadrangle. (Read our interview with Grade here.)

“[Grade] creates very organic forms, and to me that is where we connect,” Teague explains. “I am interested in returning to our natural state of being in the body. I am using the idea of a river or a creek, something like the fluid systems in our body, to let the body then transfer those qualities and ideas. It’s about flowing as a river would, that ongoingness and interconnectedness of water all over the planet.”

Thinking about Buford and other area dams, Teague began to research and reflect upon how interrupting water’s flow has damaged numerous ecosystems. “I think I have created an idea of conflict in the work that may be applied either more universally or locally,” she says. 

Georgia’s dispute with Alabama and Florida over water allocation from Lake Lanier is a local example. But clean water and its allocation are global problems. Every year 3.6 million people die from a water-related disease.

“Something that deeply concerns me is that we don’t know how to trust rivers any more, and it’s our fault,” the choreographer says. “We don’t know the quality of water any more. We don’t know, if we walk up to a river, if we could drink from it. Many years ago I am sure they trusted water in a different way, and now we can’t.”

In this piece, Teague seeks to convey both the serious issues we face and the glories of water. “I hope this performance will be a different way to watch the beautiful, rhythmical patterns and nature of water in the body as a dance. I want [viewers] to feel inspired at the beauty of that.” 

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