Communicating Conservation Through Dance

As the autumn sun set, Upper School and College students wove their way through towering pieces of Mississippi River driftwood. The performance celebrated the opening of “River Ark,” a new art installation by Thomas Sleet at the Audubon Center at Riverlands.

The event was co-chaired by Penny Schmidt (US’75, C’79), an advocate for promoting conservation through artistry. She reached out to professor of dance and theatre Erin Lane to produce a site-specific piece for the opening. Professor Lane, inspired by the Audubon Center’s mission and Sleet’s vision, organized a group of students to perform her original choreography. The accompanying music was an original composition from Evan Ghislin (C’20) on violin, supported by his father Craig Ghislin on guitar and Tyler Wingert on drums (US’15, C’19).

“River Ark,” an assembly of charred pieces of driftwood installed vertically in two lines, pays homage to the Mississippi River. Thomas Sleet says part of his artistic intent is “to draw the eye across the land, to connect the prairie to the water’s edge and provide a sculptural installation of scope and scale, that would allow visitor interaction.”

Lane also emphasized the connection of land, water, and the movement it creates through dance. She encouraged students to take inspiration from the driftwood voyaging down the river and from their own travel stories. The result of this movement was an ethereal, powerful performance in support of the conservation of wildlife and the Mississippi River floodplains.