Amanda Morgan, the only Black dancer in Pacific Northwest Ballet, choreographed and performed “The Soil Beneath Us” for our Seventh Annual Ampersand LIVE on October 29. Here she talks about the origins of this outdoor dance and her recent embrace of environmental justice.
For Ampersand LIVE, you will dance in the Morse Wildlife Preserve. How does dancing outdoors affect your performance — physically and artistically? How did this natural setting influence your choreography?
I think nature has an incredible way of healing us and inspiring us in all that we do. The same can very well be said for dancers and making dance in response to the space around us. For the most part I find myself dancing in theaters, but when in nature, you can really feel all the energy of all that has gone through there, like this continuous life cycle that also encompasses you in that moment.
As a dancer in Pacific Northwest Ballet and a sought-out choreographer, you have no shortage of performance opportunities. Why did you accept the invitation to participate in Ampersand LIVE?
I accepted this invitation because I’ve recently become more interested in the environmental sciences, and being from Washington, I find Forterra’s work so incredibly important to our home and our state. I tend to focus so much of my effort on social justice, but seeing how global warming and the misuse of resources are affecting low-income communities, I realize that they both go hand in hand.
You mentioned in an interview in Dance Magazine that you are collaborating with another Black artist on a piece about “spatial injustice.” Can you talk a little about that term and explain how this idea might play out in natural spaces and in the world of dance?
When we think of spatial injustice we tend to think of people not having access to land or resources, but it goes so much further than that. I wanted to make a piece about this in regard to how black femme individuals lack this spatial justice physically in cities and mentally in rooms where decisions and ideas are being discussed. However, during these recent protests there was so much more added to the idea of spatial injustice. Not only have marginalized individuals been denied the justice of living in safety, but also lands, which have not been adequately protected from new construction, obtainment, and extraction of resources. As an Afro-Indigenous woman, I think of how much land has been abused and taken from the Indigenous people that were here in the Americas, so in this piece I pay homage to those communities that were here on the land before me.
Ampersand LIVE is billed as an evening of storytelling about people and place. As a choreographer, in this piece in particular, do you think of yourself as a storyteller? If so, how?
I certainly think of myself as a storyteller. I think any artist is a storyteller without even trying; we have the power to shift public opinion, and this is seen all the time throughout history. It is not common to see someone who looks like me, an Afro-Indigenous woman, choreographing. Dance choreography is often dominated by straight white males, so I think it’s even more important to tell stories of people who are underrepresented in the arts and in society.