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The Boston Globe

Theater & art

g force

At Harvard, dance and sustainable energy meet in ‘Illumine’

Tony Cho

WHO

Jun Shepard

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WHAT

The 20-year-old undergraduate, who is studying environmental science and public policy at Harvard University, is the director and choreographer of “Illumine,” a two-part dance piece that’s meant in part to promote sustainable energy. Taking inspiration from and incorporating the use of solar panels, it will be performed on the roof of the Harvard Dance Center Tuesday and Wednesday — Act 1 at 2 p.m., when daylight can be collected in the panels, and Act 2 at 8 p.m., when the stored energy can be put to use. Information is at www
.illumineatharvard.com.

Q. What was your inspiration for this?

A. The idea for this project really stemmed from an article I read in class last semester called “The Death of Environmentalism.” It’s a review on American politics and the environment, and the movement in the 20th century. I tried to shape the project in the same way that this article is shaped. It critically analyzes the environmental movement and its mistakes, but ultimately maintains an optimistic view. I don’t want it to just be a piece about how the environment is dead and we can’t do anything about it. I really feel like there’s a lot we can do, but people are feeling indifferent and complacent, so I want this to perpetuate movement.

Q. You only read the article last semester? How long have you been working on this?

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A. I think the idea came up mid-November, so about six months ago. It was a lot to do in such a short period of time, and the first two months were just coming up with a concrete idea and getting grants. We didn’t even start the production process until February.

Q. So was this project part of class, or independent of that?

A. I just did this on my own, but I got the idea from that article.

Q. Do you have a history in dance?

A. I’ve been dancing for a very long time. I had pre-professional training in New York City. I went to [Fiorello H.] LaGuardia High School [of Music and Art and Performing Arts] and majored in dance. I also studied on the professional track at Alvin Ailey School. It was a lot of really intense training for years and years. I came here and I started to explore more conceptual movement choreography; it was so much less technical. I realized how much wider of a range [of movement] I can play around with when I came to Harvard, and eventually I realized that was a great way to portray how to interpret sustainability and environmental advocacy.

Q. So you probably don’t get nervous performing anymore.

A. I’m a little bit nervous for this. It’s been a really difficult process, both administratively and artistically. I’ve never choreographed an evening-length work. I usually do about 10 minutes long, but this is an hour and 20 minutes. The music is student composed, and the entire project was student-run. Staying in communication with so many different people, and somewhat compromising some of my own artistic ambitions to be cohesive with them was definitely a challenge.

Q. In your previous dance experience, did you feel like you saw a lot of energy going to waste?

A. I really noticed it when I began working on the tech side at Harvard. Each performance would use so much energy for lights and sound, and a lot of the energy wasn’t needed. A lot of the stage lights were on all the time and it just seemed like such a waste. It made me upset we were taking advantage of this. The dancers have no idea because they’re so focused on their art, and if they did know how much energy was being used, I think the production process would be a lot different.

Q. So do you feel like, with the work you’re doing now, you’d be able to make some changes within your own school?

A. Oh, definitely. I’ve worked with the Harvard Ballet Company and a few other dance centers on campus, and we’re talking about how to make the performances more sustainable: tracking where waste goes, how things are made and how they’re loaded onto the stage, the lights, so that we can really reduce the amount of waste we produce and the amount of energy we consume. We really want to present this effort to the audience so they can walk away with a sense of responsibility. Erica Thompson

Interview has been condensed and edited. Erica Thompson can be reached at erica
.thompson@globe.com.

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