By Elizabeth Costello
Two days after I arrived in Costa Rica with Krista DeNio and Chloe Crotzer and their NETWORKproject collaborators, I witnessed a monkey parade. An extended family of howlers emerged from the trees behind the very comfortable house in Playa Hermosa, on the country’s Pacific coast, where we were staying. The leaves shook and they appeared. I saw one at first, then another, then suddenly so many — the big males whose howls had woken me, the mothers with babies on their backs, the toddlers learning to use their tails, the adolescents reaching across seemingly impossible gaps between branches. They made their way around the edge of the tropical forest that we human beings had cut into to make comfortable houses like the one we were staying in. It seemed to me that the monkeys grasped railings and wires, the hard human-made things, with a measure of hesitation. That they viewed a telephone wire as suspect because it produced nothing that they could eat. They moved cautiously across the tarp that shaded one end of our pool, walked across the bamboo railing where our bathing suits hung, and grasped the wires our way of life requires easily enough, but the reach and swing from branch to branch had a more easeful, open rhythm.
Their path marked the perimeter of the house and courtyard from which we could watch the spectacle of nature as if we weren’t part of nature ourselves. The parade would have passed much closer had the mango grove next to our place not been dug out and replaced by the gray square that marked the foundation of another building to come. As the monkeys moved around that gray square and then settled for a time in the trees that framed it, I felt as if I was looking at an illuminated manuscript in progress. The gray square was like a blank page that might eventually be filled with the description of someone’s vacation, but the living world — the marginalia — around it was far more complex and vibrant and full of unscheduled possibility.
In Costa Rica, the six of us — Diana Lara, Mindy Zarem, and Tanja London, DeNio, Crotzer, and I — collectively created dances on the ocean shore, in a waterfall, and in tide pools. Sometimes we began with a set score or plan, but inevitably the water, the waves we played in, the rocks and reefs we climbed on, forced the creation of something unexpected. More than once I lost control of what movement I was making — a turn in a wave turned to several, turned in to a tumble. A collaborator pulled me into a circle or balanced their weight against mine.
There seems to be a lot of building happening around Playa Hermosa and along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. I can’t deny that despite the comfort and ease of the house where we stayed, I had the nagging feeling that it should not be there at all. That it should at most be a shack with some hammocks, mosquito nets, and a cook stove. That the land and all its creatures would do so well without us. And yet, every morning when I woke to the dawn symphony — to the howler monkeys declaring their territory and the tiger herons calling to their mates and the many other creatures announcing the sun’s arrival — I felt the power of the plants and animals that we continue to live among. I felt more attuned and open to what we can build together as human beings who are as organic as any other creature.
The NETWORK Project is, among other things, an invitation to collaborators and audiences to shed fixed beliefs about what is central and what is marginal. We human beings have to face the fact that we are living on an edge that climate change makes clearer all the time. The comfort and convenience that have been central to us (or to those who can afford them) must be reevaluated in the context of the richness and wisdom of the natural world. As DeNio often points out, quoting the scientist and plant voice receiver Monica Gagliano, trees breathe out what we breathe in. While our world is in crisis in so many ways, stepping out of the gray square of the built environment and connecting to the land and to one another through our bodies is as essential as it is joyful. Through performance and movement-making among trees and rivers and the ocean, NETWORK invites us to feel our bodies as organisms who are inextricably part of the larger organism of the earth.
Let me say joy again — because being part of the group of six women who gathered in Playa Hermosa was moving and deep and delightful. Collectively our group had roots in Honduras, Germany, and Italy as well as the United States. While we had experience in a variety of disciplines — dance, science, creative writing, media and installation design — we all shared a background as movement practitioners. We were all drawn by DeNio’s vision for NETWORK as itself a living and growing project, one that calls on each of us to show up fully while yielding to the power of the group. Informed and inspired by the cooperative behavior of trees and root and mycelial systems, DeNio has developed NETWORK by building connections among the communities she has worked in for years — through her artistic company, KDMovingGround; working with dance students at U.C. Berkeley; her work with young people experiencing homelessness at Larkin Street Youth Services; her work as a house artist with CounterPulse, and her current residency at Djerassi Resident Artists Program. She has worked on an urban tree planting project with young people in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco; participated in art immersion hikes with her collaborators, hikers and staff on the land of the Djerassi Program; and connected with the leaders of the Association of the Ramaytush Ohlone for consulting and guidance on NETWORK. A former director of Earthdance Creative Living Project, an artist-run residency and retreat center in Massachusetts, she has seen, over and over again, how people relax, open, and transform in a natural environment.
“The NETWORK project brings people into nature in order to directly connect with the trees, land, and water through their own bodies,” she says. On July 2nd and 3rd, audiences will participate in a three hour experience on the land where the Djerassi Program is located, sharing that direct connection with one another, the NETWORK collaborators, and all the living creatures we busy people so often overlook. An interactive experience, part ritual, part performance, part hike and part nature education, NETWORK invites audiences to participate in the creation of a collective sacred space. That space is the land we all walk on and that we are made of.
We are here, right now, and we are not the only beings alive and full of energy and ideas. NETWORK is a way to attend to the living edge of the ecosystems that have given us our existence, to learn to listen and live accordingly. What might we make if we step away from the environments that we create for convenience and into the wild world that made us?