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Lesbian fundraiser focuses on global crises [24 September, 2008]

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Climbing PoeTree, a two-member spoken word group, was in Chicago performing its latest piece, “Hurricane Season: The Hidden Messages in Water.” The first performance was at Columbia College, the second at the Center on Halsted (COH).

The COH event, held September 19, was also a fundraiser for the Lesbian Leadership Council (a part of Chicago Foundation for Women), co-chaired by Jane Saks and C.C.  Carter.  “Hurricane Season” takes Katrina as a starting point, and is sharply critical of the mismanagement of the crisis.  But it also places the devastation of New Orleans and the subsequent mass displacement of people within a broader context of globalization and the free market system, and looks at the economic havoc wreaked upon populations as divergent as those in India and Darfur.

Saks, speaking to Windy City Times, said that the work exemplified “the relationship between the arts, culture, and activism and the idea of how we each located ourselves.” Bringing the group to Chicago was a way to showcase how the artists talked about the relationships between man-made disasters and natural ones.

Climbing PoeTree consists of two main performers, Naima and Alixa.  In their introduction, the two spoke ambitiously about attaining “a type of bliss that comes from having your eyes wide open to the horror of humanity.”

What followed was a series of dance performances within a multi-media presentation.  A white screen in the background played photomontages while audio clips from survivors of Katrina intermingled with the voices of activists like Vandana Shiva speaking about the ways in which globalization was devastating entire communities.  Shiva described the ecological consequence of Coca-Cola bottling plants that set up house in India and swiftly depleted the drinking water supplies of local communities, forcing women to walk as far as 30 miles a day to find potable water.

Water was a recurring theme in the production, presented both as a source of devastation when it flooded homes and a source of life in the form of sustenance.  The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation visited upon the poorer residents of New Orleans was linked to events like the war in Iraq.  Naima and Alixa pointed out that the devastation of the city had been imminent since the funds required for maintaining the levees were essentially diverted to the war in Iraq.  As one narrator put it in the voice-over, Katrina was “a man-made nightmare they tried to call an act of God.”

“Hurricane Season” was supposed to end with a ‘solution Cipher’ session, a discussion between audience and performers about how to prevent more destruction.  However, the performance was plagued by technical difficulties (audio and images were suspended on a few occasions) and the performance had to be truncated.  Despite this, the audience appeared to be engrossed in and riveted by the multiple and interconnected narratives.

Originally published in Windy City Times, 24 September, 2008

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