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Columbia Spectator Staff

Caught in the North Atlantic Gyre, grocery bags, bottles, toys, fishing nets, and other plastic debris break down under the sun into toxic, microscopic, non-biodegradable fish food. This floating trash patch presents a real problem that choreographer Lynn Neuman, along with Columbia University's Urban Design Lab, hopes to solve through awareness, advocacy, research, and dance. Wrapped in costumes crocheted from six-pack holders, seven dancers charted the journey trash takes as it leaves human hands and makes its way out to sea, in "Your Planet: The Human Mapping Project," a production by Artichoke Dance Company. Performed on Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn on Saturday, the piece melded dance, activism, and audience participation into a fun and productive day at the beach. To fully comprehend the magnitude and implications of oceanic rubbish, Neuman met with scientists from the Urban Design Lab's Plastic TrashPatch Project, which seeks to connect environmental advocates with academic experts. "We're looking at the connection between cities and trash patches," said Richard Gonzales, the project's manager. His program assesses the global impact of garbage patches on people and the environment. So far, scientists have found that toxic elements from the microscopic plastic are entering our food chain. As the performance began, the dancers spread across the beach in three groups. Neuman invited children and other audience members to play percussion instruments made from recycled and found objects. Two professional drummers kept the beat while amateurs experimented with buckets, cans, and glass bottles arranged in a large circle in the sand. By starting at opposite ends of the beach, the dancers called attention to the terrain and challenged the audience to look at the big picture—the environment. Slowly, the disparate groups made their ways toward the drum circle. Dressed in garbage crocheted together by visual artist Olek, the dancers twisted and spun in the sand, leaving a trace of their existence on the beach. Like plastic meshing together in the ocean, the dancers linked up as the groups converged in the circle. The performance referenced movement rituals historically practiced by tribal cultures, specifically Native American ones, reminding the audience that modern society has all but lost this tradition. The performance drew to a close when the dancers took audience members by the hands and led them to the ocean. The beating of the drums gave way to the pounding of the waves, as the crowd was left to ponder its own impact on the ocean. "It's about creating a community of people around a common concern or action," Neuman said. "The performance offers avenues of participation, so people can engage the piece in a way they feel comfortable." Artichoke Dance Company will perform "The Human Mapping Project" again this Saturday, Sept. 25, at 1 p.m., preceded by a three-hour beach cleanup in front of the New York Aquarium in Coney Island.