Seven dancers solemnly move across a large sandy plain in Huangshi, Hubei, China. The leader, at the head of the procession, holds up a large branch like a totem. Widescreen shots show us the big blue sky; down below, three of the dancers drag three others, their bodies limp, across the beach. In their hands they hold branches, that along with their unmoving limbs, leave traces in the sand. Flutes, bells and percussion fill an overlaid soundtrack. They seem to be performing a ritual, or perhaps a funeral march.  


Nature, here, is harsh but beautiful. Vast and empty, the human bodies look small within the extended plains. In what seems like an attempt to connect with their deserted environment, the dancers begin to move to the beat of the drum. Their heels meet the sand in concert, their chests open to the sky. Meanwhile, factories billow out smoke in the background.


In our time of climate crisis, perhaps it is not about distinguishing between humans and nature, but rather about dissolving the divisions between them. How can we break apart, or even flip this binary? The film plays with this notion in moments of synchrony, where two things happen at once: in the choreography, bodies are flipped from belly-down to belly-up, while the frame is flipped 180 degrees, along the horizon. It is as if the dancer’s experience is amplified for the viewer; the sky becomes the ground and the ground becomes the sky, in one swift gesture.

Still from Our Planet Destiny by Li Chen 

This synchronised inversion is a recurring theme throughout; the dancers bleed into upside-down reflections of themselves, fall upwards and jump downwards. While breaking the rules of physics, somewhat paradoxically, the choreography simulates natural processes. I imagine the slow development of a plant as it lays down its roots or raindrops falling from the clouds. It is hard to tell up from down, top from bottom, people from landscapes. I wonder; if we can’t tell nature apart anymore, can we continue to destroy it? 


A sharp, constant, industrial-sounding beat comes in, overlaid with hopeful harmonies. The four elements, earth, wind, water and fire, each play their part. The dancers throw sand into the sky, like fireworks. They break into easy runs and splash into the nearby ocean, the wind flowing in their hair. At night, they dance around a bonfire, the flickering flames bringing a lightness to their bodies. A gentle touch, a soft kiss. Framed by orange, sun set skies, it feels romantic. Is this an ode to nature, before it’s too late?


I am reminded of a question Latour asks: “How can we not feel rather ashamed that we have made a situation irreversible because we moved along like sleepwalkers when the alarms sounded?” I wonder if the metallic-sounding crunches are the alarm bells, and the dancers the sleepwalkers. At times they seem blissfully oblivious, rolling around in the sand. Then, they rage against it. Their faces, in a series of close-ups, reveal the darkness and the anguish within. They seem stoic, determined. In this painful moment of realising what we have done to our planet, their heartfelt tribute becomes a depiction of humanity. We can feel the importance of their every action, the sorrow in their closed eyes and outstretched fingers. Perhaps their movements are powerful enough that nature too, can feel the vibrations. Perhaps she can hear us. Perhaps she is listening.

Still from Our Planet Destiny by Li Chen 

In a final gesture, the camera zooms out to reveal an aerial shot of the ground with the lines they have created demarcating a sphere. Bodies are strewn across what seems to be a map of territories, becoming smaller and smaller on a celestial canvas. Is this a depiction of a  future version of our planet? One with tiny islands engulfed by growing bodies of water? Is it a warning? The traces they leave are nonetheless only temporary, soon to be swept away by the incoming tide. But maybe their dance will remain in the memory of the wind.

This material was created within the project Translation on Air – a section dedicated to dance for the screen or screendance. Every month we invite the professional and amateur audience, tempted by this intriguing symbiosis between cinema and dance, to join our readings, conversations, and discussions with active practitioners and choreographers in this field from the country and abroad.

The project Translation on Air is implemented with the financial support of the National Fund Culture under the program Audiences 2020 and One-Year Grant 2021.

Videography and references: 

Short film Our Planet Destiny by Li Chen

Bruno Latour, Facing Gaia, (Polity Press, 2017), p. 9

Beatrix Joyce (UK/NL) is a dance artist and dance writer based in Berlin. She trained in Contemporary Dance at Laban, London and graduated with an MA in Sociology from Goldsmiths University in 2016. She works across the domains of dance, writing and sound and creates site-specific, intermedia and immersive performances. In 2021 she started the performance in public space series WILD ACCESS, a hybrid format between audio walk and live performance, which has so far had three editions in Berlin: “WILD ACCESS Schöneberg” (September 2021, funded by Bezirksamt Schöneberg and Initiative Draußenstadt), “WILD ACCESS Pankow” (October 2021, funded by Bezirksamt Pankow), and “WILD ACCESS Lichtenberg” (October 2022, funded by Bezirksamt Lichtenberg and Fonds Darstellende Künste). In 2022 she was a resident artist in Cottbus, Brandenburg as part of the DiR Residency programme. As a writer, she joined the editorial team for Tanz im August in 2020 and writes for among others Stream (Tanzfabrik, Berlin) and Springback Magazine.