Breaking the Spell of Greenwashing Through Ballet

Breaking the Spell of Greenwashing Through Ballet

When French choreographer Phillippe Lafeuille created “Cinderella: Recyclable Ballet,” he swapped magical pumpkins and fresh bolts of crinoline for a harvest of glistening water bottles and chic grocery bags. The resulting ballet, now streaming on ALL ARTS, elevates these otherwise mundane materials and fashions them into whimsical and striking creations that serve as a visual echo of Cinderella’s central theme of transformation.

But while the product of Lafeuille’s designs maintains a compelling vision of recyclables (or trash), the motive behind his green ballet eschews a direct political message, favoring instead a more figurative definition of recycling.

Still from “Cinderella: Recyclable Ballet.”

“Far from any type of ‘greenwashing’ — the trend that consists in putting eco-friendly green here, there and everywhere,” said Lafeuille in his description of the ballet, continuing, “here, recycling is above all proposed as a transposition of a character that is constant and recurrent in Cinderella: metamorphosis.”

But what is greenwashing and how does it relate to “Ballet Recyclable”? As Lafeuille suggests, the practice entails turning desires and needs for sustainability into social or monetary profit without actually addressing environmental concerns. Though greenwashing has received the bulk of its criticism for the way it is used in advertisements and lobbying efforts, it also embeds itself in the art world in different ways.

In 2015, artists in Paris pounced on corporations sponsoring the COP21 Climate Conference and accused the companies (including Volkswagen and Air France) of greenwashing their brands to appeal to politicians and consumers. The protests came on the heels of Volkswagen’s diesel emissions tests scandal — which consisted of the manufacturer’s using illegal software to appear greener and resulted in the recall of millions of cars — and featured 150 posters mimicking the look and language of real ads used by the companies as a means of critique.

While art can be used to shed light on greenwashing (and even combat it), the art world can also take on a viridescent glow, with varying degrees of environmental consciousness. This particular form of “art-world greenwashing,” as described by the writer Kyle Chayka in Hyperallergic, encapsulates “artists who claim their practice is about taking notice of the environment but whose works actually hurt more than they help.”

Here, artists use the environment and sustainability as a concept rather than a practice and include controversial, large-scale landscape installations, such as Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Over The River, Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado,” which was protested by environmentalists (not a first for the duo).

Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “Over The River, Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado.” Photo: Thomas Hawk.

Art-world greenwashing aside, art remains a viable conduit for commenting on environmental issues — a trend that seems to be growing. In a direct way, outdoor artists like Andy Goldsworthy and Mel Chin have fostered intimate dialogues between the landscape and art, often in ways that draw attention to the impact of humans on the land.

Others address environmental concerns through performance — as choreographer Jody Sperling does in her newest piece, “Melting Ice/Changing Winds,” an exploration into climate change.

In the case of “Recyclable Ballet,” Lafeuille resists greenwashing by using his upcycling of Prokofiev’s famous ballet and plastic materials to comment on the possibility of inventing something new from something old and by suggesting that such a transformation can take place both artistically and environmentally.

Or as Lafeuille states: “Making use of what we have today for greater well-being tomorrow.”

Top Image: Still from “Cinderella: Recyclable Ballet."