Hi fructose corn syrup

Framing the GMO debate through dance

Hawaiʻi-based dance theatre troupe Wai Company uses its medium to address GMOs with an informed and balanced portrayal.

Republished from INhonolulu

Fresh off of their recently funded Kickstarter campaign, the Wai Company sets off to deliver its decidedly indigenous, cross-disciplinary message to European audiences.

Led by the seemingly incomparable Wailana Simcock, this made-in-Hawaiʻi dance theater troupe will be tackling one of the hot-button issues of our age. By framing the debate currently swirling around GMO production and GMO consumption, the Wai Company has cleverly provided the combustion their potentially poignant piece needed.

A work still in progress, Malama Hawaii perhaps reflects the public’s own understanding of GMOs as, themselves, a work still in progress. Yet by placing Jamie Nakama in a lead role (who just happens to have a M.A. in ecological anthropology) the Wai Company has positioned itself to have highly informed discussions with its audiences about GMOs and their place in our society.

In fact, I will assert that if repeat performances of Malama Hawaii both here and abroad do nothing else but foster a temporary space in which a sensible, informed debate about GMOs can occur, then the Wai Company can consider itself a wild success.

At a time when those opposing the widespread adoption of GMOs are often accused of being “science deniers” and those strongly in favor of GMOs are considered overly trusting at best and greedy corporatists at worst, this is perhaps the issue that would benefit the most from sustained, open-ended, informed discussion.

I myself simply wish to have the option of knowing when I am eating an organism that has had the DNA of a dramatically different organism force-infused into it. At the same time, there is evidence that GMOs can save the modern world as we know it.

For my money, this debate falls apart once you consider the issue of patent law. In one breath we are told GMOs are just like traditional crops and therefore do not need special labeling/laws and in the very next breath we are told they are so different they have earned patents barring anyone else from growing them even in the case of involuntary, accidental cross pollination with neighboring traditional crops.

That peculiar dubiousness sits at the heart of my own misgivings about GMOs, but Malama Hawaii is much more careful to straddle the line, creating a culturally informed portrayal of the issue, rich and overflowing with concerns that go beyond the mere physical or ecological.

It’s a piece that speaks both to and from someplace deeper, someplace more transcendental. It’s about our anxieties over the future and our concerns with the past. It’s about our need to progress without destroying our heritage. It’s about you, it’s about me and, ultimately, it’s about what kind of world we want to live in.

Regardless of what side of the GMO debate you fall on, Malama Hawaii has something to offer in that it provides a platform where you can engage with others and put forth ideas as to how you arrived at whatever conclusion you’ve arrived at. In the end, it’s less about the ideas themselves and more about engaging with one another so that we might better understand the issue and better prepare for the future.

While they currently have no definitive plans outside of their kickstarter-funded trip to Scotland’s Fringe Festival, I recommend stopping by their website to find out more. At the dress rehearsal I attended at UH Mānoa over the weekend, they expressed a need for volunteers, dancers and media production specialists to help them better tell their story. And I have to say, it’s more than a story worth hearing: it’s a story worth taking part in telling as well.

Wai Company creates original and provocative performances reflecting the peoples of Hawaiʻi and the world, and encourages cultural understanding in the face of globalization and modernity. Wai Company’s arts education program promotes the transformational power of dance and theater by offering aerial and modern dance classes within local and global communities.