The spotlight shines brightly on the dancers as they gracefully leap and spin across the stage, their futuristic headgear glinting under the lights. But what sets this performance apart from others is not just the skill and grace of the dancers but the unique and meaningful use of recycled materials in their costumes and set design.
Source: South China Morning Post/Youtube
The renowned Japanese ballet company, K-Ballet, recently debuted their new production, “Plastic,” which aims to raise awareness about the global plastic pollution crisis through the creative and thought-provoking use of recycled materials. The tutus worn by the dancers are made from used bubble wrap, the stage is surrounded by four massive walls constructed from recycled plastic bottles, and even the 100 transparent umbrellas used in the performance were found discarded in the streets of Tokyo.
The dancers, including guest star Julian MacKay, resemble space-age creatures with hand-cleaned PET bottles strapped to their bodies as they dance through a shifting labyrinth on stage. MacKay, from the United States, notes that the issue of plastic waste “really hasn’t gotten that spotlight” in the dance world and believes that the performing arts can inspire people to take action.
The problem of plastic waste is a pressing one. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), plastic waste has doubled globally in the past 20 years, and only 9 percent of it is successfully recycled. The United Nations predicts that the volume of plastic entering the oceans will nearly triple by 2040.
Using recycled materials in “Plastic” was a conscious decision made by K-Ballet’s chief producer, Taiju Takano, and scenographer, Naoya Sakata. In November, they spent a late night in Tokyo’s Harajuku fashion district, sorting through recycling bins to find the plastic props they would use in the performance. Joining them were staff from the waste management company Shirai Eco Center, who helped sort through the piles of plastic bottles, coffee cups, aluminum cans, and cigarette butts.
Sakata also used machine-recycled PET bottles by Shirai to construct the pixel-like bottle walls and giant letters that descended to spell “party people” in the upbeat finale of the show’s first half. In total, more than 10,000 recycled and reused bottles were used in “Plastic,” and the experience made Sakata realize the amount of waste that is thrown away each day is “shocking.”
Single-use plastic remains a significant problem in Japan, where even individual fruit pieces are frequently packaged. However, according to the OECD, Japan’s residents generate only a third of the plastic waste that their American counterparts generate and less than the average for European members. Japan also collects and recycles more plastic than many countries, although often for “thermal recycling,” where waste is burned for energy.
Takano notes that some elements of “Plastic” are intended to evoke old Japanese ideas of sustainability. In Japanese culture, “mottainai” describes the shame of wasting things. In the past, it was believed that the spirit of an object “would appear as a ghost if you mistreated things and threw them away,” says Takano.
For MacKay, the stage design helped him see the plastic items differently. “There’s a certain kind of beauty…when the light goes through these bottles and creates something that looks almost heavenly,” he said.
K-Ballet plans to keep its costumes and props for at least a year with the hope of re-staging the show. , and after that, the bottles will be recycled by Shirai. The show’s experience and message moved audience members who attended the performance. Ayumi Kisaki, a 30-year-old actor, said, “It’s an issue I don’t usually think about. But these dancers highlighting the issue of plastic helped me think of it as my issue to tackle.”
“Plastic” is not only a visually stunning performance, but it also serves as a powerful reminder of the impact that plastic waste has on our planet and the importance of taking action to reduce it. It’s a call to action for all of us to rethink our use of single-use plastic and to find ways to recycle and reuse the plastic that already exists.
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