Art professor Cyndi Gusler (pictured) collaborated with Carnival troupe member and nomadic painter Dimitri Kadiev to shape the mural on the second floor of the Cedarwood residence hall. Students participated in the project under their guidance. (Photo by Lindsey Kolb)

Carnival de Resistance brings earth-friendly performances, art, parade to Harrisonburg

Bicycles generated the necessary power, with a gently audible rhythm, for the sound system at gatherings of the recent Carnival de Resistance. Volunteers, including EMU students, took turns pedaling for the electricity.

The energetic Carnival troupe began its two-city tour with 10 days in Harrisonburg, camping on Trinity Presbyterian Church’s lawn while promoting “creation care” through performance, artwork and service both there and at EMU. Carnival de Resistance is a new venture, with artist-members from around the U.S. and Mexico, says member Sarah Thompson, who holds an MDiv from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and is outreach coordinator for Christian Peacemaker Teams. Four main shows addressed themes of earth, air, fire and water.

At EMU’s Thomas Plaza in front of the Campus Center Wednesday, more than 100 experienced the air-themed show, titled “Out of the Whirlwind.” Featuring its creators, Jay Beck and Tevyn East as Raven and Dove, it began serendipitously as a full harvest moon emerged from clouds:

Addressing human neglect of earth

Dove (East), a wordless dancer in white robes, cradles an egg. Hatchling Raven (Beck) appears, clad in black rags. Raven’s first word is “death.” His narrative – angry, mournful, sometimes humorous – attacks humanity’s neglect of Earth:

“For the earth to stay alive, your way will have to die.”

Raven and Dove briefly dance on a biblical-type ark, but Dove gets confined to a cage. “We can scarcely fly in this soup of chemicals,” shouts Raven, who warns of angering Gaia, envisioned as the mother of Earth.

“The concepts were thought-provoking,” said Jessica Hostetler ’08, an EMU staffer who brought a church youth group to the show.

At an earlier chapel service, the troupe led a Cherokee chant to “the great spirit,” along with the adaptation of a familiar spiritual’s words “When I die, hallelujah, by and by,” to “When we live, hallelujah, how we live.”

On the Carnival’s website, inspiration is attributed to an array of influences, including First Nation and African earth-centered spirituality and activist theologians Ched Myers and William Stringfellow.

Resonating with students of sustainability

EMU biology professor James M. Yoder observed that the Carnival “links oppressed people with the oppressed earth.” The radicalism, he said, may reach some who ignore conventional messages.

Troupe members visited Yoder’s environmental sustainability classes all week. They have committed to making no purchases while touring, relying on kindnesses when needed. The Carnival is supported both by grants and hospitality.

EMU junior Chris Lehman, an environmental sustainability major, served as one of many sound-powering bikers and directed parking. Everett Brubaker, a classmate in the same major, participated as co-president of the campus Earthkeepers. This major has been attracting increasing numbers of students, with 30 now in the program.

Junior Erin Rheinheimer, an environmental sustainability minor and Earthkeepers member, helped make sunflower signs for a parade and enjoyed a Carnival “skill-share show.”

Lehman, who enjoyed the air show most, is considering a career in conservation or wildlife biology. Brubaker, who especially liked the Carnival parade, hopes to work in advocacy.

Gifting a mural to Cedarwood

The second-floor mural in EMU’s Cedarwood dorm began with images by Carnival troupe member and nomadic painter Dimitri Kadiev. These were selected by art professor Cyndi Gusler from his previous works, and the two worked collaboratively on shaping the overall result.

On part of the mural, between a laundry-room window and custodial closet door, a figure with outstretched arms smiles joyfully. A river seems to flow from the figure’s heart. Nearby, a quetzal (Guatemala’s national bird) displays its tail feathers.

Gusler and Kadiev started with a yellow background, which she notes, “glows through wherever there is open space.” Next, they filled in large shapes with solid colors – blue (river and shades of sky); green (landscape); purple (mountains).

Then, Gusler had all her students participate. At Kadiev’s suggestion, they created stenciled images of living things: an owl, poppy, hibiscus, egret and butterflies. Others subsequently dipped brushes in varying shades of green, instructed to “fill the shapes, and while you do, think about the earth.”

A passing student shows a spot to a companion, noting, “I did that shape.” Cedarwood resident director Micah Hurst points to the blue space his children, 4 and 8, helped paint.

Parading down Main Street

In Thursday’s Carnival parade, imaginatively retooled bicycles rolled alongside marchers from Harrisonburg’s North Main Street to Court Square. Motorists smiled at jugglers, banners, colorful costumes and percussionists with homemade instruments.

The local “Fossil Fuel Zombies,” wearing shredded black trash bags, called for burying fossil fuels with message-bearing signs, including “Oil, oil, watch Earth boil.”

“Are you really Jesus?” someone asked Kadiev, who had lettered the name atop his paint-splattered garb. “Only a stand-in,” Kadiev smiled.

The march ended with an hour-long “Power Down and Lift Up” rally at Court Square. Local groups represented by speakers included the New Community Project for sustainability, the global-warming awareness movement, Harrisonburg’s Sept. 28 International Festival, Friends of Shenandoah Mountain, and Occupy Harrisonburg.

Park View Mennonite Pastor Phil Kniss, who helped pedal the sound system, explained why his church installed 125 solar panels. When believers ask “Why worry about this world?” he responds, “Because God loves this world.”

At Trinity this weekend, the Carnival will offer children’s events and a “Water Show” before bicycling to Charlottesville for its final 2013 gig. Each day’s schedule is posted on the Carnival’s website.