For centuries, nature has been a major inspiration for the creation of art. But today, pollution, overconsumption and waste are major problems affecting our planet. Environmental challenges have prompted artists to rethink their art, and in turn, urging people to rethink their lifestyle. By bringing our wasteful habits into sight and into mind, their art aims to confront us with the consequences of our unsustainable ways of living and consuming. The Last Sunset is an upcoming immersive performance in Bulgaria, which blends environmental issues with powerful contemporary dance and theatre. It takes its audience to a dystopian future in which we did not manage to switch to sustainable energy in time and suffered the devastating consequences of the climate crisis. The location for the outdoor performance is the Regional Landfill in Gabrovo. As the sun sets, the audience is guided by the performance around the site of the landfill. The vision of a future where we missed the opportunity to switch to sustainable energy is – for now – merely a dystopian narrative. But as the last light of day slowly fades, the audience is at the same time confronted with the negative effects of pollution on nature and human health that are already a reality today.
The Last Sunset is directed by Kosta Karakashyan, Antonia Georgieva (Studio Karakashyan, Bulgaria) and Carlos Aller (Frantics Dance Company, Germany). The idea for this immersive performance came out of a workshop involving artists and ecological organizations organized by the House of Humor and Satire Museum in Gabrovo. As part of the workshop, artists gained deeper insights into Greenpeace’s fight against climate change and pollution caused by coal power plants in Bulgaria. As one of the workshop’s attendees, Bulgarian director and choreographer Kosta Karakashyan got the opportunity to take a tour of the Regional Landfill for Non-Hazardous Waste in Gabrovo. He noticed that the landfill is run by a team that is deeply passionate about sustainability and setting a better example. And so, Karakashyan brought the Director of the landfill, engineer Daniela Dimitrova, on board with his idea: To transform the landfill – which is fully operational during the day, dealing with the sorting, recycling, and composting of waste of all towns in the Gabrovo region – into a venue for an immersive show.
It is certainly no easy task to approach the issue of climate change artistically and do justice to all its tragedy and urgency without overwhelming the audience or putting them in a state of numbness. The Last Sunset is a brilliant example of how immersive, site-specific performances can help to address sensitive and challenging topics. By creating a heightened sensory experience, a sense of empathy can be evoked in both the audience and the performers. As the landfill is the place where nature’s struggle against pollution in the form of an accumulation of plastics and other non-degradable objects is laid bare, the choice of this location for the performance is spot-on. “The landfill site perfectly evokes the desolate, near-apocalyptic landscape in the world of our performance, in which the consequences of pollution and climate change have gotten out of control”, explains co-director Antonia Georgieva. “Throughout their journey into this world, the audience encounters a range of different settings: from something we are calling ‘simulated reality’ to the hyper-realistic state of nature melding into what is manmade. This site, located in a beautiful place near the mountains, yet populated with the waste of human activity, is the perfect backdrop to a story about human greed and power.”
Crucially, The Last Sunset refrains from glamourizing waste by transforming it into art, turning it into something beautiful and pleasant to look at. Instead, the performers invite the audience to explore the unvarnished extent of the devastation caused by our contemporary consumer culture. Bojidar Nikolov of Greenpeace Bulgaria argues that this kind of active confrontation and engagement of people with the climate crisis is essential. “But that’s something the fossil fuel industry doesn’t want. That’s why they use glossy but misleading marketing campaigns to cover up the harm and buy social acceptance.” For this reason, Greenpeace has launched a campaign to ban the advertising and sponsorships of fossil fuels in the EU.
The performance explores both the environmental and social aspects of the issue. The central conflict and main characters of The Last Sunset were developed by focusing on and exploring the human aspect of the problem of pollution and climate change. The audience will have the opportunity to see multiple sides of the conflict, depending on what track they end up taking. “This is the crux of the dramaturgy as it would naturally evoke feelings of belonging to a particular group. Ultimately, we want to provoke people into thinking deeply about the issue and to take tangible action in order to prevent the difficult future portrayed in the piece”, says Antonia Georgieva. “The primary emotion that we want to evoke in the viewers through their encounter with this world is empathy. The landfill site is quite vast, so it also allows us to play with ideas around community and individuality or ego – something that could be the key to the large-scale effort needed to stop and revert the effects of pollution. Ultimately, the message we are conveying is that we can be most empowered when we are united in a common goal and shared values.”
The immersive theatre scene in London and New York and, in particular, Punchdrunk’s large-scale shows have served as a major source of inspiration for the directors of The Last Sunset. Such full-blown immersive performances are still a relatively new genre for Bulgaria. But performance directors Karakashyan and Georgieva are working hard to change that, by increasing the scale and production value of their own productions. “The Last Sunset is our second immersive collaboration after KITCHEN, and so far, we have been lucky to secure locations that already have a lot going for them. Over time, we would like to keep expanding and creating more and more of an appetite for immersive experiences in the Bulgarian audience. So, hopefully, the scale and the intricacy of the environments we create in will keep growing!”
The Last Sunset is performed at the Regional landfill for non-hazardous waste in Gabrovo (Bulgaria), on 18,19, and 21 May 2022 at 20:00-21:30.
Entry is free. Tickets: https://plentix.co/events/910/orders/new
The Last Sunset is co-produced by Studio Karakashyan and Goethe-Institut under the International Coproduction Fund and is realized with the support of the National Culture Fund under the “Socially Engaged Arts” program, the “SZ Contact” Grant Program by the Singer-Zahariev Foundation, and the Regional Center for Contemporary Arts “Topocentrala”.