The Washington Post

Dance review: ‘How to Lose a Mountain’ blends emotions, environmental issues

Dance Exchange members Sarah Levitt and Shula Strassfeld in Cassie Meador's "How to Lose a Mountain." (Zachary Z Handler)

Dance Exchange’s premiere of “How to Lose a Mountain” on Saturday at Dance Place was the final event of a six-month dance project. The theater was filled to capacity, and the air crackled with excitement. “Mountain” delivered an emotionally powerful 60 minutes.

Dance Exchange is about more than dance for dance’s sake. The company is energized by issues.

The issue in “Mountain”  is about a mining practice in which mountaintops are literally removed to get at thin coal seams below. The coal is burned to produce electricity.

This project began six months ago when Cassie Meador asked herself, “Where does the electricity I use come from?” She discovered that it came from coal and set out to find its source in Appalachia. She and several dancers hiked 500 miles over six months.  Partnering with naturalists and the U.S. Forest Service, they stopped at power plants, farms, towns and schools to interact with communities. They posted their experiences on

The mountain in the title is one in Appalachia that Meador’s great-grandfather lost in a card game. It also stands as a metaphor for all the mountains lost to mountaintop removal.

Electric lights were suspended on one side of the stage. A grove of trees stood on the other. The work began softly with dim lighting, then exploded into movement when  Meador turned on the first electric light. That set in motion several short segments of dance, storytelling, dancers speaking, recordings and combinations of the above.

The work’s emotional wallops came from the story, which was the tragedy of destroying mountains and forests. Meador asked: “Is it worth it?”

She answered “no” with narratives that explained the story’s essentials, and pure dance segments extracted, alluded to and distilled six months of highly personal experience.

Still, to fully appreciate this work, one had to have read the extensive program notes. They were an essential component of the performance.


The dance project has been in development for three years and the 500-mile walk took two months. The light was turned on by Sarah Levitt.

Squires is a freelance writer.

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