“I see fire | Burning the trees | And I see fire | Hollowing souls | I see fire | Blood in the breeze | And I hope that you remember me.”

So go the lyrics from “I See Fire,” written by singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran for the film “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” and sung in this rendition by Alice Olivia. The light feet and fluid ballet moves of dancer Zara Boss accompany the haunting music in an original piece choreographed by Jillian Beaulieu for the new vegan art collective Backyard Terrestrials. It is one of three original dance pieces Backyard Terrestrials released on New Year’s Eve and which are available to view on the group’s website, Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Dancers Zara Boss, left, and Jillian Beaulieu have formed a vegan art collective called Backyard Terrestrials, with an online gallery of visual art and an original ballet to be staged this summer. Photo by Stanley Kimball

To a vegan’s ear, the song conjures images of the Amazon burning to make way for cattle or the infernos last December at Cal-Maine Foods in Florida, where more than 200,000 juvenile hens burned alive in windowless warehouses that supply eggs to Egg-Land’s Best and other supermarket brands.

“When I first heard the song ‘I See Fire’ it struck me as a sort of a plea,” Beaulieu told viewers during the Facebook Live viewing party of the dance. “My plea, as I’m sure is the case with so many vegans out there, is that people will take the time to bear witness to the unpleasant images and hear the screams of the endless number of victims so that we may reconstruct the way we perceive reality and behave in ways that protect the greater good.”

Boss, who started dancing at age 10, choreographed the dance to the up-tempo song “Bang” by AJR; both she and Beaulieu perform. During the Facebook livestream, Boss, 17, who is a senior at Thornton Academy in Saco, explained the dance is “about being a young vegan who is breaking out of this stigma that you have to be exactly like all the people and generations before you.” She then adds: “You don’t have to eat meat just because everyone else in your family does or your society does.”

The third dance, set to “Wake Me Up” by Tommee Profitt and Fleurie, contrasts dreams of a vegan utopia with the real world. “Although the attempt of turning our dreams into reality can at times feel overwhelmingly exhausting, mentally, emotionally, physically and even spiritually, we must remind ourselves that it only takes one person to believe in their dream and to continue to fight for that dream in order to create change,” choreographer Beaulieu said of the piece.

Each of the dance videos was filmed and edited by Stanley Kimball.

Boss and Beaulieu met as fellow performers in Resurgence Dance Company’s 2019 production of “A Day at the Museum”; they were the only two vegans in the production. In 2020, the two formed Backyard Terrestrials. “Jillian came to me in August of last year with this idea,” recalled Boss, who lives in Woolwich. “I thought it was brilliant combining the two things we love: the performing and visual arts and veganism.”

“I wanted to try a new approach to connect with people,” said Beaulieu, 31, who lives in Augusta and has been dancing since age 6. “What we’re trying to create is kind of like a vegan meetup, but there’s more focus on dance and art” (than on eating).

During the pandemic, they’ve used their creative energies to bring to life Backyard Terrestrials, which “uses art to empower and educate people about veganism.” Despite COVID restrictions, the pair have begun to curate a body of work on their website, backyardterrestrials.com, that, in addition to the dance videos, includes visual art pieces submitted by other artists dealing with environmentalism, human health and the relationship between humans and other life.

Backyard Terrestrials recently wrapped up rehearsals in Bath for an original ballet they plan to stage and film this summer for remote viewing. “We’re keeping plot specifics on the down low,” Boss said. What she could say is “it’s about Mother Earth and the daughter of Mother Earth going out into the world and experiencing humans for the first time.”

Beaulieu and Boss conceived and choreographed the ballet. Backyard Terrestrials plans to release a video of one of the show’s dances on Earth Day, April 22.

“The people I’ve met in dance companies are passionate about social justice issues,” Beaulieu said. “One of our goals is to show how veganism is connected to these other issues people are passionate about.”

“Forest Dance” by Lisa-Holly Kelly was made using acrylic paint and paper and is one of the visual artworks featured on the Backyard Terrestrials website. Courtesy of Backyard Terrestrials

Although the collective has thus far focused on dance, Boss said she and Beaulieu “don’t want to limit ourselves to one art form. Art is a bridge. It can connect all different kinds of people.”

The group accepts art submissions that relate to veganism for inclusion in its online gallery and is always looking for dancers who want to join. Boss hopes the group can continue to engage in change-making actions, such as the work she’s doing to get a local dance store to stock vegan pointe shoes. (Traditional pointe shoes include leather.)

“I hope for it to draw in a few more members,” Beaulieu said. “I’d like to see regular performances happen.”

Beaulieu described the camaraderie that develops between dancers during rehearsals, saying dancers often refer to their “dance families” or “dance community.” Boss and Beaulieu have a dream that one day Backyard Terrestrials will cultivate a vibrant vegan family of dancers, artists and other creatives.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at [email protected]
Twitter: @AveryYaleKamila


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