Charles Darwin created one of the greatest scientific revolutions in the history of humanity. In 2009, it is 150 years since he published The Origin of Species, a book that altered people’s view of themselves and fundamentally changed the way in which the world is perceived. In this work he advanced a completely new conception of the interrelatedness of all things in nature and explained how species can and inevitably must change through time. “Things change when you want them to, but also when you don’t”.
One of Darwin’s most surprising conclusions was that if all species change through time, they must all stem from common ancestors, which means that man himself is an animal – something that then as now is very difficult to understand and accept. Darwin was not only deeply interested in the theory of evolution but also in human nature, and he searched for explanations for human behaviour in the developmental history of the species.
In his youth, Darwin circumnavigated the globe on board the ship The Beagle. This journey lasted five years. His letters give us a glimpse of the thoughts he had and observations he made during his travels. He was struck by the beauty and diversity of nature, and as a natural scientist he collected vast amounts of biological and geological material.
The first part of the performance has this journey as its starting point, partly as Darwin must have experienced it and partly as we ourselves can be overwhelmed by the beauty of nature and the powerful forces that constantly change everything. Sometimes these changes take place imperceptibly through time, as when water slowly files smooth pebbles out of rocks and changes the course of entire rivers. At other times the changes are sudden and overwhelming, as when a volcano violently erupts, or a tsunami changes the appearance of a whole piece of coastline.
Darwin looks at the world as a geologist, focusing on a vast time, that of the earth, and as a biologist, focusing on a short time, that of humanity.
The second part of the performance has Annie as its focal point. Darwin had ten children, two of whom died at birth, while his daughter Annie died when only ten years old. The songAnnie’s Box is cushioned between two dramatic sequences that examine how everything is made up of smaller parts. The human body contains millions of micro-organisms, cells, that have adapted themselves to a life within us. We are complex organisms with, quite literally, a rich inner life.
The third part of the performance has as its point of departure the publication of The Origin of Species. Darwin worked slowly and methodically. He developed the theory of evolution over a period of twenty years before writing the final work. He knew how complete a break with the prevalent world-view his thoughts would represent, and he wanted to have all the scientific evidence in place. In 1858, he received a letter from Alfred Wallace, a young researcher, who formulated the same thoughts about the origin of species as he had himself. This shook Darwin, but after having consulted friends and colleagues, he decided to publish his thoughts and theories as quickly as possible in the work that became The Origin of Species.
As an old man, Darwin retired from public life and devoted himself to writing his books. But the debate concerning the origin of species continued to rage about him.
Tomorrow, in a year shows the individual and the group as organisms, as constellations undergoing constant change. From Darwin’s own time, where people knew their place and function in the social arena to focusing on individual development and personal relations.
The fourth part of the performance takes the timeline up to the present day and shows a complex organism where it is a question of the interrelationship of all things, and of the relation of man to the world around him. The present has a fast-beating pulse, but evolution has its own slow, relentless driving force, with change as a basic condition.
Research and the acquisition of knowledge about the development of species continue in Darwin’s footsteps, and lead to new, sensational results. Hardly a day passes without a reference to Darwin within all aspects of society.
He has ensured himself a place in history, but first and foremost he was an example of the species Homo Sapiens. The performance has to do with Darwin, but it also has to do with all of us, with humanity as such, with humanity as a species.