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Posted on October 14, 2014 in Curator's Notes
Dancing at the Intersection of Science and Culture

Cie Gilles Jobin rehearsing QUANTUM: photo Gregory Batardon

The Dance Centre’s Executive Director Mirna Zagar discusses the relationship between dance and science in the run-up to Compagnie Gilles Jobin’s Vancouver performances of QUANTUM, October 16-18.

We have always been fascinated with things that are mysterious or not easily reachable.  The arts. Nature. Science. Artists work to utilize the most recent knowledge and technology to create better, more interesting, more wondrous effects and to present ideas in new ways, often contributing to wider change in the process. And with today’s huge advances in technology, as well as in scientific fields that are closely connected to the human body and mind, the perceived gap between science and the humanities is being more conscientiously, even purposefully, bridged. For dance the connection to science has been for many years associated with medicine – biomechanical and psychological research applied to optimize performance methods, examine the emotional impacts of injuries, or manage eating disorders.  However for me, Gilles Jobin’s QUANTUM provides a timely reminder of the many different ways in which two disciplines, which are often thought of as so entirely distinct and separate, feed into and nourish each other, more now than ever before.

Perhaps it’s the correlation of what is involved in the scientific and artistic processes that bring the seemingly opposite together and into collaboration. In both these fields, we look for or attempt to make patterns, then we research in what ways these are disturbed and the impact of any disturbance and how the resulting effects inform us on our next step towards a new finding, or resolution of an idea. CERN – the largest particle physics laboratory in the world and home of the Large Hadron Collider, where scientists seek to unlock the very origins of our world – has both a Cultural Policy and a residency program Arts@CERN out of which sprang QUANTUM. Visual artist Julius von Bismarck, whose hypnotic swinging lamps are a core element in the work, said: The root reason why I am an artist is the same as it would be for being a scientist: finding out what there is out in the world and how I can contribute to our understanding of it. I am interested in making science sense-able – through the body and its senses…

Pioneering research into dance and science has taken place particularly in Britain, France, Germany and Australia. Several projects attest to these developments, many with a focus on cognitive analyses of dance performances, or perspectives of the spectator. In 2004, William Forsythe joined forces with Ivar Hagendoorn at the Dance and Brain Symposium to research perceptions of dance movement, motor imagery, bodily memory, cross-modal processing of music and dance movements, cognitive processes underlying the creation of choreography and improvisation, and much more – an exploration that he has continued to delve into throughout his career. There is a lot of research being undertaken in which choreographers are engaged in active collaboration with scientists, or carried out by individuals with background in both dance and science. This type of research is more than an arena in which choreographers make new forms and movement from their exposure to scientific theory, practice or technological advancements. More and more there is talk of the integration of disciplines (an actual uniting of disciplines and knowledge to produce hybrid knowledge and research results.

In 2003, Scott deLahunta and Wayne McGregor (whose FAR was seen just last month here in Vancouver) embarked on the Choreography and Cognition research project, which engaged practitioners from the field of cognitive science in seeking connections between creativity, choreography and the scientific study of movement and the mind. McGregor realized he would not embark on a new project based on this somewhat open-ended research until it was over, but did create AtaXia which investigated and was influenced by the research.  These types of collaboration offer valuable insight not only to the potential of choreographic material, the emergence of new vocabulary and syntax in dance making, they challenge the body of the dancer into new realms and expand the range of motion and body expression as well, and they also impact and inform on the experiences of watching dance. These contribute also to expanding audiences who engage from a different perspective with dance works. Sometimes there are unpredictable collaborations with industry driven research. For example, French dance artist Kitsou Dubois whose work is inspired by situations of altered gravity, teamed up with astronaut training organizations in US and in France. As a result of her own choreographic process and experience as a dance artist working in these contexts, she developed an astronaut training regime.

Cie Gilles Jobin/QUANTUM at CERN: photo Gregory Batardon

In these short- and long-term collaborations it is hoped that sensitive dialogues arise in which individuals learn about the values, language, and processes of each other’s disciplines. Sometimes the results are not equitable – scientists may not always gain much value from an in-studio experience, or some scientific results of these collaborations may be of limited impact to the dance artist. However, more and more data shows that these processes have proven benefits for both entities.  Reflection on what constitutes collaboration, what type of communication engagements and arrangements are fruitful and desirable to be inspirational across disciplinary collaborations, the generation of new knowledge, experience of each other’s cultures of theory and practice, all  contribute to the parties involved feeling a sense of empowerment, and opens up the space for discourse. The best results are seen when rather than having a single goal in mind, collaboration is seen as fluid, flexible, allowing freedom to speculate and reflect on empirical standards and biases.

During his CERN residency Gilles Jobin worked closely with scientists, discussing fields, waves and quarks, particle behaviour and symmetry, eventually arriving at the idea of 'movement generators' or principles underlying movement and emanating from quantum physics. This prompted some surprising shifts for the choreographer: We are not piles of matter, but matter assembled through tremendous forces. Our bodies are made of stardust, like a cloud hovering above the surface of the earth, held together by a subtle balance of quantum forces. For a contemporary dancer, trained to work with the ground and used to contact and realness, it's a whole new paradigmQUANTUM has a simplicity about it but it is also intricate and fragile, ambitious and complex. While it is Jobin's most abstract work yet, it remains honestly pure, playful. And our attention moves from the movement patterns which at times are beautiful, at times obscure, to costumes which are both a bit retro and a bit futuristic, to the lighting which serves also as a constantly changing and responding set. Likewise the electronic score incorporates data from the Large Hadron Collider. I am reminded that the purpose of all these interactions, collaborations and opportunities is to bring together visionary artists and thinkers who are breaking new ground in areas of music, dance, architecture, performance, visual arts, technology, science... and this includes us the audience. Feeding our inspiration, providing food for thought, creating a dynamic environment for the exchange of ideas.

Have you seen a dance work inspired by science which has had an impact on you? Please share your experience in the comments below...

The Dance Centre presents Compagnie Gilles Jobin in QUANTUM October 16-18, 2014 at Scotiabank Dance Centre, Vancouver.

Photos of QUANTUM by Gregory Batardon.


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