To illustrate how polarized the worlds of science and art are in our society, dancer-choreographer Gail Lotenberg needs only to look back at her own life. On reflection, she remembers that, growing up in New York City, she was a math whiz at school but had to forgo it completely in order to pursue her greater love: dance.
“I needed to decide because science and art are so separated in our culture that I couldn’t reconcile that,” the artistic director of LINK Dance tells the Straight in an interview at the Scotiabank Dance Centre.
But for the last few years, Lotenberg has been bringing together the scientific and artistic worlds, culminating in the debut of Experiments: Where Logic and Emotion Collide, running from Thursday to Saturday (November 25 to 27) at the Dance Centre. And in the process of creating the work with a team of behavioural ecologists, she’s also merged the two polarities within herself. “That was a discovery—I had buried that love of math so far beneath my consciousness. I buried that whole identity of myself,” she says, then adds: “Math is an amazing world of imagination.”
The Experiments project evolved out of Lotenberg’s marriage to an ecological scientist and her own deep regard for the environment—a love of the wilderness that first took her out of New York and brought her to the Yukon as a kayaker and telemark skier in her 20s, and now finds her here on the West Coast. “The project’s importance is that as citizens of the world, we cannot not take notice of the importance of science in our lives,” she explains. “And I wanted to bash the notion of scientists as restricted in their thinking—as close-minded.”
For the past three years, she’s worked with four ecologists—Larry Dill, Lee Gass, Anne Salomon, and Mark Winston—and dancers Darcy McMurray, Cara Siu, and Marvin Vergara to express the creativity of science, as well as the scientific rigour of dance. The resulting work, Experiments (in which Lotenberg also performs), interlaces movement, lighting, sound, and video to explore the similarities and differences between the disciplines. Several of the scientists, who range from bee to marine-mammal experts, appear onscreen, and their words on ecological behaviour—texts Lotenberg describes as surprisingly poetic—help form the rhythms of composer Jordy Walker’s soundscape.
In one section, a scientist even appears on-stage, describing the dancers’ movement in the language of behavioural ecology, the science that studies animals’ physical movement. The dancers, meanwhile, must manoeuvre around a landscape of white blocks and cubes, which to Lotenberg represent the data points of scientific graphs.
During the process here, and in several previous projects where she’s worked with ecologists—such as 2004’s Fear’s Physique, about predator-prey relationships, and 2002’s Devotion, based on the diving patterns of two seals—Gotenberg has grown to realize that scientists and artists have much more in common than society teaches us. “The imagination of the scientist comes in the ”˜aha’ moment: that is what fuels or fires or ignites any interesting research project,” she explains.
And meanwhile, of course, the scientists—who met once a week starting in 2007 for “conversations” that helped inspire the performers to develop their movement—have learned much about dance as well. “The scientists were astounded by the capacity of the dancers to embody a deeper understanding of their research than they thought possible,” Lotenberg explains.
As for audience members, they’ll get in on the research project as well. “LINK has a trademark now with interactivity, and we actually build an experiment that involves the audience,” Lotenberg says with a smile, but she keeps the nature of that part of the show a mystery. “You can’t call a show Experiments and not have an experiment. It wouldn’t be fair!”
Experiments shows at the Scotiabank Dance Centre from Thursday to Saturday (November 25 to 27).