Exhausted and hyperstimulated, I attended the last day of the symposium hoping to not have to speculate too much and to se something very physical and material.
I got what I wanted. it looks like whoever drafted the program of the festival had the same needs.
the day was then mostly about works that had ben planned and conducted in a very proactive, practical and concrete way.
one could fit them into broadly three categories: movement, manuality and craft.
Robert Himmel and Carl Flink (a documentary film maker and a dancer and choreographer) banded together to bring encounters between scientists and artists by using the moving arts (dance) as a possible tool to illuminate science. An apparently educational and pedagogical project, this enterprise proved to have more complicated effects : the possibility that not only the dancer and his audience, but also the scientist could benefit from this rather unlikely collaboration. in fact, while Fink approached the collaboration with the scientists at the Institute for Advanced studies at the University of Minnesota as an experiment that in its attempt to express science through dance explored the issue of failure of dance (a failure possibly achieved through the impossibility to emulate a natural phenomena or to reproduce a scientific principle to an audience), the project became also a way to direct the scientist towards alternative solutions and scientific paths and thus became an additional tool that the scientist could use to "see" beyond his own routine research.
Above: Carl Flink
The research under scrutiny is the formation of microtubules and how they grow and then fall apart apparently catastrophically. This moment of catastrophe is interesting, as it can be used in dance to explore its own failure. This phenomenon is also quite extraordinary and mysterious.
Flink brought in his company to choreograph this phenomenon and to create a human size reproduction of this phenomenon that could be observed and analyzed closely by the institute's graduate students
asked by Robert Himmel how the scientific research could be influenced by dance, the chief scientist David Odde had to admit that this collaboration definitely made his work more visceral.
In general, here are some benefits arising from this kind of activity:
1) faster than programming prototyping protocols. you can put together a demonstration of the collision of cells or other micro-relations in about 5-20 minutes. Scientist David Odde for instance was able to see and possibly get indicators that inform the direction of his future research
2) inside /outside perspective for the research. By being able to observe the dancer's movements very closely, the participants had a real life experience inside of the cell.
in a very different way, Gail Lotenberg, another choreographer /dancer participating to the symposium, expressed her view that dance could be an excellent tool to illustrate where logics and emotion collide
Lotenberg's dance is not only deeply inspired by science, but it is also informed by a particular notion of collaboration that is simultaneously a way of thinking as well as a practice. Thus, dance and the words and reasoning of a variety of scientists intertwine in a choreography that reproduces with movement both the concept uttered by the sscientist and his/her sense of humor, or mood.
If the scientist is making science, then the choreographer plays it.