Frances Chiaverini and Megumi Eda of Armitage Gone! Dance
(photo by Julietta Cervantes)
This weekend I attended Works & Process at the Guggenheim, partnering with the World Science Festival, to see Armitage Gone! Dance perform excerpts from The Elegant Universe, a piece inspired by physicist Brian Greene’s book of the same title. Karole Armitage, the choreographer and founder of Armitage Gone! Dance, first spoke to the audience about what the dance would look like, suggesting that it portrayed a “chaotic cosmos”. The excerpts, grouped into three parts, were based on different aspects of physics: first relativity, then quantum mechanics, and finally string theory. Each section had a subtitle, such as “Spacetime Foam”, “Cubism in Motion”, or “Wave Functions”. The musical accompaniment included Lukas Ligeti (son of composer Gyorgy Ligeti) on the marimba and electronics, along with Marco Cappelli on the guitar and Ha-Yang Kim on the cello.
Although the dancing was big and expansive (perhaps too big for the small stage) and the dancers were technically and artistically sophisticated performers, I wouldn’t have known that these excerpts were about physics by viewing them alone. Even after being placed within context, I still was a bit perplexed about how Ms. Armitage came up with movement that, to her, conveyed different theories of physics. Combining dance and physics is a pretty bold idea, especially when dealing with such complex, abstract ideas (confession: High school AP Physics was the bane of my existence).
Fortunately, physicist Brian Greene joined Armitage on stage to enlighten the audience, and as it turned out, he stole the show. Greene, who is a professor at Columbia and co-founder of the World Science Festival, was an engaging, dynamic speaker who clearly explained some very theoretical aspects of physics. He was also funny and sincere, and probably well aware that the majority of audience members had no idea what string theory was prior to the performance and his talk. I won’t attempt to explain in detail what he shared with the audience, but in a nutshell, string theory resolves the conflict between the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics. I would have liked to learn more about the physics of dance and movement, but since time was limited, I think Greene and Armitage felt compelled to stick to explaining the theories and how they were portrayed in the dancing. Hopefully the World Science Festival will become an annual event, and will include more discussions about the interaction between dance and science.