A physics professor might seem an unlikely partner for a dancer, but University at Albany physics professor Keith Earle and The Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company pair up nicely. After a semester-long collaboration, they will present a culminating performance and lecture/demonstration illustrating where their crafts intersect.
Earle approached artistic director Sinopoli about working together after he saw her company perform a piece called “Spill Out” a few years ago. At the time, he was grappling with the problem of how to make the concepts of electric and magnetic fields more understandable to his students.
He had seen artists’ representations of physics concepts in various media, but he felt something was missing. After seeing Sinopoli’s work, he thought that dance might be the answer.
UAlbany was able to obtain funding for the project from the New York State Council on the Arts, the UAlbany Foundation and the University Auxiliary Services. Being on sabbatical gave Earle the time to commit to working with the dance company.
“What I like about working collaboratively is that the other people will give me challenges as an artist and choreographer to create dance,” said Sinopoli, who has collaborated with more than 25 artists of various backgrounds over the past 23 years. This is her first collaboration with a physicist.
WHAT: Seeing the Science, Envisioning the Invisible (performance) and An Interplay of Dance and Physics (lecture/demonstration)
WHEN: Performance: Friday, April 25, 7:30 p.m.; Lecture/Demonstration: Tuesday, April 22, 2:45 p.m.
WHERE: University at Albany Performing Arts Center, 1400 Washington Ave., Albany
HOW MUCH: Performance: In advance, $15; $10 for students, seniors and UAlbany staff. Day of performance: $20; $15 for students, seniors and UAlbany staff. Lecture/Demonstration: Free
MORE INFO: 442-3997, www.albany.edu/pac
“I did not know how these patterns would turn out,” she said. “I had to trust that my dancers and I had a craft that would actually accomplish this.”
Earle, Sinopoli and the dancers discussed various concepts, many of which were the same for both parties, such as force, precession, rotation and weight sharing. As for other concepts, they found they were talking about the same principles, but expressing them differently. Once they found a common language, it made the work flow more easily.
Sinopoli talked with her dancers about the concepts they wanted to explore and then let them improvise. “This really was structured improvisation on the part of the dancers with my input and their input on what they were seeing,” she said.
From there, she drew from their interpretations, pieced parts of them together, embellished them, and added a rhythmical component. The piece had to fulfill two criteria: It had to be faithful to the physics concepts and be aesthetically pleasing.
During rehearsals, Earle made suggestions about what the dancers could add that would make it a truer interpretation of the concept. “What was interesting to me is that it was not a process of deletion, but addition,” he said.
The work required flexibility in body and mind. “The key was not being tied exclusively to one thought or one gesture, but to allow ourselves the freedom to let go a little bit,” said Earle, noting that idea is true of working in physics, too.
The piece that evolved is “Texture of the Whole,” which explores concepts including quantum beats, force, symmetry/symmetry break-up, rotation, precession, and translational and rotational Brownian diffusion, using more than a dozen of the laws of physics.
The company will round out the performance with four other pieces from its repertory that Earle and his physics students selected because they illuminate other scientific principles. They are “Conceptual Fling” (2008), “Continuum” (2014), “Solo Flight” (2013) and “Filament” (2012).
Audience members don’t have to understand physics to enjoy the performance. “The audience is going to draw from their own experience,” Sinopoli said.
She cautions against trying to figure things out during the performance. “You don’t get the experience of the dance because you’re dissecting it too much. It’s better to let it wash over you.”
The written program will provide commentary from both the dancer’s and the physicist’s point of view. While Sinopoli and Earle give their interpretations, Sinopoli stresses that those are just “guideposts, not dogma.” She encourages audience members to relate to the dance in their own way.
During the lecture/demonstration, Sinopoli and Earle will explain and dissect the concepts presented in the dance. On display in the lobby there will be photographs of the dancers that explain the physics concepts, taken by Gary Gold, who documented the project.
Sinopoli anticipates that the work will have a life after this particular project, and she hopes to be able to bring her dancers to area schools to work with science students.