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Sinopoli dance troupe to reveal principles of physics

Sinopoli dance troupe to reveal principles of physics

Dance is movement, but can movement depict the laws of physics?
Sinopoli dance troupe to reveal principles of physics
Dancers get students involved in ChoreoPhysics demonstrations.
Photographer: Mark Schmidt

ALBANY — Dance is movement, but can movement depict the laws of physics? That’s a question choreographer Ellen Sinopoli pondered three years ago when Keith Earle, associate professor in physics at the University at Albany, made that suggestion. 

“It was a very different project,” Sinopoli said. “I had to discover the choreography.”

For 25 years, Sinopoli has created dances for her Sinopoli Dance Company and had often collaborated with other artistic media. Earle had come to see “Spill Out!” — one of her dances in which she’d collaborated with an architect to challenge movement and space.

“I was thinking about how to make something intangible, as in electro-magnetic waves, visual-able,” Earle said. “When I saw the movements of the dancers, something clicked. I thought that maybe dance could inform physics.”

The result was the dance “Texture of the Whole,” which premiered in 2014. After that initial performance, Sinopoli and Earle quickly realized it could be turned into an entire lecture, demonstration and discussion on science for high school students. Since then thirteen school districts or more than 1,000 students have attended “ChoreoPhysics: Demonstrating Concepts through Dance.” 

On Dec. 15, it will again be presented. Four hundred students from eight area districts are already expected to attend. Seats are still available for another school group or parent with children.
spinning and twisting

The dance, which is about 15 minutes long, is for six dancers working to British rap composer Brian Eno’s moody and eerie electronic score. As they spin and interweave with gentle arm gestures and subtle body twists, they depict several laws of physics: harmonic motion, pendulum, momentum, force as in centrifugal force, substrate as in a chemical being modified by protein, reflective and refractive energy, projectile motion and the arc created, eddies as in water, and echo.

“We had to look things up to know what they were,” Sinopoli said. “Each dancer was given a movement and allowed to improvise within that. There was no narrative. We put eleven or twelve pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle. It became a powerful piece.”

The dancers learned something. 

“The movements are not different from what we do in dance but I became more sensitive to the physics and came to have a more visceral understanding of it to make it more viable,” said Laura Teeter, who has been with the company for 13 years and was one of the original “Texture” dancers.

Louisa Barta, however, had to learn the patterns as presented as she’s been with the company only three seasons.

Momentum at first

“Usually it’s choreography first and momentum second,” she said. “This time it was the other way and it was nice to put it in context and in the forefront. Learning the science was helpful and made it more fun. You’d learn a phrase, and the science would make it bigger and more full.” 

It’s also been educational for Earle.

“I dragged my grad students to a rehearsal along with other students to get feedback,” he said. “I’ve benefited because it’s opened my eyes to the whole process. I pay more attention to how I do research calculations and make aesthetic choices. Now I use movement as an example in my classes.”

Students do more than just listen and watch. They also participate.

“We have them come on stage and try out some simple studies,” Sinopoli said. “We want the kids to see the concepts. The physical experimenting gives them a deeper understanding.”

The program has proved so successful that Sinopoli has had requests to present it to middle school and even elementary schools in Gloversville and Cohoes.

“We already do substantial outreach as a dance company and do design residencies of creative movement that are not dance classes,” Sinopoli said. “We present Choreo as ‘Science in Motion’ and relate it to what they’re studying.”

Two other dances that explore physics are scheduled for April performances.

ChoreoPhysics with Sinopoli Dance Company

  • When: 10 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 15
  • Where: UAlbany Performing Arts Center
  • How much: $5, student; free for parents
  • More info: 442-3995;
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