A Key Fascination: an interview with Gail Lotenberg of LINK Dance Foundation

LINK Dance Foundation presents

Experiments – where logic and emotion collide

A DanceWorks CoWorks Series Event

Winchester Street Theatre, 80 Winchester Street

May 25-26, 2012, 8pm

Interview by a very fascinated Lucy Rupert

Lucy Rupert: What is “Experiments – where logic and emotion collide” all about? And how have you integrated the spirit of experiment in the work?

Gail Lotenberg: “Experiments” is about outcomes from a series of experiments. A long time ago I asked myself, what happens when you put scientists who study the non-verbal communication of animals (Behavioural Ecologists), into relationship with artists who study the communicative intricacies of the human body (dancers)? I pulled together a group of collaborators and asked: how could we explore the interactions between our disciplines? “Experiments” presents a number of perspectives on that query, entwined into a single piece.

Each section in the dance revolves around a key fascination or area of achievement of the scientists collaborating on this project. In one section, Dr. Larry Dill views, live, a physical interpretation that hinges on a key discovery from his research career. Then Dr. Dill is given the chance to comment, live, on that artistic construct. Another section reflects the collective perspective of dancers, who have worked with LINK Dance over many years, as we have collaborated with scientists.

A unifying theme of the work is the abstraction that is used commonly by scientists and artists to express our deepest insights. In science, graphs and charts resemble choreographic language. In any graph, what you are looking at is lines in space that are influenced by scale, direction, magnitude and other key factors that impact a phenomenon. These graphs are abstractions of real observations, which are more powerfully communicated through abstraction then words alone. They represent the creative thinking of the scientist who created them.

Compare this to the language of dance, where we create shapes, lines, and images in space, and then manipulate them by scale (i.e. relative size, level, placement in space), and magnitude (i.e. speed, sudden or gradual movement), and force (i.e. smooth, sharp, heavy, or light).

Another key fascination for me in creating “Experiments” is how absolutely breathtaking it is to listen to scientists speak about their work. Their verbal and intellectual articulateness is matched by the physical agility of dancers. To capture the elegance in both disciplines and to find the perfect pairing between text and movement is one of the central modalities of this piece.

LR: What do you hope audiences experience at the show?

GL: What I hope audiences experience in this piece is the passion of scientists and the level of creativity that underlies science. But at the same time, I hope they can pick up a more subtle message about the rigour of dance that captures the essence or truth of phenomena.

LR: How did you find/select/secure the participation of the scientists involved?

GL: How I found the participants in this project is perhaps a bit of a love story. I am married to a scientist. I find his life’s work very inspiring, but I also find the barricades on his free-association to be infuriating to the same degree. By selecting a lineage of his colleagues to work with, I was able to draw on what inspires me about him and distance myself from the details of him. I chose to work with my favorite dancers, ranging from those who are most quixotic and intuitive, to the most rational and theatrical. They wrap me up on all sides of my potential and imperfections. And every time I watch this piece, it is like a ritual marriage reenacted that expresses my love story with Alejandro (Frid). He appears briefly in an early video from this collaboration.

The final member of the group is Dr. Mark Winston, a world-renowned bee ecologist, who is now the Academic Director of the Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University. He is deeply associated with the other scientists through their work as Behavioural Ecologists, but he stood out for me because of his current fascination with dialogue. He observed that what LINK Dance was doing was completely in line with the mandate of the Centre for Dialogue. His support has contributed on many levels to this current project from inception to tour.

LR: What motivates you to connect science and art in making a performance work?

GL: I am motivated to create art from science largely because I live in a world that is deeply wounded and in need of advocacy. In very subtle ways, I try to advocate for better stewardship of the Earth. I want people to see the humanity and passion behind science so they know that it is not practiced in a void of emotion. It is not the stereotype that people sometimes attribute to science: cold, dry disconnected. Actually, it is filled with people who feel wonder and delight at the natural world. Their science is usually driven by a passion to save the earth and other voiceless critters from ridiculously bad management practices by our governments. I want better stewardship of the Earth and if governments heed the perspectives of science, we may have a chance at a healthy future.

This interview has been edited for content and length.

Experiments – where logic and emotion collide excerpt


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