The Hop’s Big Move Series Bridges the Divide Between Dance and Scientific Research | Culture | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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The Hop’s Big Move Series Bridges the Divide Between Dance and Scientific Research

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Dancer/choreographer Emily Coates (standing) and astronomer Elisabeth Newton leading a Big Move event in 2021 - COURTESY OF MICHAEL BODEL
  • Courtesy Of Michael Bodel
  • Dancer/choreographer Emily Coates (standing) and astronomer Elisabeth Newton leading a Big Move event in 2021

Whenever people gather for a workshop, they engage in a kind of temporary culture, a shared set of norms, a certain purpose. At a community dance workshop in June, about 25 people locomoted with delight on sun-drenched grass to explore concepts of grace and proprioception. In July, 30 or so people lounged outside Dartmouth College's Shattuck Observatory as night fell for a loosely structured workshop/performance on dance and astronomy.

Though different in design, both events created cultures of curiosity about movement and science — and how they intersect.

The workshops were part of the Big Move series that Dartmouth's Hopkins Center for the Arts launched in May 2021. In the series, dance artists and research faculty collaborate to create community workshops that explore how dance connects to other disciplines and contributes to understanding them, said Michael Bodel, director of external affairs at the Hop.

"Our goal is to make a connection between a movement artist and some field that is mutually enriching so that there is an exchange of knowledge," Bodel said. "Dance artists are probing some really interesting stuff," he continued, and can offer a body-centered antidote to how "the academic world is very dominated by textual knowledge."

After Renée Jaworski, artistic director of Connecticut-based modern dance company Pilobolus, led the June workshop, she joined Dartmouth clinical researcher Mardi Crane-Godreau and Vermont integrative wellness consultant Kate Gamble for a free public discussion on body-mind interaction and economy of movement.

For the July workshop, artist Emily Coates, a theater professor and director of the dance program at Yale University, teamed up with Dartmouth assistant professor of physics and astronomy Elisabeth Newton to compare and contrast how they research historical dance works and exoplanets, respectively. Three additional workshops have paired dance artists with faculty in design, ecology and religion.

The next Big Move workshop takes place virtually on February 2. Performance maker Faye Driscoll and Dartmouth cognitive scientist Viola Stoermer will guide participants in exploring "Perception, Meaning & Movement."

Driscoll is a Doris Duke Artist Award winner known for immersive performances that foster intimate, sensory-rich, mind-bending experiences. She often plays with sensory or perceptual disorientation to invite people to expand their concepts of what's possible.

"A sound may or may not be connected to what you're seeing visually, or it might change the meaning of what you're seeing," she said by phone from Los Angeles. "I think it takes a little [work] to shake us out of our more fixed, rigid perceptions of our world."

About a year ago, Bodel and his Hop colleagues invited Driscoll to participate in Big Move. After discussing her interests and current projects, they put her in touch with Stoermer, an assistant professor in Dartmouth's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Stoermer's research includes investigating how sight and hearing affect each other and are interdependent.

"It's really interesting to talk with [Stoermer] about her experiments and find common curiosity," Driscoll said, and to discuss "the differences between the scientific process and the creative process."

In the February workshop, Driscoll and Stoermer will guide participants in activities that engage both sight and hearing and that explore both choreography and scientific inquiry. "It'll be an opportunity to enter viscerally and experientially into what could be," Driscoll said.

What does that mean, exactly? Activities from the inaugural Big Move workshop offer clues.

Last May, choreographer and dancer Alice Sheppard collaborated with Dartmouth associate professor of engineering Eugene Korsunskiy to lead workshop participants to new insights on dance, design and disability. Sheppard, who uses a wheelchair, is a performer and Bessie Award-winning choreographer whose work challenges concepts of disability and dancing bodies. Korsunskiy specializes in design thinking and human-centered design.

In the 90-minute virtual workshop, the pair invited about 50 participants to navigate the spaces they occupied and to consider questions such as "How are the buildings designed to be conducive to certain kinds of movements and certain ways of being?" Korsunskiy recalled.

Dancer/choreographer Emmanuèle Phuon (in black) guiding Big Move participants to explore nature-inspired movements in 2021 - COURTESY OF BEN DEFLORIO
  • Courtesy Of Ben Deflorio
  • Dancer/choreographer Emmanuèle Phuon (in black) guiding Big Move participants to explore nature-inspired movements in 2021

The group discussed how architectural design can enable or hinder movement, and they explored how "disability is in many ways a social construct," Korsunskiy said. "It's not that people's bodies are inherently somehow inferior, but it's that our built environment makes them appear that way."

The group imagined numerous ways to design buildings that would support "joyful movement for people who use wheelchairs," he said.

Workshop participants, some of whom were located as far away as Moscow, were so deeply engaged that Sheppard and Korsunskiy got through only a fraction of what they'd planned. But that preparation won't go to waste.

"Conversations like this expand my thinking and help me create a broader and more complex place to create from," Sheppard wrote by email. "I really enjoyed the preparation work with Eugene ... It was thrilling to see how similar ideas and questions contoured differently in our research work."

The Big Move series is in its infancy, Bodel acknowledged. As he and his colleagues become increasingly adept at "matchmaking" dance artists and faculty who find "resonance between their areas of research," they'll begin to invite regional artists to participate, Bodel said. For now, they're focused on leveraging the visits of nationally acclaimed artists to create accessible, interactive workshops that appeal to dancers and nondancers alike.

They're currently working with ballet legend Wendy Whelan and researchers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock medical center on a workshop tentatively scheduled for the spring.

Korsunskiy is looking forward to Driscoll and Stoermer's February workshop. For people curious about it, he offered, "If it's going to be anything like the one that Alice and I did, they should expect a fun, interactive, engaging and thought-provoking event that's gonna have them walking away thinking about something in a new way."

Big Move: Perception, Meaning & Movement virtual workshop, Wednesday, February 2, 5:30 p.m. $5.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Bodies of Knowledge"

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