To a scientist like
me, Experiments, a dance production
that premiered at the Scotiabank Dance Centre
at the end of November, was special. It is rare for
a work of art even to attempt to express the essence
of scientific creativity and Experiments came much
closer to the mark than I expected at the start.
It is one thing to portray nature in art,
as many productions do, including
many dance productions.
What is science,
anyway, not just as a discipline
and body of knowledge but a creative
human endeavor that engages on deeper,
more emotional, more fundamental levels than
many suspect? It may seem unrealistic to expect
non verbal, non rational, non quantitative media
like dance to express the abstract, rational, quanti-
tative essence of science. How could something as
touchy-feely as dance express something as
hard-nosed and logical as science,
or even approximate it?
One key was
that choreographer Gail
Lotenberg already knew and under-
stood a lot about science as a way of learning
about the world, if only by osmosis from her husband,
behavioural ecologist Alejandro Frid, but the subject interes-
ted her long before she met him. Coming from that background,
Gail asked many searching questions about science and invited
a team of ecologists and behavioural ecologists to help
answer them. She knew enough about what she
didn’t know to ask good questions.
Other keys were
common purpose, the magic
of dialogue, and the desire to communicate
clearly across wide gaps of experience, language,
and tradition. In education we call that interactive
engagement – – people talking with other people about
things they only partially understand. In Experiments,
we engaged deeply enough and trusted each other enough
to expose our ignorance, which helped us discover our
strength, and Experiments was what came out of it.
All I need to say about interactive engagement
is that it works. It is the #1 most important
factor in the development of conceptual
understanding and problem
solving in science.
Other things matter
too, but interactive engagement
matters most. Not only that, but when
communication must cross wide gaps in know-
ledge, understanding, and experience, and across
gaps in terminology or technology it is especially
effective. When people engage deeply and
honestly enough with others amazing
things can occur. That’s how
Experiments came about.
First published in the Vancouver Observer.
Edited January 2019