Happy Friday! I have two more reviews to write (San Francisco Ballet’s Program 5 and the Spelling Bee Musical), but I haven’t had a few spare hours to sit down and write them yet. So in the meantime, here’s something I stumbled across in my in my daily dance blog reads.
Lisa Traiger of D.C. Dancewatcher posted about a Science magazine sponsored event, where graduate students, post docs, and professors were invited to come and to dance out their Ph.D. dissertations. The rules were to interpret your Ph.D. thesis in dance form without using words. Winners get a free year’s subscription to Science magazine, one of the top scientific magazines in the field. I know the prize sounds dorky, but it’s very expensive (several hundred dollars? thousands?) and is a great prize worth striving for. Judges were mostly dance folk, with an addition of a “non-profit science communicator”, whatever that is. The winner, Brian Stewart, who not only won for his “graduate student” category but also took the prize overall, danced out his thesis titled, “Refitting repasts: a spatial exploration of food processing, sharing, cooking, and disposal at the Dunefield Midden campsite, South Africa”. An observer writes,
“No one was surprised when he scooped the prize. For one thing, Stewart wore nothing but a shimmering, translucent loin cloth. (That’s worth a few bonus points in my book.) But the judges told me afterward that his dance stood out because it accomplished two things at once. Most importantly, “he connected with the audience,” said Pastorini. “That is the purpose of dance: to create emotions.” A big help was his choice of musicâ€”a jazz interpretation of African Pygmy tribal music by Herbie Hancockâ€”which created an atmosphere of funky ancientness.”
I love the title of the postdoc category winner, “mRNA Stability Regulation as a Drug Target”. Hilarious! That title has a world of opportunity in terms of how you can translate that into dance.
The Ph.D. thesis would translate well into a dance for a few reasons. First of all, it has a point – you’re dancing out your thesis, and how well you accomplish this communication to the audience defines good choreography, as it should in the dance world. Also, as I was reminded this past weekend when I saw the scientific based “Eden/Eden” at SF Ballet, science can translate very well into art. I’ll blog more about it later, but the artist’s take on science can be very beautiful and thought-provoking. And multidisciplinary approaches to anything is always fascinating and creative.
Scientists, contrary to popular belief, have to be very creative people. You have to be able to approach a scientific problem in a myriad of complicated ways, and you have to be able to drum up all the possibilities and explanations for the results that you get. (You also have to be used to failure, which I’m sure has parallels in the dance world.) And how fun is it that these creative people get to show their creativity in a different and completely unprecendented way?
My Ph.D. thesis (in the field of neuroscience) has the possibility for a great dance. I work on synapse formation in the brain – so it incorporates broader themes of the creation of memories and thoughts, and destruction of both in abnormal function. The brain (or the higher cortex) is also what defines humanity; it’s what makes us human compared to other animals. It’s also very dynamic, so that could translate well into movement as well. The soundtrack to my dissertation would be… hm, I’d have to think about this. I would love to use Bach, but the sounds of aÂ polymerase chain reactionÂ machine might be more fitting (it’s very John Cage).
Reports that next year it’s going to be global, on Youtube! It’d be fun if there was a U.S. one. I would definitely try for it… anybody want to help?? Any ideas would be appreciated! The stakes are even higher for next year, where for the prize, “Negotiations are underway to have the winners’ latest peer-reviewed publications interpreted by a professional dance company.” Fun!! My feeling is though, that more rules have to be put into place. For instance, you could technically post a video of a ballet company performing “Eden/Eden” for a postdoc or a student who happens to electroporate enucleated eggs, or even for anyone works in the in vitro fertilization field. Can you use professional dancers or choreographers? Does the author of the study in question, have to be a major feature of the dance, perhaps the lead dancer? Perhaps I can borrow Jaime Garcia Castilla for my piece.
Jaime Garcia Castilla in “Eden/Eden”
Â© Erik Tomasson
San Francisco Ballet
Check out the videos in the link below – I found that the links don’t work here, but maybe it’s because I’m at lab and the school’s firewall isn’t happy. You also have to read the entry, especially the last paragraph – I just KNOW the author/observer, John Bohannon, actually sat down to calculate the statistics of the number of grad students and professors dancing on the dance floor to come up with the p-value that he came up with.
Can Scientists Dance? by John Bohannon of Science magazine
This was also covered by the NY Times. And in response to the question asked in the article, no, it would ruin it if it was changed to having the best music video of your thesis. I prefer dance; music video would be too easy, you would just have to explain your thesis verbally and to make it rhyme somehow. Dance would stretch people’s imaginations more, and have scientists’ imaginations really come into play.