Dancing With The Stars

by Gabrielle DeMarco on March 21, 2011

Our own Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) brought together an unlikely pair of researchers during its well-received Filament festival. Rensselaer astronomer and galactic expert Heidi Newberg teamed up with performance artist and choreographer Wally Cardona to perform a dance.

This might seem a far cry from Newberg’s research to map the Milky Way (check out my most recent story on her research to map dark matter). But Newberg says the entire experience represented a new way of using the resources of EMPAC to communicate about her research:

“From my perspective, it appeared to me that [the artists in EMPAC] were doing basic research in how to communicate…And the combination of someone who has something to say with someone who has thought very hard on how you say things would be a powerful combination. And I think in the end, that is what worked well between me and Wally – It was my message and his way of doing it.”

The dance was called “Intervention #2″ and is part of a series of dances that Cardona is working on through the spring. Each “intervention” involves five days of immersion into the work of an “expert.” Other experts that Cardona has worked with include an activist, a sommelier, and a visual artist. Newberg and Cardona spent an entire week together in EMPAC working together to create the new dance based around the concept of space.

For Newberg, space is a vast, endless entity. For Cardona, a Manhattanite, space is a confined thing. It is a room. It is finite. There is never enough. The dance explored the two ideas with Cardona dancing and Newberg providing a voiceover about her research of the cosmos. The pair, which began as awkward strangers by Newberg’s own admission, together created a new work of art.

Newberg says the experience gave her a new appreciation for the capabilities of EMPAC:

“I spent a week in EMPAC. Part of why I did this is because I wanted to see what EMPAC was. I really have a very difference impression of what EMPAC is having been there for a week and really been involved in it. I could see EMPAC making an impact in a number of fields.

In my research, what I have found is that communication of your ideas is an enormous part of being successful. And not just communicating to the public, but even to your collaborators or other astronomers…In the end, you want to turn it in to something that has an impact…There I could see the piece that EMPAC could give back to me. If I could have their help in getting my message across to people and they could use their research to communicate something, there are a lot of places where I could see that being useful.

[Collaboration with EMPAC] really makes my research easier to communicate and gives it a broader impact and I have a broader reason for doing what I am doing. If I am just doing my thing, in my own area, then that is great. But, it becomes completely different when it can impact other areas of science or other people in general.”