New York, NY
March 16, 2017
by Martha Sherman
copyright © 2017 by Martha Sherman
It’s just as mysterious to have a physicist label the physics principles at work in movement as it is to have a choreographer direct the physicist in movement. In Emily Coates’ “Incarnations,” a work based on her collaboration with particle physicist Sarah Demers, the two weave the mysteries of science and dance into a swirling mix of teaching and expression. Images of Apollo and the Higgs Boson (“the god particle”) were paired in the center, and a team of wildly different, deeply experienced dance artists made the audience feel the concepts with our bodies as much as absorbing them with our minds – we could feel the physics and grapple with the dance; it was neither book-learning nor entertainment, it felt like: life.
Iréne Hultman, Emily Coates, Sarah Demers, Yvonne Rainer in "Incarnations." Photo © Alexis Moh/courtesy of Danspace Project.
Then Demers was the performer; she offered a wonderfully comprehensible description of Newton’s Second Law of Motion (replete with flip chart on the stage.) And just as Coates’ danced to the drumming of Demers’ verbal interpretations, Demers lectured to the choreographic demands made by Coates, who directed the physicist-performer into shifts of dynamics, pace, and physical stance. They described their work together as a laboratory – research in the collision and weave of dancers and physicists.
These two could easily have held the stage for the hour performance on their own, but they layered in performances by three experienced, diverse dancers – Lacina Coulibaly, Iréne Hultman, and Jon Kinzel - as well as by Coates’ second mentor, the revered Yvonne Rainer.
Coates instructed Coulibaly and Kinzel to become Newton and Apollo – falling in love while researching gravity (with a pillow, one of many references to Rainer’s work.) As Kinzel’s Apollo fell, Coulibaly caught him – with the pillow – softening the graceful downward pull. They leaned against each other, and collapsed, making gravity and love such gentle partners.
Hultman (an early Trisha Brown dancer) danced a solo that crossed the expanse of St. Mark’s performing space, long diagonals later echoed in others’ solos and duets. Her forward movement paused for still gestures. The movement wove dance steps with images of Apollo and Blake’s Newton, and images that had been gleaned from scientists’ gestures, one of whom was later seen on film as she described the Higgs Boson, her hands, fingers and head fluttering with the description of the fragmentation and excitation of particles – a veritable dance of the mind.
Rainer joined the proceedings with the law of gravity – tossing red balls (another nod to her own work, in the classic “Trio A”) from the balcony of St. Mark’s Church to the performance floor, and declaiming – like a god, herself – to the performers below. She came to the floor to dance a solo accompanied by her reading of a harrowing writing from the Beirut Massacre of 1975; she was Apollo, called down to help, but failing in the effort. The text and movement were stilted, as if Rainer had been under-rehearsed. But when her scene ended, and she was joined by the other women in an angled, still line of elegance, they were a powerful quartet.
Each segment offered its own story, woven together with a score by Will Orzo that included classical segments as well as Irma Thomas’s throaty “Time is On My Side.” Film clips also incorporated both dance principles (including a conversation between Stravinsky and Balanchine), and the physics mini-lecture.
The dancers were each other’s protons and electrons, the dances were elemental; everything took on the character of the science it was embracing. Demers described one of the fundamental laws of physics -- particles decaying -- as an interaction and exchange of energies. As particles fall apart, they become something new, something different – and the fragments of post-modern dance, the lessons of Yvonne Rainer (and, of course, others, including the recently lost great Trisha Brown,) were physical manifestations of the worlds we know from science.
Apollo and Higgs Boson, Greek god and “god particle,” danced together in this stew of movement and intellectual rigor. On both sides of the science/art divide, the learning was rich, each side informing and deepening the other. This was true research, deep dialogue.
Top: Lacina Coulibaly, Jon Kinzel in “Incarnations.” Photo © Alexis Moh/courtesy of Danspace Project.
Bottom: Emily Coates, Lacina Coulibaly in “Incarnations.” Photo © Alexis Moh/courtesy of Danspace Project.
copyright © 2017 by Martha Sherman