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With “Song of the Stars,” Dancers and Physicists Try to Humanize Science

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea With “Song of the Stars,” Dancers and Physicists Try to Humanize Science
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How do you explain science to someone who isn’t a scientist? That’s the question Dr. Paul M. Sutter, the new chief scientist at COSI and self-styled “agent to the stars,” has dedicated his career to answering. The answer, it seems, is simple; just tell a story.

Specifically, this story; two siblings are born together. One of the siblings dies early, perhaps from a drug addiction or some other destructive behavior. The survivor finds they cannot let go of their lost sibling’s memory, and ends up drawn uncontrollably into the same destructive powers that consumed their sibling.

It’s a dramatic story, and a very human one. But it’s not about human beings. This is a story about stars; how they’re born, how they die, and how sometimes they are consumed by the black holes left behind when their fellow stars perish. And the best way to tell this story, according to Sutter, is through dance. On April 21, Sutter and the Seven Dance Company will premiere “Song of the Stars,” a professional – and scientifically accurate – dance performance about the life of stars, at the Capitol Theatre.

“Dance is a very natural language for communicating physics,” said Sutter. “If you talk to a dancer and really dig into their mode of thinking when they’re coming up with the dance, it’s all about flows of momentum and the transfers of energy, balance and force and counter force, and this is actually a very similar language as the one that physicists use. It’s actually not very different, the way a dancer approaches a dance isn’t necessarily far off from the way a physicist thinks about physical processes.”

But where there was a practical reason for choosing dance as the language of science, Sutter also had a personal reason.

“My wife and I are competitive ballroom dancers, we’ve been dancing for like eight or nine years, and so dance is in my head anyway, so when I went looking for artists I naturally went to the dancer community in Columbus,” said Sutter.

Since last summer, Sutter and Seven Dance Company have been working to bring the billion-year story of stars to the stage for an hour and fifteen minutes. Sutter would share with the dancers and choreographers examples of everything that can happen to a star in its life. From these examples, the performers drew the inspiration for their pieces, bookended with narration by Sutter, in an effort to, “bring science geeks to an art performance and art geeks to a science performance.”

“The hope is that there’ll be things that can be communicated through dance that can’t be communicated through just words,” said Sutter.

Sutter’s plans for Song of the Stars do not stop with the April 21 show at the Capitol Theatre. Sutter and Seven Dance Company started a Kickstarter page to fund a professional film production of the performance in order to create a planetarium show for distribution around the world. Sutter does not intend to stop at dance in his push to meld science and the arts.

“Dance isn’t for everyone, not everyone enjoys a dance performance, but people might enjoy a music performance, people might enjoy a static art presentation, people might enjoy a comic book, people might enjoy digital media on a planetarium dome or on your smartphone screen,” said Sutter. “There’re just all these incredibly creative ways to share and communicate science to new audiences so that they can appreciate it, and I’m pretty much willing to collaborate, work with anyone.”

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