Ballet Des Moines teaches audiences a lesson in science through its one-night-only production Of gravity and lightFriday at the Des Moines Civic Center.
Of gravity and light is a contemporary ballet production using science-inspired movements to portray gravity, back-and-forth sensations, “the terrible forces of the sun”, planetary orbit and rotation, and other space phenomena. Music and dancing will be coupled with light projections to really immerse you in what the show is about.
Beau Kenyon is the Composer and Production Initiator, and Director of Education and Outreach for Ballet Des Moines’ 2021-22 season. He came with Of gravity and light while seeking how to represent science and the “poetics of space” through music.
“When I was with Blaire Massa at Ballet Des Moines over a year ago, we were talking about some of these ideas and how I like to write for dance and the concepts I explored and at the very end – I mean, I never really actually she said ‘space’ – she said, ‘What do you think of outer space and the solar system?’ Kenyon smiled at the memory, “I’m like, ‘Blaire! Umm, that’s what I’ve been thinking about for years!”
“I really felt like this particular piece was going to give me the time and energy to do some scientific research. To research things in the solar system that I just find beautiful and I find very moving as a creative and expressive human being, to really think about the science of space as a way to musically create a new formal structure.
Tom Mattingly is the choreographer of Of gravity and light, and is the Artistic Director of Ballet Des Moines. He said the production is the perfect intersection of art and science.
“You can’t have one without the other. Science has always influenced art and scientific concepts and scientific progressions have made possible the progression of art, whether through different technologies or different mediums.
He compares the work to artists using science to create new paintings and believes the artistic side of science keeps it human and grounded in reality.
“Because these two are so interconnected, we can take these scientific concepts of gravity and light – the push and the pull, the light bending through the atmosphere, which affects the color we see of that light. These are all really interesting concepts from an artistic point of view and from a human relations point of view,” Mattingly continued. “Bouncing between literal interpretations of science and more abstract and emotional interpretations has been really fun to play. as a creative.”
“Everyone needs a show like this,” Kenyon said. “I think it’s really important to create more new works. New work is so important, especially new performances. I feel like you watch Broadway and you watch new musical theater – and I love musical theater too – and you see ‘Oh! A new musical…based on a movie…based on a book…based on a TV show.
Kenyon thinks it’s time to take more risks.
“The more obscure your work, the newer it is, the riskier it is because you don’t know if the public will be happy to come,” he said. “So I feel like the more new work we have, not just in Des Moines but across the country, the less of a risk it will be seen to be. Those voices need to be heard and new pieces need to be created. [even if they are] not commercially successful but are artistically relevant.
“I think Des Moines needs a show like this because they’re ready for the next big push into the future. And I think the future is collaboration between artists and different art forms,” he said. “I think the beauty of space for me is that there’s so much out there and there’s so much that’s unknown, and I think there can be a lot of beauty, wonder and imagination facilitated by this feeling of the unknown which gives us room to explore.”
The choreographer explained why the unknown is so crucial for learning. “As we learn more, we are constantly surprised by what we find out there, because the more we see, the more we realize how small we are,” he said. “[We’re] part of the whole universe and part of space, but because we learn more about it, we become more enlightened and have a fuller view of where we are.
Science education typically involves lectures, textbooks, and formulas, but the scale of certain concepts, especially when it comes to space, can often leave the mind at a loss for words. This is where the art comes in.
“I think there’s something special about non-verbal art forms and what they challenge the audience to do and think,” Kenyon said. “We can tell people in words what to think and what we’re trying to do and how we explore those concepts. But since the dance is not verbal, we challenge the audience to examine the work and see what is happening on stage.
Of gravity and light begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 22. Lasting 55 minutes without intermission. All spectators must purchase a ticket online. All ticket sales are final. Only children 5 years and older with a ticket are allowed to participate in the production.