Rhythm is a Dancer was a five-part event series, commissioned by the Wellcome Collection, inviting audiences to explore the science behind the can can, ballet, tango and contemporary disabled performance.
Pigalle devised the concept and produced the series in partnership with Jenny Wong, Creative Director, Guerilla Science. Performances were showcased alongside discussions with leading scientists and speakers, examining the physiology, neuroscience and psychology of each dance form.
They commissioned the fine art photographer Atton Conrad to create a portrait of each dancer. The algorithms of the dancers were tracked through light, capturing the essence of their dance forms. Films were also produced to accompany the portraits, featuring behind-the-scenes footage and dancer interviews.
Pigalle curated articles written by the speakers and scientists for the Wellcome Collection blog. These included Atton Conrad on his methodology for capturing movement through light, Sarah Chaney on the relationship between dance and insanity, and Amber Jane Butchart on the technological advances in shoe design.
Is dance a manifestation of madness or a valuable therapeutic tool? Speakers revealed how dance was used in Europe’s 19th century asylums, and delved into the psychiatric history of Jane Avril, Moulin Rouge’s most famous dancer. Audiences examined how dance is being used today as therapy to rehabilitate movement for patients with Parkinson’s, and watched a performance by a contemporary can can dancer from Paris.
Is pain really necessary to become a world-class dancer or athlete? Audiences heard from a ballet dancer’s perspective and a podiatrist on the impact of pointe shoes on feet, joined the debate on how fast-moving technology is revolutionising dance and sports shoes, and discovered how feet have been shaped into extreme forms through history and cultural contexts.
How is dance performed with soul, and is there a gap between the emotions portrayed by a dancer and what they really feel? Live experiments were held, with tango dancers covered in single points of lights, performing in a black out space for the audience, psychologist, and a neuroscientist to discover out how science can reveal the emotions behind the performance of dance.
What do we imagine a dancer’s body should look like, and how does the mind represent parts of the body when they are not physically there? Audiences heard personal stories from an artist and performer, revealing how they have challenged perceptions and prejudices about their bodies. They then joined the conversation between a silicone prosthetic technologist, neuroscientist and a dance scientist, to explore how the mind perceives the physical realities of the body.
The finale in Rhythm is a Dancer brought together dancers, scientists and speakers from the series, to celebrate dance and movement in all its shapes and forms. Dancers took to the stage with live performances, followed by a discussion from their perspectives. Contemporary dance, ballet and tango were showcased, alongside an exclusive fashion performance by the singer, songwriter Viktoria Modesta, in her role as the Snow Queen for the London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony.
Audiences joined in a debate and discussed whether humans are born to dance. They took part in a live experiment, and heard from dance scientists and a silicone technologist how science is helping to overcome physical, mental and social limits to movement.
Additional drop-in activities took place throughout the Wellcome Collection galleries, from a programme of dance films, one-to-one conversations with experts, hands-on demonstrations, through to classes in foxtrot, balboa and lindy hop.
Dancer portraits by Atton Conrad
Event photography by Mike Massaro