Team putting movements under the microscope

Team putting movements under the microscope

URBANA — Art and science will interact this week in the Consilience Project, which will feature several events including a performance, open jams and open studio sessions.

Using motion-capture and other technology, the Consilience Project team will collect information about structures in the body as the dancers — all professionals — move in improvisational dance.

"My overall sense is the project will have an artistic approach as well as a scientific approach, and neither will subjugate the other," said Kirstie Simson, a University of Illinois dance faculty member and pioneer in contact improvisation.

Contact improv is a technique in which points of physical contact among dancers allow them to improvise further movements.

All of the Consilience Project events will take place in the Ballroom Hall of the newly renovated Urbana Landmark Hotel, 210 S. Race St., U.

The ballroom has a beautiful refinished wood floor, and everything has been pulled out of the room for the project, said Dorothy Martirano, a Champaign-based violinist who is among musicians involved in the project.

Consilience means a bringing together of disparate ideas. In this project, that means mainly concepts from mechanical engineering and dance.

Bruno Azeredo, a tango dancer who also does contact improv and is a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering, kind of spearheaded the project, writing a grant application to fund the project. It received a UI Focal Point Grant of $15,000.

The other principals in the project are mechanical engineering Professor Armand Beaudoin, also a musician; Simson and Philip Johnston, both Dance at Illinois faculty members; and Hank Kaczmarksi, director of the Integrated Systems Lab at the Beckman Institute.

With motion-capture technology, the Consilience Project team will use small traceable points sewn on the dancers' clothes to track the movements of their arms, legs, heads and even fingertips.

The technology, available at the Beckman Institute, provides a way for engineers to collect and interpret data points that are produced in real time.

In this project, the team will search for structures in the movements of the dancers. Simson acknowledged that contact improv is often perceived as unstructured, but forms and structures emerge while dancers engage in the technique, she said.

"It's not predetermined structure and that's what fascinates me,"Simson said.

The Consilience Project will analyze the data by using algorithm methods such as principal component analysis, a concept from statistics largely employed in mechanical engineering, Azeredo said. The algorithms decipher the orientation of the dancers' body in a particular space.

By applying algorithms used by biophysicists led by Melih Sener at Beckman in his study of the entanglement and transformation of proteins inside the cell, the Consilience Project team will try to decipher the degree to which the bodies of improv dancers become entangled and overlap.

"The similarities between the dance and the science are the driving force for translating movement into meaningful data," said Azeredo, who with the Consilience Project team will publish a paper on the findings.

Another aspect of the project will have Camille Goudeseune, a researcher at Beckman and a music composer, using the data in real time to produce sound and music the dancers will control or modify by their movements.

"The sound is fed into the dance almost instantaneously in real time and the dancers are able to interact with it in whatever way they might find interesting," Azeredo wrote.

Martirano, Beaudoin and Goudeseune will provide music for the Consilience Project events. The engineers working on the project besides Azeredo, Sener and Kaczmarski are Robin Lee and guests.

With the project, the engineers wanted to study movements performed by experienced dancers, hence Simson, a native of England, invited artists she knows and has worked with: Simon Ellis, a dancer-scholar at Roehampton University in London; Marika Rizzi, an Italian who lives in Paris; and Alvaro Morrell, a Spaniard who lives in Paris.

While here, Ellis will give a lecture titled "Improvisation and the Politics of Desire" at 4 p.m. Friday in the Krannert Art Museum. His Lorado Taft Lectureship on Art talk is separate from the Consilience Project, yet still connected.

After the events here, the Consilience Project team will perform at Links Hall in Chicago. Links Hall encourages artistic innovation and public engagement by providing flexible programming for research, development and presentation of new work in the performing arts.


If you go

What: Consilience Project, described as a "coming together of artists and scientists to explore unity of knowledge through the kinetics of the body," featuring local and international dancers as well as live music


8 to 10 p.m. Monday, open jam with live music. Open to all.

2 to 6 p.m. Thursday, open studio session with lectures, discussion, demos and Q&A

7 p.m. Thursday, Consilience Performance, dance and music, data collection and projection

8:30 to 11 p.m. Thursday, open jam with live music. Open to all.

Where: Ballroom Hall, Urbana Landmark Hotel, 210 S. Race St., U

Admission: free to all events

Also: 4 p.m. Friday, "Improvisation and the Politics of Desire," a free lecture in two parts: spoken and danced, with Simon Ellis of Roehampton University, London, at the Krannert Art Museum, 500 E. Peabody Drive, C


Funded by: Focal Point Grant from the University of Illinois (the Illinois Simulator Laboratory at UI's Beckman Institute also helped)