Dance Review | ‘AstroDance II’ 

click to enlarge A still from rehearsal for "AstroDance II" at RIT.


A still from rehearsal for "AstroDance II" at RIT.

Dance may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of astrophysics, but Thomas Warfield, dance director at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology, sees a clear connection.

More than a decade ago, Warfield saw a video that simulated the merging of black holes. While scientists saw the physics in the movement, Warfield saw dance. To share his vision with audiences, Warfield, collaborated with Manuela Campanelli, an astrophysicist at Rochester Institute of Technology,  to create the first version of "AstroDance" in 2013.

The latest performance, "AstroDance II," is similar to the original in that Warfield uses dance to communicate gravitational physics to the audience. Like the first edition, the cast includes hearing, Deaf, and hard-of-hearing students. Where "AstroDance II" veers from the first show — and where the strength of the performance lies — is the integration of technology.

The technology used in "AstroDance II" contributed significantly to building a world onstage. Throughout the performance, visual elements of stars, black holes, galaxies, and other depictions of astronomy were projected behind the artists. The projections sometimes reflected the movement of the dancers, their energy emitting light against a dark screen.

The scenery, which included two simple hexagonal structures and a central piece of vertical rectangles, reminded the audience that science is at the forefront of the creation. The costuming, which included beautiful, flowing fabric and light up accessories, connected the performers to the scenery. The creators of the visual elements were as much a part of the performance as the dancers, which was recognized by the final bow that included the entire stage crew.

Also newly added to "AstroDance II" was the integration of American Sign Language into choreography and displays. The performance had six separate pieces, each introduced with a description that was projected with the corresponding ASL. The dancers also used ASL as part of the choreography itself. In a video that gave insight into the original conceptualization of "AstroDance," Warfield noted that visual cues are especially key for Deaf and hard-of-hearing artists, reminding hearing members of the audience that the musical elements of the performance were only a portion of the story behind the work.

Alongside dance choreography, aerial arts amplified the sense of marvel that moved through the pieces. The cast took to the sky using silks, a Cyr wheel, and flying apparatuses. One dancer even added a few impressive backflips that demonstrated his own defiance against gravity. While the dancing was certainly fun — one piece with hip-hop choreography somehow embodied both the sense of a nightclub and a planetarium — the aerial arts elevated "AstroDance II" to a different artistic level.

"AstroDance II" is an especially great show for those less inclined to see a classical dance performance. It bridges the gap between science and art in a unique way that’s both accessible and inspiring. With its blend of art forms, and a sprinkle of stardust, Warfield and his collaborators have created something special with AstroDance: a piece of art that both educates and entertains.

"AstroDance II" will be performed again at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in the Sklarsky Glass Box Theater, SHED at RIT on Sunday, December 3. More info and tickets here.

Sydney Burrows is a freelance contributor to CITY. Feedback about this article can be directed to [email protected].
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