Getting science to dance

WHEN it comes to making the connections between dance and science, Liz Lea is no birdbrain.

Now this busy artist, the choreographer in residence at the CSIRO Discovery Centre and artistic director of Canberra Dance Theatre, has come up with a “DANscienCE Festival”, to run during National Science Week.

Liz Lea and Tammi Gissell photo by Lorna Sim (1)

Liz Lea and Tammi Gissell. Photo by Lorna Sim.

Lea, who’s had our feathered friends on her mind for quite some time, has been deep in the CSIRO’s ornithological collection as she devises her own new dance work called “Kapture”, but in planning the festival, she has spread her wings far further and come up with a week-long program packed with serious scientific symposia complemented by entertaining dance showcases.

Encouraged by art-loving Cris Kennedy, the director of Discovery, Lea put out an SOS to Ausdance National and couldn’t believe her luck when they came back with 10 names of scientific dancers. Later Ann McLean, the director of Ausdance Queensland, came up with a few more.

The result, she says, is a world first and she’s divided the festival into six sections: physiotherapy & healthy dancing; ornithology; ecology; mature movers; cognitive thinking & psychology; and international film.

Lea insists that she is not naturally scientific by nature, so “asked the experts what to do”, and has retained a sense of humour throughout the planning, relishing the “Dance your PhD” films and the unusual expertise of colleagues such as Dean Walsh who, in his talk “SubMarine”, will describe how he brings dance, diving and marine conservation practices together.

For the general public, there’ll be an accessible “travel around the world in dance” film day and a lecture by indigenous dancer Tammi Gissell and scientist Denis Saunders about research undertaken to create a dance work inspired by the Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo.

Tasmanian choreographer, Glenn Murray, will talk about an installation involving fibre arts, a Tasmanian birdsong score and a theatre work by mature dancers.

It’s a week with scientific explorations of everything from body heat to aerial acrobatics and the neuromotor system, the latter by former director of the National Capital Ballet, Janet Karin.

Highlights to watch out for include the big opening performance on August 10 at Discovery’s Atrium and an ecological performance event on August 14 at the Discovery Theatre.

It may be a world first, Lea says, but she hopes it won’t be the last.

DANscienCE Festival, at the CSIRO Discovery Centre theatre, August 10-18. Full program at



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