Astrophysicist Paul Sutter plans to turn dancers from a local studio into stars. Sutter's concept, "Song of the Stars," pairs science and the arts in a way Sutter hopes will open new avenues of understanding for those versed in one but perhaps not the other.
Astrophysicist Paul Sutter plans to turn dancers from a local studio into stars.
Sutter's concept, "Song of the Stars," pairs science and the arts in a way Sutter hopes will open new avenues of understanding for those versed in one but perhaps not the other.
This sort of creative outreach is not new for Sutter, a visiting scholar at the Ohio State University Center for Cosmology and Astro-Particle Physics and the recently named first-ever chief scientist at COSI. He is also part of OSU's vanguard STEAM Factory housed at 400 W. Rich in Franklinton. (You may have also seen him speak about science on local news shows or in any number of public forums.)
Sutter and his wife also happen to be competitive ballroom dancers, and thus he pondered how movement could help him with his "Song of the Stars" idea.
"Scientists punch through the math and the data, but in the end we're telling stories. That's how I think about physics," Sutter said. "If you lace the stories with emotional context, you can help people relate to them on a human level."
"Not a lot of people spend time thinking about astronomy or astrophysics, so I'm always looking for new ways to bring science to new audiences," Sutter said. "I had thought maybe to use contemporary dance to bring some cosmic episodes to life, to tell through movement things that words or pictures can't express."
Sutter sketched out a few of these astronomical "episodes" - including the formation of the first stars from darkness, the collision of two galaxies, the formation of black holes, the "death" of a star via supernova - and cold-contacted several area dance companies in search of someone willing to give the concept a go. Sutter found a taker in Cassia Cramer, artistic director of Seven Dance Company.
"It sounded like something new and interesting," Cramer said. "He came up with some real-life scenarios of the life of a star, and we choreographed a piece to each different scenario."
"We said 'Let's see if it works,'" Sutter said. "We got back together about a month later and I said 'It worked!' Now we need to make this a thing."
"Song of the Stars" features eight of these "episodes" in all. Sutter will provide some narration (and even interact with the dancers at one point) while the dancers tell the story through choreography set to prerecorded music. The production features three choreographers and 11 dancers.
"I wanted to inspire [the choreographers], just sketch some ideas, pictures, metaphors and let them go," Sutter said.
Cramer described the choreography as "pretty abstract - not too literal."
"It is personal, though," she added. "We're visually portraying an aspect of life or a feeling. And through that, the stars are humanized."
"What we ended up with is like nothing I would have imagined, and that's a good thing," Sutter joked.
Mary Tarentino from OSU's Department of Theatre is lighting director for "Song of the Stars." Sutter said he considers the lighting equal to his narration in helping tell the stories.
"Colors, brightness, those kinds of things. If you're watching two galaxies collide in fast forward, what kinds of light dynamics would you see in that?" Sutter said.
Ultimately, the goal of the lighting and narration, Sutter said, is to "put the focus on the dancers."
"Song of the Stars" will also feature two companion film projects.
Documentary filmmaker Kai Staats of Over the Sun Productions will film the production using seven cameras and a four-person team.
"The goal is to recreate the experience of being in the audience," Staats said. "In the theater you can be drawn into the story. It can be tricky to capture on film, but we want to put the film audience in the same place as the live audience."
Staats said he expects to use some video techniques, such as 4x slow-motion and enhanced resolution, but no CGI and no animations.
The second film project will be shot in 360 degrees by Mike Cairns of Infinite Impact Studios in Columbus. From there, COSI Manager of Technology and Innovation Programs Ty Owen will create a film for the COSI dome and others like it.
"You can really offer an immersive experience and show perspectives you don't see in just the dance," Owen said.
Sutter said he's humbled by the interest in helping bring "Song of the Stars" to fruition.
"If you know nothing about science, you'll see a great dance performance and you might learn something," he said. "If you know the science, you'll see these stories told in a way you've never seen before."