Ballet Des Moines tackles hard science with light movement in one-night-only show ‘Of Gravity and Light’

Mainframe’s First Friday previewing Of Gravity and Light — Jami Milne/Ballet Des Moines

Ballet Des Moines is giving audiences a science lesson through their one-night-only production Of Gravity and Light, Friday at the Des Moines Civic Center.

Of Gravity and Light is a contemporary ballet production using science-inspired movement to depict gravity, push-pull feelings, “the terrible forces of the sun,” planetary orbit and rotation, and other spaced-out phenomena. Music and dance will be coupled with light projections to really draw you into what the show represents.

Beau Kenyon is the composer and originator of the production, and the director of education and outreach for Ballet Des Moines’ 2021-22 season. He came up with Of Gravity and Light while investigating how to represent the science and the “poetics of space” through music.

“When I was with Blaire Massa at Ballet Des Moines over a year ago, we were talking about some of these ideas and how I love writing for dance and concepts that I’ve explored and at the very end — I mean, I never really actually said ‘space’ — she was like, ‘What do you think about outer space and the solar system?’” Kenyon smiles at the memory. “I’m like, ‘Blaire! Umm, this has been what I’ve been thinking about for years!'”

“I really felt like this particular piece was going to give me the time and energy to do the science research. To actually research elements of the solar system that I just think are beautiful and that I find very moving as a human creatively and expressively, to actually think about the science of space as a way to create a new formal structure musically.”

Tom Mattingly is the choreographer for Of Gravity and Light, and is the artistic director for Ballet Des Moines. He said the production is the perfect intersection of art and science.

“You can’t have one without the other. Science has always influenced art and scientific concepts and scientific progressions have made the progression of art possible whether it’s through different technologies, or different mediums.”

He compares the work to artists using science to create new paints, and believes that the artistic side of science keeps it human and grounded into reality.

“Because these two are so interconnected, we can take these scientific concepts of gravity and light — the push and the pull, light bending through the atmosphere which effects the color that we see of that light. Those are all really interesting concepts from an artistic perspective and from a human relationship perspective,” Mattingly continued. “Bouncing back and forth between literal interpretations of the science and more abstract and emotional interpretations has been really fun to play with as a creative.”

Mainframe’s First Friday previewing Of Gravity and Light — Jami Milne/Ballet Des Moines

“Everyone needs a show like this,” Kenyon said. “I think it’s really important to create more new work. New work is so important, especially new performances. I feel like you look at Broadway and you look at the new musical theater — and I love musical theater too — and you see ‘Oh! A new musical… that’s based on a movie… that’s based on a book… that’s based on a TV show.”

Kenyon thinks it is time for more risk.

“The more obscure, the more new your work is, the more risk it is because you don’t know if audiences will be excited to come,” he said. “So, I feel like the more new work we have, not just in Des Moines but throughout the country, the less of a risk it will be perceived as. Those voices need to be heard and new pieces need to be made [even if they are] not commercially successful but are artistically relevant.”

Mattingly agreed.

“I think Des Moines needs a show like this because they’re ready for the next big push into the future. And I think the future is collaboration between artists and different art forms,” he said. “I think the beauty of space to me is that there’s so much out there and there’s so much that is unknown, and I think there can be a lot of beauty and wonder and imagination facilitated by that feeling of the unknown that it gives us room to explore.”

The choreographer explained why the unknown is so crucial to learning. “As we’re learning more, we’re constantly being surprised by what we find out there because the more we see, it’s like the smaller we realize we are,” he said. “[We’re] a part of the entire universe and a part of space, but because we are learning more, we’re becoming more enlightened and we have a more complete vision of where we are.”

Science education typically involves lectures, textbooks and formulas, but the scale of some concepts, particularly when it comes to space, can often leave the mind at a loss for words. That’s where art comes in.

“I think there’s something special about nonverbal art forms and what they challenge the audience to do and think,” Kenyon said. “We can tell people with words what to think and what we are trying to do and how we’re exploring these concepts. But, because dance is nonverbal, we’re challenging the audience to look into the work and see what’s happening on stage.”

Of Gravity and Light starts at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 22. It is 55 minutes with no intermission. All audience members must purchase a ticket online . All ticket sales are final. Only children 5+ with a ticket are allowed into the production.

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