Get a Clue: The mingling of art and science

by Alicia Anstead

Liz Lerman started dancing when she was 5-years old. "I was one of those kids who was dancing before I could even see," she says. Luckily, she also had supportive parents who encouraged her to follow the clues her body and soul were providing.

Lerman is still following those clues as a choreographer who works both with trained dancers and with the notion that everyone has the right to dance. Learn more about her philosophy at Liz Lerman Dance Exchange.

Better yet, join dance critic and journalist Debra Cash in conversation with Lerman 4 p.m. Tuesday Feb. 23 at the New College Theatre. The Office for the Arts event, which is free and open to the public, is part of a two-day series "The Art-Science Nexus: Two Talks," which begins with Lerman and Cash on Tuesday and continues 4 p.m. Wednesday Feb. 24 (at NCT) with composer Hector Parra and physicist/librettist (and Harvard professor) Lisa Randall in coversation with yours truly (Alicia Anstead) about their collaboration on "Hypermusic Prologue," an opera inspired by Randall's best-selling book "Warped Passages."

The science-art mashup is nothing new. Think Galileo, Da Vinci or even the work being done in a three-year project at The Laboratory in Harvard's Science Center. Artists and scientists, such as Lerman, Parra and Randall -- to name only a few -- are following in some fairly giant footsteps -- and yet coming up with innovative ways to be creative together.

"Making dance is the way to discover and learn," says Lerman. "Scientists and artists have similarities when it comes to tedium and to mistake making. A lot of rehearsing is waiting, waiting for this thing to happen. I wouldn't exactly call it an experiment but it's not unlike what people might do in labs with an endless amount of measuring. For creative artists and creative scientists, there's a sense of a certain beauty in that. The mistake thing is a little more complicated because it comes with pain and anguish. But I firmly believe -- and it's true in life, too -- that these so-called mistakes are often our gateway to something else."

While she's in Cambridge this week, Lerman is talking with Harvard professors about her research for a new choreography called "The Matter of Origins" inspired by her visits to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland, where physicists are currently probing the origins of matter.

Turns out the research approach is the same for dancer, composer and scientist: Follow the clues.

Find out more about "The Art-Science Nexus: Two Talks" taking place through the Harvard Office for the Arts at 4 p.m. Tuesday Feb 23 and Wednesday 24 at the New College Theatre, 10-12 Holyoke Street.

[Caption: Choreographer Liz Lerman]