IOP and Royal Opera House collaborate to explore the physics of ballet

20 December 2016

Ballet, physics and the relationship between them will be explored by scientists and members of the Royal Ballet in an event to be held by the Royal Opera House (ROH) in partnership with the IOP.

IOP and Royal Opera House collaborate to explore the physics of ballet

At the event, “Gravity and Grace: the physics of ballet”, biomechanics expert Dr James Shippen will describe the physics principles involved in dance and talk on topics such as dance trajectories, kinematics of joints and muscle loads.

There will be demonstrations by dancers led by a ballet master and an interview with a member of the company, as well as motion capture footage of dance moves that Shippen will analyse, explaining the physics involved.

The evening at the ROH will be a mixture of movement and a series of conversations about the physics of ballet, with an opportunity for the audience to ask questions.

“Gravity and Grace” will be the IOP’s third collaboration with the ROH, the previous projects being “What makes the perfect song?” with Professor Brian Cox in 2014, and “The art and science of acoustics” in March this year.

The IOP’s head of outreach and engagement, Johanna Kieniewicz, explained why the Institute was involved in the collaboration. “Our aim for this event is to reach a non-traditional audience with physics,” she said. “While it’s not the physics of the everyday, we’re exploring another way in which physics underpins parts of our culture.

“For ballet and physics fans alike, we hope to be able to heighten the appreciation of this art form by showing off the extraordinary physics and biomechanics that go into creating a spectacular performance.

“We’re also hoping that this might be an opportunity for a science audience to experience something different – perhaps even to attend a ballet performance for the first time.

“This is not the IOP’s first foray into ballet; while 2005’s Constant Speed aimed to explore the work of Einstein through that medium, this is about exploring the ballet art form. This is the physics of ballet, not a ballet of physics.

“We’re hopeful for a long-continuing partnership with the ROH, to continue to embed physics within culture and we’re excited to work with one of the world’s greatest opera and ballet organisations.”

“Gravity and Grace” is part of the ROH’s Insights programme and the manager of the programme, John Nolan, explained why the ROH was collaborating with the IOP in the event. “We are always looking for exciting and different ways to engage new and existing audiences in our art forms and looking at ballet from this unique angle seems to be the perfect way to do this,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have an audience of both ballet lovers and scientists with both equally enthralled by this wonderful combination of arts and science.

“Our dancers are athletes and are keenly aware of the limits and capabilities of their bodies but I’m sure even they will gain a new insight from this event.”

“Gravity and Grace” is at the ROH’s Clore Studio Upstairs on 24 February 2017. Bookings open on 24 January – a number of tickets will be reserved for IOP members.

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