Montana State University

Poetry, dance, physics unite in Nov. 7, 8 performances of ‘Rhythms of the Universe’

October 6, 2014 -- MSU News Service

A new show by the creator of "Celebrating Einstein" is called "Rhythms of the Universe." It will be performed Nov. 7 and 8 in Bozeman.Black holes, neutron stars and other astrophysics images inspired the original poems that will be performed Nov. 7 and 8 in Bozeman.

A new show by the creator of "Celebrating Einstein" is called "Rhythms of the Universe." It will be performed Nov. 7 and 8 in Bozeman.

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BOZEMAN -- Poetry, dance and physics will be entwined in a new show to be performed at 7 p.m. Nov. 7 and 8 in the Emerson Cultural Center theatre in Bozeman.

The free public event, “Rhythms of the Universe: Words and Worlds in Motion,” will combine science and the arts in the vein of last year’s “Celebrating Einstein” event, said Montana State University physicist Nico Yunes who organized both.

The event will consist of a series of spoken-word performances that will use astrophysics imagery to convey human and social issues, followed by contemporary dance pieces aimed at providing an interpretation for the poems, Yunes said.

Spoken-word is a type of performed poetry that focuses on the beauty of word play and story-telling, usually in experimental collaboration with music, theatre and dance. In Rhythms of the Universe, MSU students will perform original poetry in spoken-word format, followed by contemporary dance interpretations by the Headwaters Dance Company. Also performing spoken-word pieces will be Yunes, MSU instructors Stephanie Campbell and Zack Bean, and spoken-word artist Adam Love. All four coached the MSU students.

Some students knew little about physics, while others had little experience writing or performing poetry when they signed up last fall to participate, Yunes said. But, he added, "We were excited about the raw potential of the group."

The students agreed to meet every two to four weeks to learn, to be inspired and to write, Yunes said. At every session last spring, Yunes and Bean each gave a 30-minute lecture about physics and poetry respectively. During the summer, Campbell coached the students on performance. The students started meeting this fall via Skype with Love, while they continued to rehearse their pieces with Campbell.

The students didn’t have to write poems about physics, but they had to use images from astrophysics as metaphors to discuss whatever social and human issues they wished, Yunes said. For example, nothing – not even light -- can escape from inside a black hole, so the students could have used this astrophysics image to represent all sorts of situations where one feels trapped. It’s the ultimate prison.

“The poems are brilliant, covering topics from love to death, from certainty to uncertainty,” Yunes said.

It is important for scientists to explain themselves to the general public, said Yunes, who received NASA’s Einstein Fellowship in 2010 and researches Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity and gravitation, specializing in black holes, neutrons stars and compact binaries. The latter are objects that create gravitational waves by violently colliding.

“Rhythms of the Universe” was supported by MSU’s Office of the President, Office of the Provost, College of Letters and Science, and Extended University. Additional funding comes from the Young Investigator CAREER award that Yunes received from the National Science Foundation in 2013. This $500,000 award is the NSF’s most prestigious award that supports the early career development of teacher-scholars and honors outstanding scientists who haven’t yet received tenure.

The award includes a large component for public outreach, Yunes said. He added that many recipients fulfill that requirement by creating new courses, but he chose to organize public events like Rhythms of the Universe and Celebrating Einstein that combine science and the arts.

Last year’s celebration of Einstein was one of the world’s first events to celebrate the 2015 centennial of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, its final prediction and the impending detection of gravitational waves.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu