“It’s completely radical and completely obvious at the same time,” SA Museum’s head of humanities Professor John Carty says.
“What dancers are doing is they’re interrogating our bodies and how we’re composed and how we’re moving through environments, and in many ways that’s what a biologist or scientist is interested in as well.”
Described as the “meeting point of art and science”, Australian Dance Theatre’s conceptual work The Cubic Museum is the result of a year-long collaboration between ADT artistic director Garry Stewart and Carty.
It will be performed as part of the inaugural Adelaide Dance Festival, which begins next week, with dancers presenting a set of three stand-alone pieces inside a large Perspex cube installed in the SA Museum’s Pacific Cultures gallery.
The idea is to explore the museum’s research and exhibitions through movement to give observers an understanding of the role museums play in the modern world.
“People who work in the sciences, their job is to pin down butterflies, put things in cases, dissect things,” Carty says.
“You do it because you really love and want to understand how something moves and what life is but often you don’t get to express that as a scientist. Your job is to almost do the opposite – put things in cases and preserve them.
“I think they [the scientists] felt, whether consciously or not, that the dancers were bringing to life their work in a way.”
Carty says the idea stemmed from Stewart’s interest in museums and the parallel worlds of art and science.
Stewart invited Carty to see a rehearsal of upcoming ADT Dance Festival performance The Beginning of Nature, which Carty describes as “the most overwhelming experience” he had with dance.
“That led us to having a coffee together and talking about how we could work together on a piece about cultural institutions,” Carty says.
“We were originally just talking about getting dancers to come into dialogue with some of the museum collections, [and] to find a way to animate space.
“Then Gary just said to me, ‘You know we have a cube?’ and I was like, ‘Really? You have a dancing cube?’
“And then we thought about putting it outside and then we thought if we actually put it in the gallery then it becomes another museum case – it becomes a reference point for the audience that is pretty striking for what they’re looking at.”
Three Adelaide-based choreographers – Lewis Major, Erin Fowler and Jo Stone – were commissioned to create works for The Cubic Museum.
Major says the project challenged him to work with scientists whose thought process was different to that of dancers.
“Scientists are such critical thinking, down-the-line, logical thinkers and we’re talking feelings and emotions and atmosphere,” he says.
“It’s a really good way of honing down on ideas because you approach the scientists with something and they think very rationally about it and carve it down to its single-most point, which is really good for focussing on certain themes and images.”
Major says the performances aim to shed light on the role of museums in modern society.
“You have it in the Maori and Pacific Islander exhibition, which is a very problematic showcase of these things – it’s done in this 19th-century display-type style.
“This automatically makes whatever we do in this space quite political in a sense because you have a bunch of white moving bodies in a space full of cultural artefacts that may have a long history of colonisation and white influence.”
Fellow choreographer Fowler says her take on The Cubic Museum has a more psychological and anthropological focus on how humans interact with museum spaces. Her performance tells the story of a quasi-scientist who discovers a new species of human that is addicted to technology.
“It isn’t that different to how we currently are so I take a lot of movement inspiration from human movement and this kind of ritualistic behaviour of technology,” she says.
“It’s more about using culture to look at this species of human and using human movement based on technology as a viewpoint for that.”
The Cubic Museum will be presented in the Pacific Cultures Gallery of the South Australian Museum from July 10 until July 21, with free performances starting each day at 11.30am and 1.30pm. The two-week Adelaide Dance Festival begins on Sunday, with the full program available here.