On June 3 & 4, 2023 at the Atwater Village Theatre, the audience was not only entertained but also transformed through discovery. This was no ordinary mission but an aesthetic journey with dance and science. Innovation, connection, and revelation was Donna Sternberg’s search for meaning and cohesion. She paired four choreographers with four scientists to create a provocative evening that was awesome in the true sense of the word.
The evening began with Upward Fumbling, Precluding Ruin by Laura Ann Smyth, Canadian trained, professional dancer, degreed in Sociology, Journalism, and is now a Doctoral candidate. She was paired with Scientist Dr. Moogega Cooper, BA in Physics, PhD in Mechanical Engineering working on the Mars Project. Together they explored pauses in the universe, repetition, and re-calibration. Smyth used exciting Jazz dance vernacular, with excellent dancers Monica Kerr, Alessa Meni, Victoria Shaw and Madeline Sharp who stood out with uncanny musicality and understanding of the jazz medium. Smyth’s beautiful play with design and music in fugue, theme and variations, rests, syncopation gave breadth and breath to the piece, and at points made the audience hold their collective breath. “River’s Invitation” and “Willow Weep For Me” by Stanley Turrentine allowed play in the rhythms and pulse permitting creativity that only Jazz music gives you. Smyth and Cooper pushed the envelope on this fabulous dance piece.
Curiosity: We went on a mission was created by Darrel “Friidom” Dunn, a graduate of University of Dallas with a degree in Arts and Technology, is a movement storyteller based in Los Angeles with a vivid soul for diverse dance movement and as a composer, composed the music for this piece. He was paired with scientist Dr. Ashwin Vasavada, a planetary scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, working on NASA’s Curiosity rover exploring Gale Craters on the Martian surface. Together their piece integrated the ideas, dreams and imagination relating to a Martian flight and discovery of new worlds. This piece took on an ethereal feel which at first was quite mechanical and soon grew in imagery of Mars and interplanetary exploration. Friidom’s commitment to his Martian imaginings aided by Vasavada’s wisdom of the Mars landing made this piece gracefully unfold using Street style movement.
Albertossy Espinoza, is multi-talented artist choreographer, actor, dancer, producer and director, who has presented his works worldwide. He is the founder of FUSION Performing Dance Academy sharing the art of dance with the underserved East L.A. Community. For Awe & Wonder 2023, Espinoza combined his talent with Scientist, Gerard Fasel. Fasel received his Doctorate degree in Physics from University Oslo, Norway and is a Professor of Physics at Pepperdine University. He has also shared his talents with an unlikely combination of NASA, and the arts as a professional actor. RISING was a wonderfully eclectic piece with Espinoza and the exciting Jorge Rivas. It explored the “mystical creation of energy” created in the core of the sun and its journey through interplanetary space. The powerful costuming designed by Espinoza, combined large over-circular skirts alternating in bright blue and red, black military corsets with shoulder armor and encompassed a mix of musical and dance styles that employed Modern, Flamenco, Ballet and Jazz. The exploration between Fasel and Espinosa challenged the understanding of flow shown so beautifully in the action of movement of Rivas and Espinosa. Fasel explained that the heartbeat of the sun would not exist without the pulse of gravitational pull. He then surprised all by showing a large mapping of the flow with the actual design of the flow called “Dancing Aurora Lights.” This was represented so beautifully in use of movement and costuming in RISING. Looking at the faces of Fasel and Espinosa and the reaction of the audience gave true meaning to the word Awe and made clear how important these collaborations are.
GRAVITATIONAL WAVES was represented by Donna Sternberg, the producer, director/choreographer and heart of this collaboration for Awe & Wonder with Scientist, Kris Pardo Asst. Professor of Physics & Astronomy at University of Southern California with a PhD from Princeton University. Sternberg worked in collaboration with dancers Maddie Gilbert, Hannah Joo, Maxima Lyght, Gabby Pariseau, and Alexandria Paige Amstutz. Sternberg and Pardo explored the motion of waves, the expansion and contraction Black Holes and it’s merging. In this collaboration not only of ideas with the dancers in a Contemporary vernacular, but of the science. It employed risk which was appealing to both creator and scientist. The discovery for them was if you take the leap, it will direct you. Pardo, explained with Science you start with an idea, then you must take the leap, and each time you learn from your failures that then moves you closer to your ideal.
Such a fascinating and thrilling premise, to bring together the minds of art and science, which are not un-like each other. It was a wonderful journey, and when discussed afterwards with the audience, gave such important lessons in collaboration and discovery that all things in the universe have a connection to each other and to the soul of humanity. A lesson we need to learn today. A powerful “Well Done,” for Donna Sternberg & Dancers.
For more information about Donna Sternberg & Dancers, please visit their website.
To learn more about the Atwater Village Theatre, please visit their website.
Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Awe & Wonder – Gravitational Waves- Choreographer by Donna Sternberg – Photo by Sarah Catania