Method in Motion from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, UK, is a project that translated researcher Irina Pulyakhina's work on understanding the mechanism of ankylosing spondylitis (AS) - a chronic imflammatory disease with strong genetic predisposition - into a piece of contemporary dance. The science was interpreted by FLUX, a dance company specialising in translating scientific principles into theatrical form.
Caption: A video of the Method in Motion performance.
Translating complex research through art forms like dance can be very effective but the aspiration of all parties, and the limits of what an art form can communicate literally, need to be understood from the outset. In the case of this project the researcher started out wanting to use the dancers to communicate the complexities of her research in a very literal way, but the dancers knew that this was not possible. Understanding the details of complex research or science is what formal education is for - dance is there to do something else.
"Dance is not good at telling, it is good at showing and at making the audience feel".
Brian Mackenwells, Public Engagement Officer, Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, UK
Caption: Brian Mackenwells describes the Method in Motion project.
The Importance of Partnership (and Compromise)
Public Engagement is a two-way process, and that includes collaborators as well as those the engagement is "for". Everyone in a project has expertise to be valued and the final product is going to be a synthesis of the researcher's and artists' ideas. After a lengthy process of building understanding between partners Method in Motion achieved a compromise that allowed both party's ideas to come together in one piece. The researcher became part of the show and the audience got the gist of her research, but it was made clear that there was much more to it than what the dance presented; the story was more complex than the broad picture painted by the dance. In this case working with experts in the arts helped the researcher communicate the fascinating complexity of her work, without needing to *explain* the full complexity of her research in the piece itself.
What's the Point?
Understanding the goals of engagement is an important first-step for anyone embarking on an engagement project. These goals are varied and will be different for every project. For this project, for example, the aim was not for the audience to leave with more facts about genetics or about the research specifically. The goal was to make the audience feel something. To give people an emotive experience in the context of science so that the next time they come across science they do not write it off as dry and uninteresting but engage with it. It paves the way for future engagement, for a population keen to learn about science, and for an environment where science will be supported and thrive.
Caption: Question and Answer session from the Method in Motion performance.
The content on this page forms part of the online report for the 2017 International Engagement Workshop "It's Complicated: navigating scientific complexity in public and community engagement". To read more about complexity in genetics and genomics engagement visit the genetics and genomics theme from the workshop. To read more about the full workshop and access the rest of the report including video presentations, discussion summaries, and tools, visit the workshop page.
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