How do you combine interests in dance and space science?

Science and art are sometimes perceived as being distinct from each other. Some people, though, embrace both science and art. With regards to space science specifically, it overlaps with many art forms. Visual artists spur imaginings of new worlds to discover. Creators of sci-fi books, tv shows, and movies have inspired generations of people to enter the space industry. One art form not often associated with space science is dance. We spoke with Bea Baharier, a doctoral student at The Open University who recently participated in the Dance Your PhD competition. She shared her experience creating the dance. She also spoke about why the differences between art and science may not be as divisive as they first appear.

Where did you get the idea to present your PhD in dance form?

Years ago, I put my love for art aside to focus on science, which demands devotion and practice. However, when the pandemic started, many aspects of my life came to be in front of a screen. Although I am still working on my PhD, I craved creativity; we all did. A common view is that art is passionate, confusing, and full of feelings, whereas science offers only cold, analytical facts. However, passion and creativity are what drive science. When I saw the call for Dance Your PhD by Science Magazine, I was inspired to find a way to demonstrate my passion for planetary science through dance. I wanted to make people feel the emotion I feel for science; although I am not a professional dancer, I felt the desire to dance.

How did the actual act of doing and recording the dance vary from the initial conceptualization?

When I thought about creating emotions in people for the natural world, I thought about David Attenborough. He is the most iconic person and voice that I can think of when it comes to making people feel happiness, pain, or sadness for “cold facts” about our planet. I wanted the dancers to be like the animals, plants, and volcanos in his documentaries. I didn’t have an exact plan, but I made a painting of each natural phenomenon coupled with a feeling. For example, magma and fire were passion, whereas water, being the essence of life, was happiness and excitement.

From this starting point, I teamed up with the amazing cinematographer Yoad Joe Magal. He acted as a co-director and helped me through this process. Together we decided on how to make the video as natural as possible. This included creating monochromatic color costumes to go with each environment, using classical music, and abandoning some effects I had considered such as party lasers.

The main scene we cut out was an underwater one. To demonstrate microbial activity in water, I initially planned to dance underwater with a GoPro camera. However, even with scuba diving gear, I found it difficult to maintain neutral buoyancy while dancing in the sea, and adding weights took away the natural aesthetic we were aiming for. Luckily, we filmed in the Dead Sea where I could dance as I was floating on the water, and we filmed that scene with a drone. Instead of going under, we went above. In hindsight, this was perfectly suited to the Mars vs. Earth vision we were attempting to achieve.

What advice do you have for folks with dual interests in space science and the performing arts?

I was brought up in an artist’s home, and I am pursuing a PhD in science. Therefore, I feel confident saying I know both sides. Each combines passion, perplexity, emotion, and cold facts. To create an art production you need to have a budget, you need to understand lighting, and you need to know how a camera works. You need to have a good grasp of human anatomy if you are dancing. You need to understand chemical reactions and material behavior in order to sculpt and paint. These are some of the cold facts of art.

Science involves endless confusion and emotion, which are driven by pure passion. Don’t dismiss passions – they drive both art and science. If you are a scientist, don’t forget to be creative; if you are an artist, don’t be intimidated by science.