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UC Berkeley Dancers Interpret Science to Explain DNA

The excitement is growing this summer at UC Berkeley where The Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies is once again exploring an unconventional use of dance.

Berkeley dancers Lauren Crow, Erik Lee, Caroline Alexander, Daniel Nguyen and academic advisor Michael Mansfield are in collaboration with Phillip Silverstein M.D., an emergency department physician in California and creator of Inner World Discovery, a science education program designed for high school students.

They are working together to bring the mysterious, rhythmic, suspenseful and hip-hop elements of dance to the cutting edge of human biology: the DNA molecule. When this collaboration is completed, the structure and function of DNA, its ability to transcribe Messenger RNA and ultimately its ability to make proteins will be expressed on film through a dance metaphor.

“This animation will first video record the dancers’ performance on a set using green screen technology and later incorporate their performance into the animated world of a single cell in the process of protein production,” says Silverstein who has been educating students through the Inner World Discovery science education programs since 2005.

“The challenge for us, as dancers, is to understand the science and imagine the personality of individual base pairs and then conceptualize how these molecules would express themselves in dance. Bringing together the science world and dance world through video is a great way to do dance research,” says Michael Mansfield, undergraduate academic advisor for the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies.

Lauren Crow Dance and Performance Studies Major, Class of 2010 says, “Dance connects people to the amazing possibilities of their bodies. It connects students to modes of learning that are not often emphasized through the traditional methods that focus primarily on knowledge acquisition through abstract photographs, definitions and texts. New tools that engage students need to be created. I am excited to be part of this innovative project, which responds to today’s multi-media -savvy youth and pushes the boundaries of science pedagogy. It emphasizes the connectedness of multiple modes of 21st-century learning that all highlight the incredible and fascinating.”

Dr. Silverstein shares, “Their passion, vision and commitment to excellence as well as their ability to think outside the box is the reason I chose Berkeley’s Dance and Performance Studies Program as my partner. Before they did their first pirouette they spent hours learning the basic science of DNA structure and function. Kudos to Berkeley’s Dance and Performance Studies Program!”

The dance segments are expected to be completed and incorporated into the program by September. Additional graphics and supporting animation related to the science curriculum will then be developed. Silverstein expects the first presentation on DNA to be ready by the first quarter of 2012.

The continuing development of the Inner World Discovery program is made possible by a grant from the Beckman Coulter Foundation, which serves as the philanthropic arm of Beckman Coulter, Inc. Beckman Coulter, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of biomedical testing instrument systems, tests, and supplies that simplify and automate laboratory processes to enhance health care around the world. The Beckman Coulter Foundation funds programs which are focused on science, science education, and healthcare- related research. The Beckman Coulter Foundation’s vision is to stimulate interest in the sciences to students of all ages.

The Dance and Performance Studies Major Program at University of California Berkeley understands performance to be a mode of critical inquiry and research, a means of creative expression, and a vehicle for public engagement. The dance events that take place within the Department are the means by which students engage with dance performance on the physical, intellectual, and aesthetic levels. It is the Department’s hope that dancers not only grow as performers but as artists, thinkers, makers, viewers, and participants in the whole of the artistic event. The practical focus of the major is on the performance and choreography of contemporary dance and Dance Theater. Of equal importance is the study of theater and dance performance theory, history, culture and literature. Additional curriculum opportunities in sound and visual design, improvisation, and technical theater complete the major.

The Inner World Discovery presentations are presented in person and through real-time interactive videoconferencing made possible through MAGPI (www.magpi.net), a division of Information Systems and Computing at The University of Pennsylvania.

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