Thursday, December 29, 2011
Fran Spector Atkins tells a story about interviewing Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute ocean chemist Dr. Peter Brewer for Ocean, SpectorDance’s latest multimedia dance work. The dance company partnered with MBARI, the National Steinbeck Center and Sunset Center’s Classroom Connections Program to produce an educational component and the performance piece. The project, which blends interviews with scientists, undersea videos and original music, uses dance to address climate change and its effects on the oceans. But Brewer wasn’t seeing it.
“He said, ‘What am I doing?’” she remembers. This was not the reaction she wanted from the decorated scientist. “But when he saw the performance, he was transformed.”
It’s a common reaction to the uncommon piece of work. Spector Atkins started off 2011 with a $10,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant to help produce Ocean, and followed it up with a $20,000 grant from Tom’s of Maine based on public votes. She’s hoping to end the year with local donations to pay artists’ fees, support touring costs and fund curriculum development and outreach performances for schools. Some 1,500 students will see Ocean at the Steinbeck Center for Arts and Culture on March 1 (there will also be a performance open to the public).
Spector Atkins hopes every child in Monterey County can have the opportunity to experience the work, and notes MBARI would like to host teachers workshops. Plus, the Smithsonian contacted her about touring in Washington, D.C., this spring, and she’s received interest from other groups in California, Alaska and Washington state.
“It’s a unique coming together of art and science, and it gives audiences access to top-quality, cutting-edge science and first-class artistic exploration of the themes,” she says.
Through the Sunset Center’s Classroom Connections Program, Ocean has an in-school component where each classroom receives an ocean science lesson and a session on creative exploration. Then the students see the show and receive a follow-up classroom visit.
The first group – 500 sixth graders – saw Ocean Nov. 17 at Sunset Center.
“Sixth graders are a little rowdy,” says Natalie Hall, who runs the Classroom Connections Program. “But they came into the theater and as soon as the projection screens came down and the performance started, they were mesmerized.”
Plus, she says, the students retained what they learned: “It wasn’t just learning a science lesson. They were forced to think about it in terms of movement and color and how would they choreograph a piece about a healthy ocean.”
Aside from reaching more students and a broader audience, Spector Atkins wants to see Ocean evolve creatively. “We definitely identified the issues and did it in a way that’s educational and emotional,” she says. “I would like to focus on an action plan from this point forward, a message that inspires people.”