Orchesis' spring concert, "A Body in Motion," will be presented April 9 through 11 at WSU's Browning Center.

Weber State University professor Adam Johnston is preparing to teach his first physics lesson on a dance stage.

“I actually show up, fairly terrified, on stage,” Johnston said. “I’m in bare feet, but that’s as close to dance as I get.”

Johnston is collaborating with WSU dance professor Erik Stern, who is considerably more comfortable.

“Throughout my entire career, either by myself or more often in collaboration with others, I have connected disciplines,” Stern said. “I like to explore the shared aspects of things.”

The new work is called “A Body in Motion,” and explores the physics of movement. Twenty dancers perform animated dances, but also react as would inanimate objects when influenced by wind, gravity or other natural forces.

After three nights in the Austad Auditorium, at Weber State’s Browning Center, the company will hit the road and perform for 1,000 Northern and Southern Utah school children.

“This is the most in-depth collaboration I have done,” Stern said. “It speaks a lot to Adam’s ability to look at things in many ways. It’s not only about the overlap between dance and sciences. It’s carefully collecting ideas, and dancers using them to create. Adam explains in a script the patterns we notice, and we try science experiments with them. It all gets down to the fundamental idea of patterns, and what patterns do you notice, and how do you clarify them.

“It’s been like writing a novella, to be honest. It’s very big and exciting.”

Johnston said the piece is not on the science of dance, and it’s not dance to act out science.

“It’s about parallels,” he said. “We use experience in physics we can actually do on stage, and how we look at nature. We try to stay out of the way with different brief talking episodes. We do have sequences that would be different from what you would typically see in dance performances. The narration works well with the dance, rather than get in the way or try to replace it.

“What we do naturally as humans is collect experiences and create meaning. Dance and science both do.”

Props include colorful pieces of paper, PVC pipes, balls attached to strings of various lengths, and a long, flexible length of covered wire.

“I get to work with a leaf blower,” Johnston said. “It’s all great fun. It’s all something you couldn’t imagine describing to someone until you’re in the middle of it.”

Does he leaf-blow dancers across the stage?

“OK, maybe we aren’t as unpredictable as we thought,” Johnston said, laughing.

But a rehearsal preview revealed creativity going far beyond that one, brief move. The show has movement to appeal to dance fans of all ages, and anyone seeking simple illustration of some of physics’ basic laws.

“I am incredibly novice to dance, can’t even touch my toes,” Johnston said. “But I am just enamored with the piece, and I’ve probably seen it hundreds of times now.”

Stern also is pleased with the collaboration’s result.

“I think one of the things arts can do is remember what it is like to be a child, which means not feeling like there’s a different between this subject and that subject,” he said. “You push something this way and it goes this way. The question is, ‘Is that science or is that dance?’ But why can’t it be both?”

Contact reporter Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or nvan@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @SE_NancyVanV; on Facebook at facebook.com/SE_NancyVanV.


  • WHAT: Orchesis’ ‘A Body in Motion’
  • WHEN: 7:30 p.m. April 9-11
  • WHERE: Browning Center, WSU, 3848 Harrison Blvd., Ogden
  • TICKETS: $10-$12, www.weberstatetickets.com or 801-626-8500
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