Far From Equilibrium Translates Turbulence Into Dance

By Jennifer Ouellette on at

Turbulent motion is a tricky concept to convey to the public without resorting to complicated mathematical equations. But what if you could take those abstract notions and turn them into a dance?

Elizabeth Hicks is an astrophysicist with a PhD from the University of Chicago who founded her own nonprofit lab to explore the intersection of science, engineering, mathematics, and art. Megan Rhyme is a dancer and choreographer with a longstanding interest in science. The two women met through various science and art outreach programs around Chicago, and found themselves wondering what would happen if they tried to translate Hicks’ scientific interest in turbulence into the movement vocabulary of dance.

The result is “Far From Equilibrium” a modern dance set to music by Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet that made its debut on Saturday afternoon at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. Rhyme tapped a few dancers she’d worked with previously and held open auditions to fill out her troupe of seven. To help fund the effort, they launched an IndieGogo campaign, which runs until tomorrow (October 20th).

“Far From Equilibrium” is divided into three sections, each starting simply and building to full “turbulent motion.” The first section is built around the concept of convection —what Hicks describes as “the instability that gets you into turbulence.” Imagine a pot of water on the stove. Nothing much happens until you turn the heat up, at which point it starts to rise and fall, then bubble and froth until it reaches full boil.

Next, there is a segment on energy scales in turbulence, where the dancers’ movement occurs on small, medium, and large scales (true turbulent motion occurs at all scales at once) as the Reynolds number increases.

Finally, there is a section exploring the different shapes of the swirling vortices that characterise chaotic turbulent motion. “Angular momentum increases when a ballerina spins and it’s almost like these vortices are being spun up,” Hicks explained.

Photos by Steve Tarzia.

Far From Equilibrium Translates Turbulence Into Dance