The idea of exploring genomics through modern dance is unusual, but dancer Liz Lerman thinks art has a role to play in understanding science. In September, the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange put on two performances of Ferocious Beauty: Genome, a multimedia piece investigating the impact of genetic research on people's lives.
The first act of Ferocious Beauty illustrates how scientists work. Its portrayals range from Gregor Mendel, the nineteenth-century Austrian monk who worked out the rules of inheritance using pea plants, to the 1953 discovery of the double helix. It also features video backdrops of scientists explaining what goes on in their labs and "choreographing" genomic processes while dancers bring those processes to life onstage.
Five years in the making, the work was further developed on campus by Lerman during a two-week residency with Duke scientists.
As part of the performance, Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy assistant professors Uwe Ohler and Sayan Mukherjee appeared on video discussing their work. This new version was seen by audiences for the first time at the Duke performances, which also featured pre-show talks by Huntington Willard, director of the genome institute, and post-performance conversations with Lerman, English professor Priscilla Wald, and the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, Francis Collins.