Dancing to the rhythm of the sun

27 June 2017

A group of dancers performing on stage in front of a picture of the sun

(Credit: Alexander Whitley Dance Company)

For generations, scientists have been studying the relationship between the Earth and the Sun, and now a group of artists and dancers have taken inspiration from this dynamic to produce a contemporary dance performance.

Choreographer Alexander Whitley created the piece and titled it ‘8 Minutes’ – which is the time it takes light to travel from the Sun to the Earth.

Representing the complex relationship between our planet and its main star is no mean feat, so Alexander worked in partnership with scientists from STFC RAL Space to create ‘8 Minutes’ and drew inspiration from the images and data of solar science research to explore the spectacular forces at work in the universe and illuminate our relationship with the star that gives us life.

STFC scientist Dr Hugh Mortimer offered his expert advice to help create the piece, which offers an imaginative representation of solar flares based on images of the Sun taken from satellites in space.

Dr Mortimer, whose works includes creating instruments to better understand the atmosphere of the Sun, said: “I am constantly looking for ways to make science appeal to a wider audience, so when this project came about I was delighted to be involved.

2 silhouetted dancers performing on stage

(Credit: Alexander Whitley Dance Company)

“The dance collaboration with Alexander Whitley gives a perspective to space science that can be understood by a new audience and engage with people on a level that is difficult to do when working in a purely scientific context. It is the artist’s unique perspective on the scientist’s objective analysis that is the most powerful aspect of this project, and why we are very excited to be a part of this work.”

RAL Space has a long heritage of solar space mission involvement, mainly through the development and operation of spectroscopic instrumentation in extreme-UV and X-ray wavelengths, but also in heliospheric imaging.

RAL Space uses observations of the solar atmosphere to determine the Sun’s plasma characteristics, study complex processes of energy release in big, violent flares and ubiquitous tiny nanoflares, and track huge mass eruptions all the way from the Sun's corona to beyond the Earth's orbit. The aim is to understand and predict how the Sun works and affects the solar system and the Earth's environment.

The ‘8 Minutes’ project also incorporates workshops for local school students. Created with input from RAL Space scientists and the artist’s team, the workshops look at the creative processes involved in making the piece and explore the parallels between art and science.

With a specially created score by the electroacoustic music innovator Daniel Wohl and an installation of high-definition imagery from visual artist Tal Rosner, ‘8 Minutes’ creates a striking, immersive environment of dance, music and film.

The piece is premiering at Sadler’s Wells in London on June 27-28.

Useful web links

STFC Contact

Jake Gilmore
M: 07970994586

RAL Space, based at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, carries out an exciting range of world-class space research and technology development. It has had significant involvement in over 200 space missions and is at the forefront of UK Space Research.

RAL Space's Solar Physics Group is a cornerstone of UK solar physics research, providing an established, world-leading research programme with observational and scientific leadership over a wide range of key areas. The basic underpinning experimental expertise of the group is solar atomic spectroscopy, for the derivation of solar plasma diagnostics.

We use observations of the solar atmosphere to determine the Sun’s plasma characteristics, study complex processes of energy release in big, violent flares and ubiquitous tiny nanoflares, and track huge mass eruptions all the way from the Sun's corona to beyond the Earth's orbit. Our aim is to understand and predict how the Sun works and affects the solar system and the Earth's environment.

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000