SpectorDance draws from the science to take on its most ambitious project yet: the sea.

“Dance plays on people’s emotions,” MBARI’s Dr. James Barry says, “and anything we can do to create a connection between individuals and the ocean is a good thing…things you connect with, you value, you vote for, you support.”

The ocean, like fluid dancers’ bodies in motion, fascinates and soothes. It’s meditative and beautiful – on the surface.

“We’re all struck by the beauty of the ocean, the mystery and the vast frontier, an actual frontier and also an archetypal symbol of the subconscious,” says Fran Spector Atkins, artistic director of SpectorDance. “When you look at the superficial beauty of the ocean, why would anyone think anything is the matter? It’s endlessly fascinating and inspiring. But if you go under the surface, if you look at the science, we know the ocean’s chemistry is changing.”

In typical Spector Atkins fashion, the dance teacher/choreographer’s latest work has taken on a massive topic – in this case, one that covers about 70 percent of the planet. She interviewed top scientists, read books and journals and watched hours of underwater footage. After plunging deeply into ocean research, now she’s surfacing with something deep and mesmerizing, a sensory delight of movement and music. 

Ocean blends scientific information and audio interviews, original music, underwater video footage from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and dance, choreographed by Spector Atkins. Her previous works, in SpectorDance’s signature multi-media style, meld contemporary dance and technology, and have focused on the Central Coast’s literary masters, the community’s agricultural heritage, the natural beauty of the environment and gang violence.

Despite those weighty subjects, Spector Atkins says Oceans is her most ambitious project to date. “The other works are relative to the community, but now I’m defining community is a larger way. Oceans is an evolution of all the projects.”

The public gets a sneak peek of her new work – and an opportunity to affect its future – at a May 7 fundraiser at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. The event features an introduction by Spector Atkins, dance, live music written and performed by San Francisco Bay Area composer Colin Farish, and a talk by MBARI’s Dr. James Barry. Cima Collina will pour wine and an ocean-themed quilt made by Judy Wheeler will be auctioned.

Funds raised will pay artists’ fees, and support touring costs, curriculum development and outreach performances for underserved youth.

Kyra Schlining, an MBARI senior research technician who works in the video lab, also sits on the SpectorDance board of directors and helped cull underwater footage – the MBARI lab has more than 17,000 hours of it from research missions – to use in the piece.

“It’s a way for us at MBARI to reach new audiences,” she says. “It’s also a way for dance to reach new audiences.”

After interviewing Barry and other scientists, Spector Atkins translated the research into dance. Ocean acidification is one of the themes that emerged, along with the ocean’s food chain, dying species, storm patterns and “surrendering” to nature. 

“To visualize this in terms of movement,” she explains, “the beauty of the ocean has a more harmonious type of feeling, the pattern of the waves, the beauty of the waves. But the ocean acidification is not harmonious. It’s more intense. And the quality of the movement shifts that way.”

In addition to its preview at the fundraiser, Ocean will be performed as a work in progress at SpectorDance on June 17, 18 and 19. It will premiere at Sunset Center as part of the Classroom Connections program on Nov. 17, and then at Golden State Theater as part of First Night on Dec. 31. Spector Atkins says the dance company will take the piece on tour in 2012-13.

But it’s still got a ways to go before it’s performance-ready. Spector Atkins first listened to pieces of the original score only weeks ago, and continues to interview ocean scientists and choreograph movement. And, she says, the work will likely evolve through the fundraiser feedback and June performances. In short, it’s continuously moving and changing – like the ocean itself.

“One part is the scientific research, but also the relationship the ocean has to the human body and to human development, the process through which we expand our consciousness and also how we meet emotional issues in our life,” Spector Atkins says. “I can see a very strong parallel between the fact that 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered with water and 70 percent of the human body is made up of water. The evolution of all living things comes from the ocean. We’ve very connected to the ocean, both the science of the ocean and how man fits into this environment.” 

THE OCEAN FUNDRAISER happens 5-7pm, Saturday May 7, at the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, 8272 Moss Landing Road. Tickets are $55/per person; $100/per couple. RSVP 384-1050 or at www.spectordance.org.

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