Theater

Dance Science at Everett

An East Side dance troupe explores your mind

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Can ballet teach you about the brain? Can modern dance make you more tolerant of disorders? Can hip hop help you learn about the hippocampus? Find out, as Everett presents Brain Storm this month. The innovative new show combines dance, theatre and multimedia in an exploration of the ever-fascinating human brain. And it just might blow your mind. 

Co-directors Dorothy Jungels and her son Aaron recently took the time to chat about the production. The inspiration came partially from Aaron’s two-year residency at a New Hampshire rehab facility for patients with brain injuries and disabilities. Another part came from teaching students in Everett’s arts classes, some of whom were affected by ADHD, trauma and other mental issues. Aaron explains, “We thought if we knew more about the brain, our programs could be designed better, to maybe provide them with tools to help them gain their own insights and their own control over some of these conditions.”

Everett’s professional dance troupe developed the show collaboratively over a period of two years, with all eight of the performers participating. After filming the dancers in improvisation, Dorothy reviewed the footage and selected elements and movements to incorporate in the choreography. Aaron brought in new multimedia technology with which to experiment. And everyone shared ideas, research and articles about the brain. They collected reams of material and then winnowed it down. As Aaron notes of the creative process, “We call it our deck of cards. And the company reshuffles the deck, and tries new arrangements to come up with a shape that provides a meaning larger than the separate parts.”

Brain Storm includes stories from specialists and individuals dealing with mental illness – schizophrenia, PTSD, memory loss and more. It examines our perceived level of control over elements of mind and behavior, and the chemical and electrical processes behind them. Noteworthy concepts like neural stimulation and neuroplasticity play a part. Perhaps most significantly, the show highlights the transformative power of thought. For everyone involved, it’s been an eye-opening experience. Dorothy points out, “It’s brought about a lot of tolerance for all of us as we have started to understand the way different brains work.”

The production design features two rolling sets of scaffolding that the performers move around and upon. At times, the scaffolding becomes a metaphor for parts of the brain, including the amygdala and the hippocampus. (“We tried and tried to get the hypothalamus and we failed,” Dorothy says with a laugh.) Expect multiple styles of dance and an eclectic assortment of music, ranging from Classical piano to Cesaria Evora and Led Zeppelin. Novel video projection techniques and lighting lend excitement to the staging.

Note that no prior study of cognitive neuroscience is necessary to enjoy the performance. No matter how cerebral the premise may sound, Everett took pains to make Brain Storm accessible. Aaron reveals, “It was a challenge to bring some of the science into the piece without getting bogged down and too educational. The piece is more mysterious and, I think, very human. So it doesn’t get overly technical.”

Dorothy adds, “But you will understand your hippocampus when you leave.”

Brain Storm runs April 13-29. Call 401-831-9479 for tickets.