Out of all science and art collaborations, there is something particularly fitting about ones that involve dance; an art based around patterns, gravity, momentum and speed, executed by athletes at the peak of physical condition, yet marked as individuals by the inconsistencies and asymmetries of the human body. Janis Claxton Dance’s Chaos and Contingency – an exploration of mathematical patterns showing in Edinburgh as part of the International Science Festival – combines all of these elements, floating suggestions of physics and anatomy as well as maths, while never losing sight of its beauty as a piece of art.
Dressed in blood-red robes, clean and plain as monks, the ensemble start out like one organism, breathing and lifting limbs together, before gradually splitting off into shifting groups. Twos and threes break away, repeating phrases with asymmetrical precision; here there needn’t be synchronisation to achieve perfect harmony. Open palms sweep into straight limbed stretches, then spin off in all directions as the dancers ebb and flow in and out of formation. Sometimes their patterns seem like a skewed version of the dots on dice. At others they clump together, magnetic attraction bringing them in and throwing them out again. Fleeting moments where they suddenly do fall into sync become charged with catharsis, a beat of resolution before the blood cell splits, the electrons scatter and controlled chaos once again takes hold.
Claxton is no stranger to the marriage of dance and science, having previously imprisoned her dancers (and herself) in an enclosure in Edinburgh zoo to be scrutinised by the passing public. Here she draws sensitive and subtle performances from the cast, building up tension with the growing swing of a pendulum, until they are leaping and spiralling, the energy barely contained within their bodies. Against the cream marble floor of the National Museum of Scotland, especially when seen from the galleries above, they are a striking oasis of cleanliness and calm amongst the museum’s everyday chaos. With such a concordant setting it’s hard to picture the dance being recreated anywhere else. But then, as the scientists might say, that’s the beauty of the universe, and another thing dance has in common with it; nothing’s ever the same twice.