Dancers integrate science and art in moving performance


The Gonzaga biology department incorporates dance to articulate complex concepts | Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner

By Kaitlyn Engen, Contributor

Dancers of Gonzaga University’s Repertory Dance Company leaped, crawled, swam and flew across EWU’s Recital Hall stage last Friday evening.

Organized by Gonzaga Dance director and Choreographer Suzanne Ostersmith and Gonzaga biology professor Brook Swanson, “Beautiful Weapons and the Diversity of Life” integrated both science and artistic movement into a composure that engaged all kinds of minds in the audience.

“It’s always been two worlds that I’ve balanced separately,” said Gonzaga dancer Carly Goodspeed after the performance.

Ostersmith, who has been Gonzaga’s dance director for 18 years, recalls the birth of “Beautiful Weapons” at a faculty luncheon where Brook Swanson approached her with the idea of bringing dance into his biology lectures.

Ostersmith and Swanson were eventually inspired by John Bohannon’s TED Talk showing dance as a means of visual representation to articulate complex concepts, such as those in the field of biology.

When they collaborated, their new interdisciplinary way of thinking turned out to be a huge success. They decided to take the idea even further to outside the lecture hall.  

“It felt impossible,” said Ostersmith. “And that’s why it touches me because I really think we have something worth seeing and learning from.”  

The plan for the performance was finalized with Swanson narrating evolutionary concepts as girls in long, pink skirts-and at one point, large wooden crab claws-elegantly danced around him.

The name “Beautiful Weapons” was coined as way to show through dance the paradoxical relationship between animal weaponry and the beauty within it.

“We loved this idea of opposition,” said Ostersmith. “The crab claws are weapons, yet they are also beautiful flags and attractants.”

Along with fiddler crabs, the dancers enacted many other unique animals, including peacocks, whales, and termites to complement the intricate biomechanics of nature that Swanson was explaining.

The entire performance is becoming a huge success throughout university communities in Washington and beyond.

Ostersmith expressed high hopes for what this performance could mean for higher education.

“We put a flag in their heads to think more creatively,” she stated.

She reflected that “Beautiful Weapons” has sparked change in the way art and science are approached, using both fields to reinforce each other. This, in turn, is bringing together previously exclusive departments, most especially in the Gonzaga community.

The GU Repertory Dance Company is scheduled to perform at Central Washington University next Friday, as well as Whitworth University, University of Montana and University of Colorado Boulder in the upcoming weeks.

“These students are at the beginning of a beautiful tour,” said Ostersmith.