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September 11, 2009

Darwin and Dance

by Virginia Morell

Birds are noteworthy not only for their wit, charm, and sartorial splendor but also for their great dancing. So, for its contribution to this year’s Darwin celebrations, London’s Rambert Dance Company is putting on a bird-inspired show.

The company has the ideal scientific adviser: Nicola Clayton, an expert on the cognitive talents of jays and crows at the University of Cambridge and a lifelong dancer. Clayton helped the company’s artistic director, Mark Baldwin, come up with a program that she calls a “distillation of Darwinian ideas about evolution, particularly sexual selection.” One dance, for instance, is inspired by the elaborate displays of the six-plumed bird of paradise. In the wild, males inflate “a tutu” of feathers, then vigorously shake their heads and necks while sliding across a stage—all while being critically observed by a gallery of females. “The males are so constrained in their movements by female choice that it’s comical,” says Clayton. Other dances in the program evoke blue manakins and bee hummingbirds.

The show, titled The Comedy of Change, runs 16–19 September at the Theatre Royal in
Plymouth and 3–7 November at Sadler’s Wells in London.


University of Cambridge has produced a video about Clayton's research and the dance.

 

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