Why do you want to engage in science-art collaboration?
Dance has always been an integral part of my upbringing. Whenever I visit my childhood home, I’ll most often find my mother (an Indian classical dance teacher) hunched over her dimly-lit workspace as she prepares her next lesson plan. Papers filled with hand-drawn stick figures depicting various mudras (hand gestures) will be scattered across the table, and brief descriptions of these gestures are scribbled underneath. I’ll pull up a chair and listen as she describes her unique choreography. She’ll begin with an explanation of the story behind the dance piece is she currently teaching and follow with her reasonings as to why she selected a specific mudra to convey a character’s emotion.
From these conversations and my own experiences as a student and performer of Indian classical dance, I’ve come to appreciate this style of art as a fundamental form of human expression, and as someone who works in a cancer research lab, I often think about what do these two disciplines share: movement.
A major limitation in neurosurgery is intra-operative brain shift, a complex spatio-temporal problem that is often the result of removing cancerous tissue during surgery. During the procedure, surgeons use brain navigation systems to note precisely where the tumor is positioned in the brain, but these medical devices assume the patient’s head and brain is rigid, as MR brain images are acquired pre-operatively.
So, how do we account for this inevitable repositioning of the brain? Aside from gravity and specific properties of the tumor, like size and where it resides in the brain, we may also need to consider its programmed behavioral characteristics. How does it interact with, or rather influence, surrounding healthy tissue? Do those interactions partially contribute to tissue swelling, thus resulting in brain shift?
I’ve always enjoyed the scientific process especially when taken out of scientific context. As a little kid I loved finding out how things worked - through observation, deduction, or trial & error, I was always a curious learner. In fact, I still enjoy discovering how things work, especially on a social level. While my curiosity thrives in conversation, collaborative fieldwork, source-material research, and devised work, my wonder lies in the human body’s ability to take in moments of quotidian learning, and moments of trauma as well. Especially present in my work as a theatre-maker and a Dance for Parkinson's Disease teacher are the questions: Where does trauma go after time heals superficial wounds? Does the body hold on to pain after our minds aim to let that pain go? How might we best serve our present selves when our past remains insistent on being heard?
Like in the glymphatic system within the brain, if certain proteins build up and aren’t expelled, neurodegenerative diseases may stem as a result. Through proper sleep hygiene and other healthy habits, one can help our glymphatic system do its job, but how might we learn from this rather self-sufficient system? How might we let go of, let’s say, emotional junk to help clear the way for the emotional tasks at hand? Is there a way to stay in the flow during emotional peaks by moving through stressors with a sense of excited resolve rather than a sense of stagnant, static negativity? Perhaps we can become healthier all around, by seeing something as a bump in the road and not the whole road, as an opportunity and not a dead end. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially if such stressors appear to exist in a vacuum leaving those affected in a chronic state of stress…
Another nascent thought I had since our first conversation is how the kinetic chain might reveal why there’s intra-operative brain shift on a micro level. When the body is under stress, at that precise moment, there are instantaneous physiological reactions that happen, even faster than our conscious mind has time to process that stress. Is there some way to place the body in some sort of state of perpetual rest before such stress strikes, in order to affect less brain shift at the moment of surgical biopsy, etc.? Or is this phenomenon simply another example of our fight or flight response ensuring our own survival?
I enjoy multidisciplinary collaboration, especially because I believe in the cumulative and communal effects of socially engaged art and research. Through a selective cross-pollination of words, music, and movement, along with immersive, sensorial, and documentary style theatre tactics, I hope to broaden the audience experience. In essence, I hope to link the audience’s point of view with that of the subject’s, so to share in the storytelling, leading to a more lasting empathetic experience. I believe science can act as a guidepost and Dramaturg, bringing an audience closer to a story than ever before.