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Arabesque: Experiments Three

Arabesque.  Pink Portuguese Marble.  1987.  Sculpture by Lee Gass.  Photo by Stuart Dee.

This is the third in a series of articles inspired by Experiments, an evening-length dance production expressing the essence of scientific creativity.  It will be performed November 25 – 27 at the Scotiabank Dance Centre. 

I want to tell you the story of how I learned about Experiments, how it made me feel to find out about it like that, and what it continues to mean to me to be asked to participate.  Like many of the best stories do, this one changed my life, even by making me more aware of who I am and what is important to me. 

I’ll do my best to give you the short version, because both of us have other things to do.

Two years ago, Lucretia and I opened the Lee Gass Gallery in Vancouver, where we displayed my sculptures, hosted dinners, and discussed the meaning and marketing of art.  (One happy consequence of our spending that year talking with people was that I’m now represented by the Petley Jones Gallery.)

For our Opening, we threw a big party for anyone we could think of who might be interested in my work.   It was thrilling to be with our guests under those circumstances: guests, sculptures, photographs of sculptures, great conversations, and Lucretia and me in the middle of it. It was wonderful!

Among those who attended our opening were Larry Dill and Mark Winston, behavioural ecologists from SFU I’ve known and worked with forever.  Independently, each of them told me about something that had happened in his life, something powerful, transformative and important.  Each story had different details and different local colour than the other, and was told from a different perspective.  

In a way, though, they were the same story.  Here is more or less what happened.  

Larry, who has been a tough-minded experimental scientist for decades, is also a ridiculously funny comic, a singer, and a formidable presence in any kind of discussion.  Larry almost cried when he told me how wonderful it had been to sing Waltzing Matilda, solo, in Symbiotic, a dance performance based on his research on coral reef ecology.   I was so into it when he told me that I almost cried, myself.   I'm almost crying now, two years later, telling you about it.  After playing in Vancouver a few times, Symbiotic travelled to Toronto and Larry went with them.   He was ecstatic to have participated, and I hadn't known about any of it.

When Mark arrived, things started to happen quick.

I saw him coming, walking diagonally across the intersection toward the gallery, and I went outside to greet him.  We hadn’t even gotten to the door yet when Mark stopped, put his hand on my arm, pointed to a sculpture, and asked me if I realized what I had done.  What Mark told Lucretia and me about my sculpture Eternal Flame, set off a whole cascade of events that led to Mark’s commenting about that sculpture in an article he wrote in the Jewish Independent newspaper in Vancouver.  

That was just the first thing that happened after Mark arrived at our opening. He met Lori, the love of his life there, too, and Lucretia and I claim 100% credit for that miraculous event.  Before I was aware of any of that, though (I did notice that they liked each other), Mark told me about his own participation in Symbiosis.  It was as if Mark and Larry were ganging up on me, and it turned out later that they were.  

Without going into detail about what Mark told me, I'll just said that whereas Larry sang, Mark danced. Otherwise, it was the same story - - maybe two versions of the same story.  Those scientists could only have been described as ecstatic in telling me their stories.

The image of a middle-aged entomologist dancing on a stage is delightful, even if all you do is imagine it.  But you can see a clip of Mark Winston doing it here.  

If you've ever heard Larry snore, as anyone who has slept within a mile of him can attest, his bringing an audience to tears with Waltzing Matilda, bringing himself with it, is easy to imagine.  At this moment, I am unaware of any audio or video record of his performance, but I'm working on it.

They told how exciting it had been for a pair of scientists to collaborate with a choreographer to create a professional dance production about science and nature and perform in it.  Only a fool could miss that message!  I got it, and I haven't yet recovered from the impact.  I hope I never do. 

What gave Larry's and Mark's stories their power to change my life was partly that they were good stories, but more that it was Larry and Mark telling them. That made a big difference, because I trusted their experience.  It also made a difference that they told them to me straight, from the heart, and without holding back anything - - especially their enthusiasm.  

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