I first met Ela Lamblin when he was a student in my video art class at the Atlanta College of Art many decades ago. I remember one particularly quirky little invention that was driven by the motor on a phonograph player. Brought up with a family that urged him to make all his own toys, he still looks at the world as a wealth of materials for MAKING. Metal Ikea bowls become spherical gongs on a home made gamelan; resin-coated gloves make long wires sing so that the stage becomes one giant cello; a twirling set of pipes opens up like a flower, a toy for grown ups to ride, dance, and play.
Ela’s partner Leah Mann is an imaginative and playful choreographer. She boldly plays with space and materials the way most of the rest of us only vaguely remember from childhood. Her persona is mischievous, sensual, elf-like, gravity-defying. She works with the whole space, up, down, upside down, using large and small scale — from the small gestures of fingers to the giant scale of the full space. Bungee drumming, the cavorting of other-worldly snails, the sexy center of flowers, the warm pond of life’s origins… Ela and Leah’s sum-greater-than-parts match, Lelavision, immerses the viewer in worlds of transcendent beauty and irrepressible humor.
So when Anna Edlund and I began exploring the idea of a choreography that would illustrate embryonic development, it was the work of Lelavision that popped into my mind. I contacted my former student Ela, and lucky for me, they were eager to jump in and explore. We worked briefly with biomechanics pioneers Steve Wainwright and Stephen Vogel of Duke University. In fact, it was Stephen Vogel who helped me coin the name for this website: upon initial inquiry about art-science collabs, he hesitated and said, “Well, OK, as long as the scientists don’t have to dance!”
In partnership with Anna Edlund of Lafayette College (Spelman College at the time) and funded partly by the generous support of the Program in Science in Society at Emory University under the direction of Arri Eisen, Lelavision and Edlund went on to produce “The Anther, My Friend” about the journey of a pollen grain as it fertilized a flower, which they performed for 1,200 school children in Minneapolis.
Lelavision, Arri Eisen, and I continued this fruitful collaboration, working with David Lynn of Emory University on a project exploring the chemical origins of early life. Their resulting piece “The Accumulation of Change” was performed at Chicago Humanities Festival.
Serving as catalyst for art-science collaborations such as these has been truly rewarding. It helped me move beyond the idea of arts illustrating science to thinking more broadly about how arts can make science dance.