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Fernando Hernando Magadan

Open Space project: where dance meets cosmology

Until 15 May, Open Space will give room for artistic creation and experimentation in a partnership between artists and astronomers. The project is a collaboration among Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT), Korzo and the Leiden Observatory. Starting on 3 May, young dancers of NDT 2, three choreographers, three composers of the Royal Conservatoire (RC) in The Hague and Leiden astronomers will dive into the connections among dance, music and cosmology.

For two weeks, NDT 2 dancers, choreographers, musicians and astronomers will work together to explore the concept of motion in the arts and in astronomy. The Open Space project is a talent development and research platform organized by Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) and Korzo. 

Cosmology and art

‘The main idea is to boost talent development within Nederlands Dans Theater and think of how cosmology, astronomy and art intersect. Participants will have freedom to explore these elements without the pressure of coming out with a ready performance,’ explains Fernando Hernando Magadan, artistic leader of NDT 2, one of the main dance companies worldwide. 

The award-winning Spanish choreographer has created several pieces for NDT 1 and 2 and participated in a recent Leiden Observatory virtual seminar. Collaborating with the NDT Education Department, Magadan is keen to experimentation and in exploring the frontiers of dance. 

© Kalyn Berg, Nederlands Dans Theater


Open Space started taking shape in 2018, when Leiden researchers Henk Hoekstra and Pedro Russo wrote a letter to NDT inviting the dance company for an art-science collaboration. 

‘In the past few years we have been thinking about engaging the art community with Leiden Observatory, on bringing astronomy closer to society and working with the cultural sector beyond science, which is an important thing to do,’ says Henk Hoekstra, Professor of Observational Cosmology. 

Hoekstra was the one to take the first step. ‘After we watched a NDT performance, my wife mentioned it could be interesting if I did something with the Company. I really liked the idea, but didn’t know where to start from,’ he says.

After talking to Pedro Russo, Hoekstra thought of writing a letter to invite the NDT for a collaboration. ‘It took me some time to come up with the right angle for the letter, but ultimately the connection between the idea of motion in cosmology and the evolution of modern dance made a lot of sense. And it worked!’

Excerpt of the letter from Hoekstra and Russo

‘We believe there is a connection between cosmology and dance through the study of motion. […] The study of motion continues to surprise us: the nature of the main constituents of the Universe, dark matter and dark energy, remains to be explained. […] We believe that the recent advances of cosmology, resulting in surprises such as dark matter and dark energy, provide interesting topics to explore innovatively through art and dance. We therefore would like to explore the possibilities for a unique and ambitious project combining cosmology and dance, bringing people together from two world-class institutions, NDT and the Leiden Observatory.’

First edition

Now astronomers from Leiden Observatory are exploring these concepts along with choreographers, young dancers of the NDT 2 and composers. ‘The project is important because it brings together two communities that usually didn’t talk that much to each other. There are several interpretations for the world we live in and I think that by working together we can share these perspectives and make practice, both in astronomy and dance, better,’ says Pedro Russo, assistant professor at the department of Science Communication & Society and coordinator of the Astronomy & Society group at the Leiden Observatory.  

With its first edition in May 2021, Open Space will be biannual. Until May 14th, artists and astronomers will share their creative processes and knowledge about their practice and fields, as well as their perceptions of the Universe. Artists and scientists know the world and do things in different ways — and one of the objectives is to explore some of the differences and connections in these approaches to understanding the Universe above us.

The choreographer Fernando Magadan says the idea is to focus more on the process than in a product itself. Pedro Russo agrees: ‘If we get a final performance resulting from this process, that will be great, but if not, that will be ok, too. I expect we’ll be able to show some of the work in progress and discussions we’re having — and hopefully we’ll have a little of that at the end of these two weeks.’ 

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