What do dance and physics have in common? Many people would be baffled faced with that question. The most adventurous would probably answer with a perplexed face ‘gravity?’. If then one specifies ‘particle physics’, many would seriously consider that they have been made fun of. This is exactly at the centre of Gilles Jobin’s Quantum (2013) presented here in Berlin during Tanz in August. Initiated by a residency at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, the work of the Swiss French artist is a choreographic introduction to the beauties and oddities of this microscopic world beyond the layman’s comprehension.

Since 2011 the CERN offers a residency programme to selected artists. During this period the artists are introduced to the various strands of research and can work in close contact with those researchers they find to be more attuned with. It must be fascinating to be able to take a tour of the 27 km circular tunnel that houses the accelerator, 100 m below ground between France and Switzerland. In the semi-darkness, researchers use this enormous tool to proof theories about matter and natural forces at the origin of our universe. This is also the impression Jobin, who worked there in 2012 and who is the only performance artist to have been invited up until now, wants to convey. Getting physical with physics it is not an easy task. The dance is mostly about what is invisible to the naked eyes: traces and trajectories, forces and particles. Only four headlights — an installation by the German artist Julius von Bismark — hine over the stage. The black interior of the theatre box is exposed giving an urban feeling very much attuned with the lights. Three couples unevenly lit shake vehemently on stage only to stop and embrace. Possibly, they imitate particles vibrating on a grid whose attraction then reaches a new equilibrium. The “Tron”/ “Star Trek” aesthetic — as in all sci-fi films they wear unitards — is only undermined by the lightly fluorescent and very Seventies zigzag pattern. The dancers then follow their spiral trajectories after having interacted at a distance. Mathematical beauty lies in the simplicity of the equation, but also in its visual symbols that Jobin’s dancers seem to spell with their bodies. Glimpses of matter and its mirror behaving antimatter are seen and so are the ever-growing staccato traces of sonar-like images. Still, at the end the only motion is that of the lights.

Most prominent throughout the dance are von Bismark’s lights, also a ‘creative collision’ produced while in residence at the CERN and which embody some characteristics of the law of gravitation. The other theory element of the dance, their varying circular motions are only twice synchronous and in a way they contributed to the impression of particles rushing by. Their movement is mesmerising and quite effective in producing trance like state in the audience. At times it felt stronger than the dancers’ presence. The resulting uneven lighting contributed to the sensation of initial chaos but also mimicked the research situation at the CERN, where only parts of the tunnel are monitored leaving the rest in darkness. The soundscape by Carla Scaletti has been composed by analysing and transposing data from the accelerator. The cracking and squeaking of particles colliding and releasing energy transported the audience to the very origin of matter in its beautiful simplicity. Of the artists invited to Collide@CERN, Jobin had possibly the most difficult task, working with the human body. The body on stage is always narrative and it is hard to avoid this effect. It is very difficult to work with form trying to represent the formless, or pre-form. In Quantum the dancers somehow move scale, as they are alternatively particles, energies and traces left on the monitors. They create images of the particles' chaotic behaviours but also of their naturally occurring symmetries. Their vocabulary is a composite of ballet and modern techniques steps that favours lines over dynamics: the arms are often to the side, one arm bend, the other extended. In a way they allude to the CERN symbol (a circle with an extended line and standing for the form of the accelerator). The preferred legs movements are arabesques, alternated by walking, skipping and running.

Jobin’s mission in this work is to bring liveliness to the dryness of particles physics. Conveying the complexity of the particle world or even of the research work at CERN is nevertheless not an easy task and most of it unfortunately maintained its mysteriousness despite Jobin’s effort to recreate the fix number of variations of movements in a disordered but natural way. The work felt like an introduction to something, a preliminary presentation which could be further expanded. For this reason I looking forward to his new duo FORçA FORTE were possibly the material will be more accessible.