As the subject for a ballet, you can't get much headier than theories on how the universe works. But don't tell that to award-winning choreographer Karole Armitage.
It took Armitage five years to distill a ballet from the three prevailing scientific theories on how the universe works. But she says audience members will not need a background in physics to understand Three Theories, to be performed by her New York-based company Armitage Gone! Dance on March 3, presented by the Pittsburgh Dance Council.
"As people, we are equipped to read body language and know if someone is happy or sad," says Armitage via telephone from Montreal, where she is choreographing Cirque du Soleil's latest tent show, Amaluna. "Dance communicates on the same instinctive and visceral level."
Once known as the "punk ballerina" for her use of punk-music scores and attitude in her ballets, Armitage has, over her 30-plus-years as a choreographer, developed a unique contemporary style that has moved with the times.
In addition to making ballets for her 7-year-old dance company, she has choreographed music videos for Madonna and Michael Jackson, and on Broadway and in the movies.
Her hour-long Three Theories (2010) — inspired by physicist Brian Greene's book The Elegant Universe — begins with "Relativity," a take on Einstein's Theory of Relativity set to Indian classical music. Armitage says that the music's sliding scales parallel the dancer's movements in the section that plays off Einstein's assertion that gravity is the warping and twisting of spacetime.
"The movement is not vertical and horizontal like traditional dance movement," says Armitage. "There is a constant warping and twisting aspect to it."
In "Quantum," Armitage taps into the chaotic nature of quantum mechanics to create choreography that she says is off-balance and filled with non sequiturs and interruptions. It's set to an original score for 100 electric guitars by Rhys Chatman. Armitage describes the dancing in the section as physically intense and extreme.
For the final section, "String," set to music by Alaskan composer John Luther Adams, Armitage explores the newest of the three theories (and the one she subscribes to). String Theory combines the macro Theory of Relativity with the micro theory of Quantum Mechanics. In her choreography, Armitage says, she, like String Theory, attempts to create a sense of order emerging from disorder.