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Julia Ayau and Jasmine Shafley in Sarah Hixon's "Entangled" dance

"Dancer Sarah Hixon's childhood launching pad for art-meets-science performance"


Peter Tonguette, The Columbus Dispatch
Thursday, April 4, 2019


As the daughter of an aerospace engineer, Sarah Hixon is comfortable with talk of outer space and physics.

“He would bring us home the little stickers of the badges from the missions that he worked on,” said Hixon, whose father worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “I was around the talk and the ideas about the space station.”

Hixon now serves as the artistic director of Hixon Dance, a central Ohio modern-dance company. For the troupe’s latest offering, Hixon aims to blend her familiarity with science with her passion for dance.

“Entanglement: Where Science Meets Dance,” featuring seven dancers from the company, will be performed Friday and Saturday at the Fisher Theatre at Columbus Dance Theatre. An additional performance will take place on April 13 at the McConnell Arts Center in Worthington.

The idea for the program was proposed by Gregory Mack, senior program officer at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.

Hixon met Mack while both were graduate students at Ohio State University; he was pursuing physics and she was studying dance, but their interests overlapped.

“He actually has a real interest in dance,” Hixon said.

Years later, “He wrote me an email late at night: ‘I have this great idea. Let’s talk about this,’” she said.

The dance that emerged from their conversations is called “Spooky Action at a Distance,” a reference to a quantum-mechanics concept in which two objects can affect each other despite never coming into physical contact.

“The whole piece is designed on this idea of two units becoming connected in some way and then operating in some kind of opposition,” said Hixon, who choreographed parts for various groupings of dancers.

“At the center point of the piece, they start moving in opposition,” she said. “Every dancer and her partner will be in opposition from the other throughout the rest of the dance.”

The work will feature mirrored movements.

“Sometimes that means one goes left, one goes right,” Hixon said. “But sometimes that means when somebody faces front, somebody faces back.”

Like Hixon, composer Jacob Reed — who created an original score for “Spooky Action at a Distance” to be performed by the Columbus Ohio Discovery Ensemble — found artistic possibilities in scientific ideas.

“It has some of the elements that good art has, where there’s some mystery, there’s something not normal happening,” said Reed, who is married to Hixon and is the music director of Hixon Dance. “To me, that’s always grounds for art exploration.”


In the second half of the program, the company will turn to another science-inspired dance, “Entangled.” The dance refers to a pending collision in outer space.

“The Milky Way and the nearest galaxy to us, the Andromeda Galaxy, are actually already beginning to collide,” Hixon said. “These galaxies, over billions of years, are going to basically start crashing into each other.”

Hixon choreographed a three-part dance that references not only the Milky Way collision but also more earthbound collisions.

“Then we have a narrative that’s more on a global scale, which is a philosophical approach to borders and the environment,” Hixon said, adding that the third section revolves around “two people in an intimate relationship beginning to share their space together.”


The soundtrack for “Entangled” will consist of a text assembled by playwright Chris Leyva as well as sounds from the Voyager Golden Records.

Hixon appreciates the opportunity to return to her science-filled childhood — and to learn some new things, too.

“Some of it has certainly been an education,” she said. “I can’t say I’m deeply knowledgeable about physics, particularly. ... It’s been kind of fun to revisit that part of my life.”

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