It sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, and in fact, it is. Anyone who’s read The Stardance Trilogy by science fiction writer Spider Robinson and his wife Jeanne, is familiar with the concept of “zero-gravity dance.” Now, this 30-year dream is becoming a reality (and an Imax film), thanks in part to Dalhousie professor John Barnstead.
On Sunday, December 30, choreographer Jeanne Robinson and dancer Kathleen McDonagh will make history by performing the first free fall dance in space. Traveling through parabolic arcs in a specially-designed 727, they will “dance beyond the bonds of gravity.” This journey will serve as preproduction — the entire project is slated to be developed into 44-minute Imax film.
The upcoming “Stardance,” which will take place 10 kms above the earth, has its roots right here in Halifax. Dalhousie professor John Barnstead provided initial funding to make the idea fly.
A longtime fan of the Robinsons’ work, Prof. Barnstead recalls his first meeting with the couple at a book signing, years ago. “I brought all 27 of Spider’s books with me. I could see the horror in his eyes, as I dumped them all on the table for him to sign,” he says, chuckling at the memory.
A friendship with both authors soon developed, one that continues to this day. The combination of science fiction and dance described in their novels began to fascinate Prof. Barnstead. He was not the only one — at one point, the idea even attracted the attention of NASA. (Ms. Robinson was scheduled to dance in space some 20 years ago as part of the Civilian in Space Program, until that program was cancelled as a result of the Challenger tragedy).
At a convention several years ago, Prof. Barnstead asked Ms. Robinson if the idea of zero-gravity dance was still possible.
“I told him that we could do it, but it would take a lot of resources. What he did next was incredible,” she says. “About six months later, he came back to me with money and a plan.”
In the interim, Prof. Barnstead was approached with a somewhat unusual request. He was asked to teach a summer course in science fiction, although his primary expertise was in Russian Studies. Because of his love of science fiction, he found he was able to teach the course at the academic level, and has done so for the past two summers.
“I thought to myself, ‘this is fate.’ I decided to send my salary from this science fiction course to Jeanne for the Stardance project. It was enough to give her the freedom to get started, in the hopes that others would come on board.”
And others have. Ms. Robinson was able to hire a writer to develop a script for the film and created promotional materials and a presentation. Upon hearing her presentation, Ansari X-Prize creator and ZERO-G Co-Founder Dr. Peter Diamandis offered Jeanne two slots on a ZERO-G Corporation flight. Advertising executive and filmmaker James Sposto came on board as producer/co-director of the film. Movie and TV composer James Raymond (son of David Crosby and keyboard-player for Crosby, Stills & Nash) joined the team to create music for the film.
Ms. Robinson is thrilled at the lightening speed with which the project is advancing, and says she owes it all to Prof. Barnstead. “None of this would be happening if it weren’t for him.”
Read: Zero Gravity Dance a Go in the Montreal Gazette
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