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Dance Your PhD with Anne Talkington

Published By Duke Arts
Published on: February 3, 2020

Duke dance alumna Anne Talkington discusses how her research in biology, mathematics, and her training as a dancer came together to film a dance representing her graduate thesis work for the "Dance Your Ph.D." competition.

Anne Talkington is an alum of the Duke dance program, having studied with the program between 2012 and 2016 in addition to her majors in biology and mathematics. She is currently pursuing her PhD at the Department of Mathematics, UNC-CH in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, and paid a visit to the Ruby Cube to film a dance that represents her thesis project to submit to the “Dance Your PhD” competition.

"A Drug's Journey" - Dance Your PhD 2019/2020

Choreographer & Scientist

“I loved the opportunity to train at a high level in both the sciences and the arts at Duke—which involved a lot of running back and forth from Science Drive!—to conduct cancer research, maintain technique classes, choreograph, and perform (I premiered a work at November Dances 2014).  I am currently pursuing my doctorate in Computational Biology at UNC Chapel Hill, developing mathematical models for drug delivery.

I produced this video to submit to a competition called “Dance Your PhD,” which involves creating a short dance film based on your thesis research.  The competition is sponsored by AAAS and Science Magazine, and designed to promote creative communication of science concepts.  Both dance and science are about storytelling.  As a choreographer and as a scientist, you want people to care about your work, whether it’s through a PowerPoint presentation, a stage production, or a short film.

In addition to being a chance to combine my two favorite things, creating this video was a challenge to use a non-traditional medium for discussing science—and to choreograph about a non-traditional topic.  Choreographing and staging this work forced me to think about my thesis project in a different way – what are the most essential pieces of information, and how can this best be portrayed to a broad audience in a manner that is both aesthetically pleasing and educational?  Essentially every element of the production was designed to motivate the story—for example, the “therapeutic drug” character is light and balletic as it flows through the bloodstream, while the harmful “antibody” remains grounded, obsessed with its antigen.  The antagonistic “cancer cell” is dark, brooding, and sadistically elegant to the end.  The last segment of the narrative, focusing on computer modeling, was designed to be sleek and mechanical.”

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