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The Art and Science of "THROB"

Date: Feb 29, 2012


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When it comes to art and music, nothing is more cliché than "matters of the heart." So when choreographer Jody Oberfelder began work on THROB, a new piece about the vital organ, she knew she had to be innovative. Fascinated by both science and emotion, Oberfelder read textbooks, interviewed cardiologists, and looked deeply into her own visceral experience. "I want to be sure it's not a Hallmark card," she explains. "I'm going more for the endurance and heroics of life itself."

THROB is set in a scientific world, and Oberfelder's in-depth research has resulted in the use of real medical equipment. Dancers, for instance, wear monitors that feed their heart rates to synthesizers set up on stage. We can hear the sound of their hearts, which almost makes them seem like lab experiments.

Appropriately enough, the dancers move from their ribcages and even pound their chests to echo their underlying heartbeats. Live musicians on drums, pianos, and marimbas create a soundscape driven by the steady pulse.

But Oberfelder also follows a strong emotional impulse that is illuminated by the science. She notes that expressive movement brings health benefits to the human body---that dancing makes the heart "happy." To that end, intimate partnering in THROB communicates a basic need for connection. "There is a real danger in becoming hard-hearted," Oberfelder says.

Even as the piece is debuted for the public---it runs this week at the Henry Street Settlement's Abrons Arts Center---Oberfelder's wheels are turning for future expansion of the work. She's considering an interactive installation in which audience members wear heart monitors as well.

The evening also features "Re:Dress" and "Sung Heroes." A solo that brings Oberfelder herself to the stage, "Re:Dress" explores being female. Referencing feminine archetypes through gestural movement and carefully placed text, the piece feels immediately relatable. Oberfelder moves in and out of a golden dress that is perhaps symbolic of public perception. "The piece is about being a woman---in the wrong place at the wrong time, and having to feign perfection," she says.

"Sung Heroes" is a highly physical quartet that showcases vocalization from the company members, specifically a duet of "Time Is Running Out" by the rock band Muse. Vocals are essential: "If the words bubble up, there is no reason not to say them," Oberfelder says. "The initiation of sound is not much different than that of dance."

The compilation of pieces shows the multi-faceted personality of Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects. Each stems from inquisitiveness and physicality---and most definitely, heart.

Emeri Fetzer is the Online Managing Editor of, a website about professional dance and dancers.

Photo of THROB dancers by Travis Magee