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The art of engineering: Northern ballet raises awareness of engineering

18 May 2023

The Royal Academy of Engineering has awarded an Ingenious Award to a pioneering research project which aims to change perceptions of engineering through the power of dance.

Image: Emma Kauldhar
Image: Emma Kauldhar

“The Mechanics of Life: Movement, Mobility and Me” brings together engineers at the University of Leeds, led by Dr Briony Thomas, from the School of Mechanical Engineering, with creative minds at Northern Ballet to introduce new audiences to the mechanics of movement through dance. 

Known as ‘The Mechanics of Life: Movement, Mobility and Me’, this ambitious project brings together a team of talented engineers, led by Dr Briony Thomas, from the School of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leeds. 

Collaborating with creative minds at Northern Ballet, the project seeks to introduce new audiences to the captivating mechanics of movement through the art of dance.

It is one of 16 programmes selected for this year’s Ingenious Awards, a scheme launched by the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2007 and funded by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) to support public engagement projects with grants of up to £30,000. 

Dr Thomas said: “I’m delighted to continue our collaboration with Kenneth Tindall and Northern Ballet and explore creative connections between the arts and sciences. It’s an honour to receive an Ingenious Award, and I’m excited to bring the voices of young people into the creative process. 

“I’m looking forward to seeing this partnership develop across artists, engineers and schools, and inspire a new generation of innovators to explore problems across the disciplines, starting with biomechanics and dance.” 

The project hopes to raise awareness of the diversity, nature and impact of engineering among people of all ages and backgrounds, while providing opportunities for engineers to further develop their communication skills by helping them showcase their work in new and creative ways. 

Through creative exploration of motion, the university’s partnership with Northern Ballet aims to inspire an understanding of medical engineering and its impact on health and well-being in society. 

'The Mechanics of Life: Movement, Mobility and Me' culminates in an experience day for high-school students. They will be tasked with designing an engineering-inspired performance, choreographed and executed by Northern Ballet dancers, which will be captured on film. Workshops are scheduled to take place this autumn, with the final feature set to premiere in early 2024.

Mr Tindall, Northern Ballet’s Associate Director for Digital, and Choreographer in Residence, added: “I am looking forward to continuing the collaborative process with Dr Briony Thomas and picking up from where we first began, evolving our work together at the cultural institute. This is a fantastic opportunity for science and art to come together to affect grassroots education.” 

Leanne Kirkham, Northern Ballet’s Director of Learning, concluded: “Bringing these concepts to life through dance will enable us to engage with new and diverse audiences and help us to further understand how developments in mechanical engineering help dancers, and the general public to live longer, stronger and healthier lives.” 

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