Dwarf planet inspires ‘The Mesoplanets’

Durham Independent Dance Artists will present "The Mesoplanets" Saturday, May 6.
Durham Independent Dance Artists will present "The Mesoplanets" Saturday, May 6. Submitted

Dwarf planet OR10 may still lack a name but if it had not been discovered, the multi-media work “The Mesoplanets” would not be premiering Saturday (May 6) as part of Durham Independent Dance Artists’ third season.

“His [Luke Selden’s} research and curiosity about the unnamed dwarf planet sparked the whole project,” Selden’s wife and creative partner Anna Seagraves said in a phone interview.

“I love sci-fi. I also love science,” Luke Selden explained in a phone interview.

As Selden continued his Internet exploration of our solar system, he found other celestial bodies of interest that provide fodder for “The Mesoplanets,” which he, a musician and video artist, and Seagraves, a dancer and choreographer, spent the past year creating in collaboration with six dancers and three musicians.

Presented by the couple’s creative collective Rabble & Twine, this work explores Pluto, as well as other, more distant dwarf planets (also called mesoplanets) in the outer reaches of our solar system, through a series of vignettes that address physical environments as well as the mythological names of these celestial bodies.

This is the couple’s first work since they moved to Durham almost two years ago after winter had brought 127 inches of snow to their home in Providence, Rhode Island. “Durham is interesting and has creative energy,” said Selden, who especially appreciates the music and dance scene here. “Lots of different people age-wise and otherwise are going to shows. People will give things a try,” Selden added. He already had some knowledge of Durham from his undergraduate days at UNC in Chapel Hill.

Selden and Seagraves met while pursing MFA degrees at Mills College in Oakland, California, and continued collaborating on work in Oakland after graduation.

Now, In Durham, Selden also works as a computer programmer for an Internet company, so he has the skills to design websites and did just that at www.mesoplanets.org, on which he recorded interesting facts he had learned about the main planets as well as dwarf planets discovered so far in this 21st century. These facts also informed the couple’s multi-media performance.

There’s the dwarf planet Sedna, discovered on Nov. 14, 2003, by Mike Brown and his team using the telescope at the California Institute of Technology’s Palomar Observatory near San Diego. Sedna’s orbit that takes about 11,000 years to complete propels it to the darkest, coldest region of our solar system where temperatures never rise above minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Brown named the dwarf planet after the Inuit goddess of the watery underworld and ruler of all its inhabitants. In “The Mesoplanets,” dancers form the nest in which Sedna, portrayed by Carley McCready, wakes after she was fooled by a trickster bird spirit posing as a suitor.

Tap dancer Lindsey Perry dances the role of Eris, the goddess of strife and discord, that another dwarf planet was named after.

Another vignette focuses on the rapid-spinning dwarf planet Haumea, named after the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth and fertility, its moons named after the goddess’ daughters Hi’iaka and Namaka. Astronomers believe that billions of years ago a large object may have collided with this dwarf planet, knocking off most of the surface ice, leaving only rock and causing it to spin rapidly.

And, according to Seagraves, because these planet-associated myths can get a bit heavy, “The Mesoplanets’ production also includes both humor and a creative use of glow sticks. For the latter, performers created the most dramatic effect by placing 600 glow sticks on the floor to signify what happened to Quaoar when something crashed into it and blew most of this Planetoid away.

Text, images and Selden’s video projections also serve to introduce these celestial bodies. For instance, in the case of Eris, with an atmosphere that freezes and falls like snow, the video projection suggests snow.

Live music also provides atmosphere. There’s violinist Morgan (goes by first name only). Allen Anderson and his son, Ellis, play modular synthesizers. (Allen Anderson, a composer as well as musician, is a professor of music at UNC-Chapel Hill).

Selden plays the theremin, which has been called the world’s strangest, spookiest musical instrument. It was discovered accidently in 1919 in a Russian laboratory by 23-year-old scientist Leon Theremin. In playing this instrument, the performer has no physical contact with it. Because of its weird, ghostly sounds, it has been used in the soundtracks of horror, sci-fi and thriller films.

While the other three musicians don’t dance, Selden said. “I sort of dance. I’m walking and staying upright at the same time.”


WHAT: Rabble & Twine present “The Mesoplanets”

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday, May 6

WHERE: Living Arts Collective, 410 W. Geer St., Durham.

TICKETS: Visit www.mesoplanets.org