Science merges with arts at ideas festival

10 October 2019

Original published by Oxford Times


Science, ideas and creativity takes centre stage in Oxford this month as the city dives into a festival of knowledge. The IF Oxford science and ideas festival will see cutting edge research colliding with the everyday in song, dance and comedy. There will be performance, music and surprises to entral the curious with beguiling biology, compelling chemistry and fantastic physics.

Tunes come to the fore at Somerville College Chapel for its Music and the mind event on 22nd October. Music has the ability to get inside the listener’s soul or capture a nation’s heart, causing the skin to tingle and the heart to race. The audience are invited to question why this happens with Daniel Anthony, Professor of Experimental Neuropathology. The power of music over mood, physiology and the mind will be brought to life with music and experiments.

Experiments are the topic of a series of popular songs performed at a Festival gig by local a cappella group, the Beatroots (Research in harmony; Hertford College Chapel; 7.30pm Fri 18 October). Written by the researchers at the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics and the Jenner Institute in a modern musical style that draws on beatboxing, vocal percussion and choral singing in harmony, their light-hearted lyrics tell stories of science and offer an insight into life as a biomedical research scientist!

Over at the Old Fire Station, two exceptional dancers who each performed on BBC’s Strictly professionals last year, will show off a new duet set to powerful and evocative music. Wheelcair user Joel Brown of Candoco Dance Company, and Eve Mutso, former Principal Dancer of Scottish Ballet showcase the amazing capabilities of the human body as they explore their different strengths and vulnerabilities in a beautiful athletic performance called 111 – one hundred and eleven. This figures represents the imaginary number of vertebrae that Joel and Eve have between them: Eve ‘moves like she has a hundred’; paraplegic Joel’s spine is fused and he jokes he only has 11.

Interacting with one another across the stage, their bodies exhibit incredible flexibility and yet are confined by physical structures – the skeleton, Joel’s wheelchair and the scaffold set.

Families can also explore the universe inside our bodies with CELL, a family dance performance (Sat 19th October, St Michael’s Primary School, Marston) in which giant inflatable cells come ‘alive’ to music.

Looking for ways to feel grounded in times of trauma, chaos and mass migration, musician Emma Smith leads an immersive multi-sensory performance called The relentless approach of better times; at the Oxford Hard of Hearing and Deaf Centre on 24 October. Her performance is inspired by psychologist Mark Wittman, an expert in the field of ‘felt time’, the perception of time speeding up as we grow older and the reason why it feels as if our whole lives pass before our eyes in moments of extreme peril. Emma uses music to explore this conundrum of how we experience time at different speeds.

Stage Highlights

IF… For Laughs!
Comedy at the Oxford Science and Ideas Festival

Once the ingredient of time is added to the trauma of break-ups it allows first for closure then humorous reflection, so award-winning comedian, author and accidental relationship guru Rosie Wilby is bringing her comedy chat show, The Break Up monologues, to IF Oxford at The Bullingdon (23 October). In a line-up put together specifically for the Festival she converses with Oxford Brookes historian Sally Holloway;science communicator Charvy Narain; and Oxford University evolutionary anthropologist and relationship scientist Dr Anna Machin, an expert on the neuroscience of love and the interplay of biology and culture in romance. Together they unpick the science of heartbreak, divorce and the practice of ‘ghosting’ (breaking off a relationship by simply stopping all communication), and offer a frank and funny insight into the modern world that many of us navigate.

Pushing at the boundaries of the space-time continuum, comedian Brian Malow is bringing his light-hearted stand-up show Just Add Gravity! to The Wig and Pen in George Street (October 19th). Malow tells jokes and anecdotes that have the audience both chuckling and pondering, and his pertinent observations pairs his life and studies of human behaviour with science from the grass we walk upon to the Big Bang. He asks whether humans evolve to become bipedal because of their nagging parents, whether his own wife dresses in bright colours to trick predators that she’s poisonous, when are electrical sockets like watering holes, and what do dinosaurs have to do with Christmas?

There’s more comedy from across the pond as Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters join the fray bringing sci-fi to Oxford Town Hall (20th October). Comics and comedy collide in this multimedia slide and stand-up show by comedian-cartoonist hybrid, Michael Capozzola. It’s a pop culture extravaganza of superheroes and monsters, a celebration of super-cool geek culture for fans of the fantastical from James Bond to Spiderman. There’s Iron Man and the Iron Throne, Star Trek and time-travel.

Festival goers can also enjoy Out of this world entertainment with solar system stand-up, Jurassic jokes and rip-roaring robots (Wig and Pen; 7.30pm Tues 22 October) with a medley of comedy, music and more from characters including BBC astronomer Chris Lintott and Robot Wars’ Lucy Rogers.