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Science, Art Find Common Ground During Run Off Performance on Oct. 8

By Chuck O'Donnell,


NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Science and art have found common ground at the banks of the Raritan River – a burbling, snaking waterway that was crossed by Washington’s troops, memorialized in Rutgers’ alma mater and utilized by everyone from weekend fishermen to the RU crew team.

The Run Off, a free performative dance event expressing storm water flows and demonstrating how rivers become polluted, will be held Oct. 8.

Run Off participants are urged to meet at Feaster Park at noon. They will then walk to Boyd Park. That’s where members of the Rock Dance Collective, a Central Jersey-based group that creates sensory experiences for audiences in traditional and nontraditional spaces, will perform.

The event is a collaboration by the collective, the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and coLAB Arts, and audience members, each of whom will receive a free T-shirt, will be invited to participate.

And if you weren’t sure about the depth of this collaboration, consider how the partnership’s Heather Fenyk and John Keller of coLAB Arts sort of complete each other’s thoughts. Or correct them, anyway.

“I mean, it started with data sharing,” Keller said. “It started with scientific data …”

“I want to take a step back,” Fenyk added. “I think it started with a little bit of language play.”

So, Fenyk, who spearheads the water monitoring, river cleanups and other initiatives undertaken by the members of the all-volunteer, nonprofit, environment-focused partnership, said the conversation between her group of river stewards and the dancers started with defining what is runoff and how do you turn it into art.

“It’s how you come to a common language or a common understanding in a way that can be embodied by the artists, but also by the participants so that they really feel what it could mean to be a drop of water moving through space and either causing flooding or soaking in or whatever,” Fenyk said.

Keller, the director of education with the New Brunswick-based group that engages artists, social advocates and communities to create transformative new work, said the performers then took the information back to their studio space and have been turning it into art.

“How do you take it out of your head and put it into your body and then now how do you create a process where most of the participants – they’re not going to be professionally trained dancers,” he said. “So now you say how do we interpret that whole thing and bring in as many participants as we possibly can, no matter what their age or their expertise level?”

The first part of the event, the walk down Paul Robeson Boulevard from Feaster Park to Boyd Park, is meant to inform residents about the fact that construction has covered some of the city’s waterways. Yes, there are waterways flowing under some of our streets and sidewalk.

They rear their heads in funny ways and different places, like when a sinkhole opened on George Street and Paul Robeson Boulevard a few years ago and the fill kept washing out.

“So what we’re trying to bring better attention to is the impacts of our paving over our pre-Colonial hydrology and get folks to make that connection with what used to be here and what are the impacts of our having it covered up,” Fenyk said.

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