Art in Zero Gravity: Kitsou Dubois

by Santiago Fernández

Kitsou Dubois is a French dancer and instructor who has always wanted to communicate and enlarge the “dance space”: whether through choreography in unusual places, experiments with new movements or her teaching to diverse groups of people.

Her academic research in the discipline led her to the prestigious National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS, French) during the 80´s. There, with fellow dancers, she was involved in experimental training exercises of postural strategies for situations of unstable equilibrium. Afterwards, she continued her research at the National Center for Space Studies (CNES) studying the astronauts´ sensory and movement training in microgravity.  She became the first artist to experience zero gravity during a parabolic flight in September 1991 (repeating twice the experience the next year) .

She was featured in Leonardo, the prestigious academic journal published by the MIT Press, a paper with interesting observations regarding the astronauts´ problems of adaptation to microgravity in relation to dancers´ body perceptions of time and space. Space sickness, Dubois writes, hampers the pleasures of being free from gravity; it also handicaps space-mission programs. The author then developed a new training system, complementary to existing training methods, based on dance techniques, for improving the physical consciousness of astronauts  by focusing on the body as a subjective experience.

Kitsou Dubois also defined the impact of science on modern dance, noting two influences:

  1. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima during World War II, set the beginning of the nuclear era. In 1957, as a reaction to this tragedy, a new Japanese dance form appeared –Butoh, or “dance of the obscure”. Butoh, with extremely slow movements, represents suffering, sickness, desire, eroticism, solitude and death, from which life reappears through the dancers´ body.
  2. The influence of the theory of relativity on the work of famous choreographer Merce Cunningham (with whom the author studied at the beginning of her career). After reading Einstein, Cunningham confirmed his intuition that whether occupied by someone or not, no point is more important than any other. If, like Einstein says; “there is no fixed point”, then every point is both fluid and interesting, according to the choreographer. Dubois then recalls that at the same time this dancer was projecting himself into space in new ways, Yuri Gagarin spent 108 minutes in cosmos for the first time.

Dubois then continued developing projects based on the body confronting the states of altered gravity. Among her famous creations, she has worked on the bodies of dancers in the water, circus acrobats and, again, on parabolic zero gravity flights.

For Dubois, gravity is a central theme of dance. She notes that science and dance are simultaneously working on liberation from gravity. She says: “Artists and scientists work on what dancers call “being”. We belong to the species Homo sapiens, ruled by gravity. Our “being” is thus deeply connected to gravity. “Modern dance” uses techniques which are adapted to cultural, technological, and political environment. It deals with an adjustment process that will enable human beings, who suffer from a division of the inner self, to find greater harmony between body and soul. It symbolises lightness, freedom of movement, and active search for elevation, defying the rules of gravity”.

Kitsou Dubois is directly referred to when thinking about art in a context of zero gravity. She was the first artist to participate in a parabolic flight.

For further information on her work you can visit here.