It is considered the "newest science," the "science of change," the "science of wholeness." It is the science which looks at the complexity of things in the world and finds meaningful patterns in them. From the cover of James Gleick's Chaos: Making a New Science: "Chaos...offers a way of seeing order and pattern where formerly only the random, the erratic, the unpredictable - in short, the chaotic - had been observed. In the words of Douglas Hofstadter, 'It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order - and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.' Although highly mathematical in origin, chaos is a science of the everyday world, addressing questions every child has wondered about: how clouds form, how smoke rises, how water eddies in a stream." We are a universe of complexity, diversity, and often unpredictability; chaos theory helps us to make sense of that and to learn to work with a world that is not just black and white, that is not just circles and squares.
There are many wonderful sites on the Web which can give you some great insights into this fascinating world. Several that I recommend are:
Chaos Theory for Beginners
Some great books on the subject, besides Gleick's, are The Turbulent Mirror by F. David Peat and John Briggs, and an even better one by the same authors, entitled The Seven Life Lessons of Chaos. This last book applies the discoveries from Chaos science to personal and social transformation, and is really useful for both artists and people interested in creating a fulfilling life for themselves.
The weird shapes and unusal patterns on each of my company's web pages are called fractal patterns. Fractals are seemingly irregular shapes that reiterate themselves on smaller and smaller levels. For instance, our logo, which is called a Mandelbrot fractal (the black snowman sort of figure), if you look carefully, repeats itself on smaller and smaller levels, on to infinity, such that the circumference of the shape becomes infinite. What's the big deal about fractals? Well, besides giving scientists, and everyone, a very clear visual representation of what happens with nonlinear equations (yawn), fractals are the kind of shapes we see around us every day - they are what the world is made of: clouds, coastlines, trees, landscapes, our brains, our bloodstream, are all fractal shapes. Fractals are one of the first ways that mathematics has had to really express what nature actually looks like. The details of clouds, for instance, are impossible to predict at any moment, yet there is an order to clouds - they always look like clouds, whether they are a foot wide or a hundred miles wide.
I often use fractal video movies between dances, and more and more as part of the background of a dance. They are beautiful, they are mesmerizing, and they are occasionally even mystical or whimsical. Some of my stage patterns, dance structures, and movement designs have come out of fractals too. But I am less obsessed with the math than with the way nature itself unfolds in beautiful, spontaneous ways. Some great web sites with fractal images and fractal art are:
Julian's Fractal page
Here's a quiz: which is longer, the coastline of California, or the coastline of Maine? It depends on how detailed you want to get. Looking at a map, California is miles longer. But if we count the bays, the inlets, in essence its fractal shape, Maine's coastline is longer - but you could get even more detailed, and consider every boulder, every dock, and get even more miles - why, you could even consider every pebble - you see complexity is there, and it makes a huge difference on the results you get. Which leads us to...
This is the name of one of my dances, which is named for the idea in Chaos Science that a butterfly beating its wings in China, can, through a series of events, create a hurricane in the Caribbean. In other words, small changes can have enormous results. This is another way of saying that, because there are so many factors, it really is impossible to predict the weather past a few days. Yet on a larger scale, climate is incredibly ordered and stable. On a social scale, it is a way of saying that every individual makes a difference - a smile you give someone today could lead to global warming of another sort!
Yeah, yeah, but what's this got to do with dance?
As a choreographer I have been particularly interested in why nature can be so incredibly beautful. Choreographers (especially younger ones) often settle on circles and straight lines, when there is a deeper richness to be found all around us. I am interested in movement that has a sense of richness and complexity to it. Why is the forest or the desert so beautiful? How can I recreate that complexity/that simplicity on stage? Some of this I discover in the rehearsal room through methods which require conflicting events to resolve themselves - but it must always find itself again in the vortex of the Gestalt.
As a choreographer I have been interested in how to bring life into my work - so much of what is choreography out there looks to me like it has had the life squished out of it, with dancers moving like robots in very ordered ways. On the other hand, neither have I been so interested in free improvisation where there doesn't seem to be a focus, and it's all just sort of nice but it doesn't really seem to go anywhere. I have been interested in exploring how to bring a sense of creativity and spirit into the discipline of highly ordered technique, so that we can have the best of both worlds. For instance, comedy just doesn't work, unless you have some spirit of improvisation with the timing, the wit, the relationship you're developing, or a whacky idea that may just be right for that audience in that moment. It means having an ability to play with the reactions of the audience (oh they're not picking up on that one, let's try it from this angle!) I believe that the same sense of wit and "life force," if you will, applies to abstract, and serious work as well - certainly this is true for anything that involves voice (which is much of what I do in my work), or emotion (that too) or balance (yup) or rhythm (you gotta sing it, child, mm hmmm!). I am an eclectic choerographer, but my background in jazz dance with its emphasis on personal discovery of each technically-perfect move according to the way the music moves you, I think has influenced me a lot. Certainly if you look at jazz music, it is about improvisation, but, improvisation with incredibly specific melody and chord developments and ABA and solo/group and resolution and all that. Something else that jazz does is distort - whether it is in "blues" -ing a note, or tweaking a body part such as a shoulder - and this to me makes all the difference in making movement "luscious." Yet, there is also a limitation with jazz dance, because of its associations with commercialism, that make the "anything goes" vocabulary of modern dance a more apt vehicle for expression in most cases. But, it's like, whatever! Having a rhythm is great, and not having one, or finding an inner one instead, are great too.
If you look at much of my dance company's work, it does not look improvised - the point from Chaos science is that it is all in the details. Yet, I like to leave open moments for any outrageous, spontaneous ideas to be expressed. This seems necessary especially in the funny dances, and the dances that use text. I am interested in the finest points of Time and Space - in relationship - which means hours and hours and hours of rehearsal to discover what works and what doesn't work before it ever gets to an audience. Good technique and good performance, in our view, are not separate from personal creativity and interactivity with the audience.
Finally, I like to feel that part of an audience's experience (as well as a performer's) should be something of Transcendence - that everyone in the theater is taken to a place they've never been before - possibly a place that is timeless - where time has stopped or one has lost track of time - and where there is incredible sense of space and lightness of being. I don't know if I'm there yet, but that is something that I push for in our performances. I would like to think, as well, that the experience of the performance went past the few hours spent in the theater, but actually made a difference politically or socially or environmentally (yeah, right, dream on! - but this is one of the reasons we do political work too). I want to be an important instigator, a "strange attractor," to making the world a better place (and boy do we need help!).