A Choreographer met a Professor of Mathematics

Interdisciplinary conversations between artists and academics

Choreographer Alexander Whitley made this piece in response to his conversation with Thomas Prellberg

This is how he got there...

Alexander Whitley
Professor Thomas Prellberg

Alexander Whitley is a London based choreographer working at the cutting edge of British contemporary dance where he has developed a reputation for a bold interdisciplinary approach to dance making, producing technologically innovative and thought-provoking stage productions as well as exploring the creative possibilities being opened up by new digital platforms.  His intricate choreography draws on his background in classical and contemporary dance and is noted for its strong musicality and striking visual design.

Alexander has created work for several of the UK’s leading companies including The Royal Ballet, Rambert, Balletboyz, Candoco, Gandini Juggling and Birmingham Royal Ballet. Alexander is a founding member of New Movement Collective and a tutor on the Design for Performance and Interaction Masters programme at The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. He is also a New Wave Associate at Sadler’s Wells Theatre and a former Choreographic Affiliate of Rambert and The Royal Ballet.

Founding Alexander Whitley Dance Company in 2014, his works, created with digital pioneers such as Marshmallow Laser Feast and Memo Akten, have toured the UK and internationally including Sadler’s Wells commissions: Overflow, Strange Stranger, 8 Minutes, Pattern Recognition and The Grit in the Oyster; and Royal Ballet commissions: The Measures Taken and Noumena. Working in partnership with The Guardian’s VR studio he created the virtual reality experience Celestial Motion which has recently been extended into Celestial Motion II in collaboration with HTC Vive Arts.  

Last year during the Covid-19 lockdown Alexander launched the Digital Body project, using motion capture technology to remotely collaborate with digital artists and composers to create short digital dance films and an AR filter for Instagram. It was extended in a triptych of films called Chaotic Body, the first of which Strange Attractor premiered in October at Roma Europa Festival. In October 2020, Alexander premiered a new stage production, The Butterfly Effect, for Hessisches Staatsballett, in Darmstadt, Germany. He is currently working on Future Rites, a VR experience based on The Rite of Spring which is supported by Creative XR, Sadler’s Wells and BFI London Film Festival. 

Thomas Prellberg has always had a love of numbers, and so it comes as no surprise that one of his proudest achievements is that a mathematical constant carries his name. The Takeuchi-Prellberg constant arises in determining just how fast the so-called Takeuchi numbers grow.

Another of his interests is random walks of various kinds, and for many years his career also resembled somewhat of a random walk: after undergraduate studies in Germany and postgraduate studies in the United States and Israel, he held positions in Australia, Norway, England, the United States, and Germany, before finally settling in England, where he now holds the position of Professor of Mathematics at Queen Mary University of London.

Holding degrees in both Mathematics and Physics, his research interests these days focus on the investigation of random walk models of polymers, employing a combination of rigorous mathematical analysis and computer simulation, working mainly with colleagues in Australia and Brazil. While he prefers proving mathematical facts about the models he studies, he is driven in large parts by physical intuition and insights obtained from computer experiments. Occasionally his work even connects to the world of experimental physical chemistry, most recently when a theoretical prediction of his regarding pulling adsorbed polymers off sticky surfaces was confirmed by laboratory experiments using optical tweezers.

Thomas has published more than 100 research papers and worked with more than 50 co-authors. His work has been supported by the Minerva Stiftung, the German Science Foundation, a Libra Visiting Professorship from the University of Maine, the EPSRC, the Royal Society, and the Brazilian Ciencia sem Fronteiras.

'Flex' by Alexander Whitley
'Growing Walks Fast' by Thomas Prellberg
ON 5 September 2020, Alex and Thomas HELD THEIR CONVERSATION
ON 5 September 2020, Alex and Thomas HELD THEIR CONVERSATION

on responding to 'Growing Walks'

It's always interesting to throw novel or unusual challenges at dancers - to understand them through the body, by applying a logic or set of rules that wouldn't naturally emerge through the body.

Alexander Whitley

toeing a line between aesthetic appeal and recognition of a pattern

From what you're saying, it's like Twelve Tone music, in the sense that rigid rules challenge the artist to create within artificially imposed frameworks...

Professor Thomas Prellberg

the articulation of all possible configurations vs random creation of many objects

on shifting ways to visualise data in both mathematics and dance

Rational and logical frameworks are equally important in the creative process, to provide coherence and a clear methodology... The outcomes are ultimately very different, but the processes underlying them are similar, and therefore compatible.

Alexander Whitley

'Saw 10'

Thomas Prellberg made 'Saw 10' in response to his conversation with Alex Whitley