Tomorrow we'll present new work entitled "Path Integration" for ArtBeat at the Somerville Theatre at 2:30pm. The theme for this year's festival is "micro". I thought immediately of insects, being some of the smallest organisms visible to the naked eye, and yet we know very little about them. As a gardener, I am always amazed by what I learn about their abilities and roles in an ecosystem...leaf cutter ants can carry 300x their weight, others furiously process decomposition for re-birth, bees fly upwards of 7 miles a day to find pollen to make honey. The structure of their neurons are also almost identical to ours. It is not surprising to see in popular culture insects as characters, like ant colonies that band together and realize their strength in numbers have been used as metaphors for rebellion and revolution, or butterflies are a symbol for freedom and regeneration through their metamorphosis (even when distilled to a commonplace tattoo).
Through improvisation, discussion and writing exercises, we explored our own experiences using insect and bee behaviors as the starting point, including swarming in bees, nest-moving in ants and moth flight patterns when exposed to light, and transferred that into choreography. We honed in on these organisms ability to communicate location, to find flowers, to find light, to find home, and often find a new home. Bees "waggle-dance" in a pattern angled in relationship to the sun to tell other bees where to find flowers. Moths fly in spiral circles back and around again to a light source when located. When finding a new home, ants will leave trail pheromones to lead the way to a potential new home. Then, somehow, through the actions of many individuals, an ant colony will decide to move, eventually carrying their nest-mates along for the ride.
One name we've given to other organisms way of knowing place is path integration. From wikipedia: "Studies beginning in the middle of the 20th century confirmed that animals could return directly to a starting point, such as a nest, in the absence of vision...This shows that they can use cues to track distance and direction in order to estimate their position, and hence how to get home. This process was named path integration to capture the concept of continuous integration of movement cues over the journey."
I always wonder when I see a lone insect walking or in flight, if they know where they are, if they know where they are going. I watched a grass-hopper once at the bottom of a tire divot in the sand trying to jump out, over and over and over. I thought maybe that was all he/she would do that day. Were they trying to get somewhere? Where are we trying to go?