In our 104th episode, we had the pleasure of speaking with Ari Rudenko, an experimental dance choreographer and director, whose latest work is PARA / AVIS Dancing with Dinosaurs. You can see Ari’s work on his Youtube channel or on his Facebook page.
Episode 104 is also about Archaeopteryx, a very early feathered dinosaur.
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In this episode, we discuss:
- The dinosaur of the day: Archaeopteryx
- Sometimes referred to its German name Urvogel (means “original bird” or “first bird”)
- Name means “ancient feather” or “ancient wing”
- Bird-like dinosaur, transitional between non-avian feathered dinosaurs and modern birds
- For a long time (between late 19th century and early 21st century) it was thought to be the oldest known bird (now that title may belong to others, such as Anchiornis, Xiaotingia, and Aurornis
- Type species is Archaeopteryx lithographica
- Two main species: Archaeopteryx lithographica and Archaeopteryx siemensii (based on a review of all specimens in 2007), though there have been dozens of species names published
- Lived in the late Jurassic in what is now Germany
- Named in 1861 based on a single feather, then later that year the first complete specimen was announced
- 12 specimens have been found, all near Solnhofen, Germany, and most of them have impressions of feathers (advanced, flight feathers, which shows that feathers began evolving before the Late Jurassic)
- Hermann von Meyer described the single feather that was found in 1860-1861. That feather is now at the Humboldt Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin
- However, that feather may actually belong to another species, since it looks a bit different from other specimens
- The first skeleton is known as the London Specimen, and was found in 1861 in Germany, and given to local physician Karl Häberlein in return for medical services. He sold it for 700 pounds to the Natural History Museum in London, where it still is today.
- Richard Owen described it as Archaeopteryx macrura in 1863 (it’s missing most of its head and neck), and said it may not be the same species as the feather
Archaeopteryx became a synonym to Archaeopteryx lithographica (which referred the the single feather Meyer described) in 1951 when Gavin de Beer treated the London Specimen (previously named Archaeopteryx macrura, as the holotype) instead of the one with just the feather. Swinton backed him up in 1960.
- In 2007 two groups of scientists petitioned the ICZN that the London Specimen be the holotype or neotype so that all species keep the Archaeopteryx name (since the original feather seems to have different sizes and proportions and may belong to another theropod where only the feather is known). After four years, the London Specimen was designated the neotype in 2011
- When the ICZN ruled in favor of the neotype, they suppressed alternative names for Archaeopteryx so they became synonyms
- Some scientists think all specimens belong to Archaeopteryx lithographica. There are some differences, but some think it’s because of different ages of the specimens, instead of diversity
- Jakob Niemeyer discovered the Berlin Specimen in 1874 or 1875, then sold the fossil to buy a cow in 1876 to Johann Dörr, an innkeeper, who sold it to Ernst Otto Häberlein, the son of K. Häberlein
- It went on sale between 1877 and 1881, and the Humboldt Museum fur Naturkunde bought it for 20,000 goldmark
- It’s the most complete specimen and was described in 1884 by Wilhelm Dames (first one found with a complete head). Dames named it a new species, Archaeopteryx siemensii, in 1897 (often seen as a synonym of Archaeopteryx lithographica, though several recent studies have found it to be a distinct species)
- Maxberg Specimen, which is just a torso, was found in 1956 and described by Florian Heller in 1959 (missing a head and tail, and once was on exhibit at Maxberg Museum in Solnhofen but is now missing. Eduard Opitsch owned it and loaned it to the museum until 1974, then when he died it 1991 it was found to be missing (stolen or sold)
- Haarlem Specimen, a.k.a. Teyler Specimen, was found in 1855. Meyer described it as Pterodactylus crassipes in 1857, but John Ostrom reclassified it in 1970 (first specimen found, but incorrectly classified). Now it’s at the Teylers Museum in the Netherlands. Consists of only limb bones, cervical vertebrae, and ribs
Eichstätt Specimen was found in 1951. Peter Wellhnofer described it in 1974, and it’s now at the Jura Museum in Germany. May possibly be a different genus (Jurapteryx recurva) or species (Archaeopteryx recurva)
- Solnhofen Specimen was found in the 1970s. Peter Wellnhofer described it in 1988. Originally it was classified as Compsognathus. It’s the largest specimen known and may be a different genus, Wellnhoferia grandis
- Munich Specimen was found in 1992. Peter Wellnhofer described it in 1993. It’s at the Paläontologisches Museum in Munich and only the front of the face is missing
- Daiting Specimen was found in 1990. It was on display at the Munich Mineral Show in 2009. It may be a new species, since it was found in a limestone bed a few hundred thousand years younger than other specimens
- Bürgermeister-Müller Specimen was found in 2000 and is known as the “chicken wing” because it’s a fragment of a single wing
- Thermopolis Specimen was described in 2005 and donated to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming. It shows Archaeopteryx did not have a reversed toe (which birds have) so it would not have been easy to perch on branches and may have had a more terrestrial or trunk-climbing lifestyle (evidence of theropod ancestry). Gregory Paul said he found evidence of a hyperextensible second toe in 1988 but this wasn’t widely accepted until the Thermopolis Specimen, which was named Archaeopteryx siemensii in 2007
- The 11th specimen doesn’t yet have a name but was announced in 2011 and described in 2014 and is privately owned
- A 12th specimen was found in 2010 and announced in 2014, though hasn’t yet been formally described
- Considered to be a link between birds and non-avian dinosaurs
- Archaeopteryx type specimen was found two years after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, and seemed to confirm Darwin’s theories and be evidence for the origin of birds
- Darwin wrote, “The fossil Bird with the long tail and fingers to its wings is by far the greatest fossil of recent times.”
- Johann Andreas Wagner, an anti-evolutionist, proposed in the 1860s the name Archaeopteryx should be Griphosaurus problematicus (problematic Griffin lizard) because he thought Darn and others would use the name Archaeopteryx “as justification of their strange views upon the transition of animals”
- Thomas Huxley said in 1868 Archaeopteryx was an evolutionary link between birds and dinosaurs
- People forgot about this with Gerhard Heilmann’s The Origin of Birds in 1926 which said thecodonts were the ancestors of birds (they’re now considered obsolete taxonomic grouping)
- John Ostrom (following Huxley in 1868) argued in the 1970s that birds evolved from dinosaurs and that Archaeopteryx was similar to dromaeosaurids
- John Ostrom brought back the idea of the link between birds and dinosaurs when he described Deinonychus in 1969. In 1970 he analyzed Pterodactyls crassipes and renamed it Archaeopteryx (the Haarlem Specimen). He saw the relationship between Deinonychus and Archaeopteryx, and started the “Dinosaur Renaissance”
- Archaeopteryx feathers were similar to modern day bird feathers
- May have been diurnal, like most modern birds
- But did not have a reversed toe, like birds (2005 study)
- Probably wasn’t the first ancestor of birds
- Not a true ancestor of modern birds, but a close relative of that ancestor (still, often used as a model)
- In 2011, the discovery of Xiaotingia, a close relative, led to suggesting Archaeopteryx was a deinonychosaur instead of an avialan, and not a “bird”. But a more thorough analysis soon after found Archaeopteryx to be at the base of Avialae, and Xiaotingia to be a basal dromaeosaurid or troodontid, though the authors of that study said there are still uncertainties
- In 2012, Senter, Turner, Makovicky, and Norell found that Archaeopteryx was more closely related to modern birds than dromaeosaurids and troodontids. But in 2013 Godefroit found Archaeopteryx to be more closely related to dromaeosaurids and troodontids, based on the description of Eosinopteryx brevipenna
- In 2013 Agnolin and Novas said Archaeopteryx and the possibly synonymous Wellnhoferia were the basalmost avialans
- Archaeopteryx had feathers
- Feathers may have been used for insulation or possibly flight
- Some feather traces in the Berlin specimen are similar to Sinosauropteryx, which may have looked more like fur than feathers in life (though their microscopic structure is different)
- No feathers on the upper neck and head, though that may be the way it was preserved
- Feathers on the head and neck may have come loose when the body rubbed against the sea bed before it was buried, or the neck and head was mostly underwater when it floated to the survey (found in marine sediments) so the skin may have softened and the feathers may have come loose
- In 1985, Fred Hoyle, Lee Spetner, and others claimed the feathers of the Berlin and London Specimens were forged, based on misinterpreting the fossils and not knowing the process of lithification. They also said other Archaeopteryx specimens did not have feathers, which was also incorrect. They also said the motives for the forgery were because Richard Owen wanted to support Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is not likely because of Owen’s own views. The other possibility is Own wanted to discredit Darwin by setting a trap for him, but Owen wrote a detailed paper on the London Specimen, so this is also not likely
- Ryan Carney and colleagues did a color study of Archaeopteryx in 2011, using X-ray analysis, and detected the structure of melanosomes in the single-feather specimen that was described in 1861. They then compared it to 87 modern bird species and found it was probably the color black. This doesn’t mean Archaeopteryx was completely black, but may have just partly covered the primary feathers on the wings
- May have had complex colors, irridescent patterns (based on basal birds and theropods)
- A study in 2013 further analyzed the feathers and found it may have had dark and light colored feathers, and the tips of the flight feathers would have been mostly black, though later this was found to be incorrect and that the single feather specimen was black with a darker tip
- Archaeopteryx‘s flight feathers were asymmetrical and it had broad tail feathers, which means its feathers could give it lift but it’s not clear if Archaeopteryx flapped or glided
- Philip Senter in 2006 found that Archaeopteryx could not flap but may have “used a downstroke only flap assisted gliding technique”
- In 2010, Robert Nudds and Gareth Dyke analyzed the primary feathers of Confuciusornis and Archaeopteryx and found they couldn’t flap in flight, but Phil Currie and Luis Chiappe disagreed. Currie said they probably could fly to some extent, since they were found in what was marine or lake sediments, so they could have flown over deep water. Gregory Paul also disagreed, and said that Nudds and Dyke overestimated the mass of Confuciusornia and Archaeopteryx. But Nudd and Dyke stood by their conclusions. One possibility is they didn’t truly fly, but instead their wings gave them extra lift while running over water (like the basilisk lizard)
- Flightless birds tend to have symmetrical feathers, and Archaeopteryx feathers were asymmetrical (though some flightless birds have asymmetrical feathers as well)
- In 2004, scientists did a detailed CT scan of an Archaeopteryx brain case and found it was larger than most dinosaurs, and was big enough to fly (had good vision, hearing, and muscle coordination, as well as an inner ear structure that was more similar to modern birds than to non-avian reptiles
- Archaeopteryx did not have a bony breastplate, so it was not a strong flier, though flight muscles may have attached to the wishbone, coracoids or sternum
- Had relatively large wings, so it would have been slow and not had a big turning radius. Also had hind wings that may have helped it be more mobile and fly through trees and brush
- Some scientists think Archaeopteryx is a semi-arboreal animal that climbed (based on the “trees down” hypothesis by Marsh that birds evolved from tree-dwelling gliders)
- Some scientists think Archaeopteryx ran quickly on the ground (based on the “ground up” hypothesis by Samuel Wendell Williston that birds evolved from flight by running)
- Others think Archaeopteryx lived in the trees and on the ground, though it didn’t seem to have any features to specialize in running or perching
- In 2002, Elzanowski said Archaeopteryx may have used its wings to get away from predators and glided with some downstrokes to get to higher trees or go farther by gliding down from cliffs or trees
- Probably lived on islands surround by shallow seas and lagoons, with some cycads and conifers (not many tall trees), but plants may have been large enough for gliding from
- Where Archaeopteryx specimens were found did not have many trees when Archaeopteryx lived, so may not have climbed large trees (though that doesn’t mean it didn’t have an arboreal lifestyle, it may have lived in low shrubs)
- Similar to dromaeosaurids and troodontids, had sharp teeth, three fingers with claws, a long bony tail, feathers, and a killing claw on its second toe, which it could keep off the ground when running
- Probably hunted small prey, using its jaws or claws
- About the size of a raven, with a long tail
- Grew to be about 1 ft 8 in (0.5 m) long
- Took 2 years and 8 months to grow to adult size, based on 2009 study (slow growth compared to other primitive birds)
- In 2009 Erickson, Norell, Zhongue and others estimated that Archaeopteryx grew slowly compared to modern birds, assuming all known Archaeopteryx specimens were juveniles. If true, this would be similar to the kiwi bird, and Archaeopteryx and kiwis may have similar basal metabolic rates
- Kiwi birds can take five years to reach maturity
- Archaeopteryx is in the game Ark, and often flees when there’s conflict
- Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs shows an Archaeopteryx (2009 film)
- In 2001, a Swiss power glider was named The Ruppertarchaeopteryx
- The main belt asteroid found in 1991, was named 9860 Archaeopteryx
- There’s also an outdoor clothing and sporting goods brand called Archaeopteryx
- Alfred Jarry’s play in 1897 is called Ubu cocu, ou l’Archeopteryx (Ubu cuckolded, or the Archaeopteryx), and features Archaeopteryx as a character
- The Ubu Cocu play is a nonsensical avant-garde comedy where the wife of the protagonist gives birth to an Archaeopteryx offstage
Classified as Archaeopterygidae.
- Archaeopterygidae is a group of maniraptoran dinosaurs that lived in the Jurassic
- Only contains Archaeopteryx
- Max Fürbringer named the order Archaeopterygiformes in 1888 to contain the family Archaeopterygidae and the genus Archaeopteryx
- Fun fact: Oviraptor, which has no relation to dromaeosaurids which often have the “raptor” moniker. In both cases “raptor” was chosen to mean “to seize and carry off” or “thief” giving Oviraptor the unfortunate name meaning “egg thief” (which we explain was likely not the case in episode 78).
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For those who may prefer reading, see below for the full transcript of our interview with Ari Rudenko:
Garret: Ari Rudenko is an experimental dance choreographer and director whose latest work PARA/ AVIS Dancing with Dinosaurs aims to create a dance performance style by translating raptor movements and behavior to the human body.
Ari: That would be correct. And I do have a new title for the permutation of the project I’m working on, the Ghost of Hell Creek, which is the title that I’m currently using for a stage show concept for a feature piece.
Ari: And that’s one permutation of several within the umbrella project.
Garret: Cool. So what originally inspired you to learn, dance, and express science via dance?
Ari: Well learning dance started—I enjoyed movements all through my childhood growing up, but I turned to the stage really at the end of my undergraduate program which was actually in philosophy, because I felt the stage was a place where a lot of the concepts and ideas that I was playing with could really find a form of expression where they could connect with the public, and there was a number of performance groups that were really inspiring me deeply at that time and still do to this day.
And so I became very interested in both non-verbal expression of ideas and also all of the elements of stage craft like costume design and space anesthetics as well as the human body and how those confluence of things do come together to express ideas in ways that I felt writing couldn’t at that time.
Garret: Yeah and you have an amazing ability to dance when—Sabrina and I were watching and we were saying, “There’s no way I could do that move.”
Ari: Well thank you.
Garret: Yeah. You’ve definitely found a good fit for your skills at school.
Ari: Thank you.
Garret: Along those lines, another big question, aside from why dance about dinosaurs, how did you end up in Indonesia?
Ari: In 2012 I got a postgraduate scholarship to study at the Art Institute of Indonesia in Bali for dance. And my interest at that time had a lot to do with ceremony in Bali and trance states and other states of also consciousness which are cultivated in their rituals which are held in their public spaces, and there is usage of costume, uses of masks, and other artistic elements and I was very interested in the way all those different elements came together in ceremonial spaces there.
So that was what initially drew me to Indonesia and once I moved there, I really fell in love, I developed a large group of friends and continued to build these contemporary dance performances while studying traditional dance there.
Garret: Yeah, do you speak fluent, is that Indonesian is that the language, what’s the…?
Ari: Yeah, Bahasa Indonesia or Indonesian, I would say I have a confident but imperfect ability to speak it right now.
Garret: It seems like almost no one will commit to being bilingual when you ask me. But in the videos it sounds like I couldn’t tell if English or Indonesian was your first language so to me it sounded great.
Ari: Well, thank you.
Garret: What is trance, I saw that come up a couple times in your descriptions, what does that mean?
Ari: Trance for me most basically would be where some energetic state flows through the body which is not experienced to be part of the persona or ego identity of the person. And that can take on many different forms in different contexts.
Garret: Okay that makes a lot of sense in this case because you’re trying to put yourself in a totally different species that would be helpful.
Garret: What led you to raptors specifically as a source of material?
Ari: Well I grew up as a child in the San Juan Islands, just South of Vancouver Island in the Pacific Northwest, and there are a lot of eagles and turkey vultures all around there, there are nests right by my house. So those creatures were a big part of my childhood experience and I was really interested in bones. As a kid I was definitely would if one of those birds passed away close to the house, I would collect the bones and try to reassemble the skeletons, and when we moved to the city when I was a little bit older, I got very interested in paleontology and especially the evolution of birds and raptor dinosaurs. You probably know the book by Robert Bakker, Raptor Red.
Ari: That was my favorite book actually as a kid in third, fourth, fifth grade. And I just recently remembered that book and realized what effect it must have had on my imagination because my current performance work is something in that vein.
Garret: Well, that’s cool. That’s a really interesting book. I like that.
Ari: Yeah, it is. And my interest in paleontology was present throughout my childhood. I was interested in visual art as a kid, I was doing a lot of paleo art drawings and trying to model dinosaurs in clay and I even—I was also a pianist as a kid, I was being trained as a concert pianist and I created a piece based on these dinosaur scenes that were living in my imagination. So I was very much through the arts exploring those piece dark worlds. But as I grew up things shifted and other things came to the forefront of what I was interested in. And my interest in dinosaurs really rekindled with all the news discoveries coming from China and the new theoretical models about the evolution of birds.
There’s a particular fossil and the way the creature is fossilized is straight on. So each of its arms are or wings are splayed out to each side and each of its legs are also splayed out to each side. And when I saw that fossil, I actually really saw an Indonesian dancer in that shape, and I started to clue in to how these very bird like dances that are popular in Indonesia and from their tradition, have this interesting resonance or correspondence with the fossils that were coming out of China, just in terms of the delicacy of the fingers and those claws and some of their shape, body shapes and so my imagination started to digest all this information and I started to conceive of this raptor like dance form.
Garret: That’s really interesting. So the Indonesian dance style already had a lot of bird influence in it?
Ari: It does.
Garret: How did that kind of look like. I saw your dancers but I don’t know what they…?
Ari: My dance is influenced but certainly very different from traditional Indonesian dances. But there are a lot of very birdlike delicate movements, bobs of the head, the way the fingers will vibrate or form beam-like shapes and especially western Indonesian dances, Balinese and east Javanese dance. The positions are very low and very delicate, and the toes are usually activated and pointed upwards which I started to in my imagination see is that sickle claw [ph] the raptor dinosaur.
Garret: That’s interesting. I saw you have a great behind the scenes video where you well in Indonesia kind of interacted with the chicken sort of mimicking its moves and learning how to move more like a dinosaur. What other aspects did you add to your performance aside from like the bobbing of the head and the leg position and things?
Ari: That were drawn from the chickens?
Ari: Well we just—me and the group of Indonesian performers that I was working with at that time were living in a remote village North of Java, an area called Madara in Indonesia, and there are a lot of chickens and Indonesian chickens are a bit different from our western chickens. They’re very athletic, agile, graceful creatures and the villagers there including my friends have a great comfort with the chickens. You can see in the video that they massage the chickens, they can bathe them and wash them and scratch them, even doing little chicken yoga. And so that comfort that the chickens had with us allowed us to really get our hands on the chickens and really feel how the wings connect to the shoulders and how the muscles work and how the breath is working inside of the body.
So we were going through this process of discussing the relationship between dinosaurs and birds and using all of this investigation both in a tactile way in terms of touching and massaging the chicken and experimenting with how it reacted to different stimulus or circumstances. And then also with the performers in this large cage with the chickens following them, trying to copy their gait, their timing, the way they interacted with each other and would use each of those experiments to build up this chicken body which we would then enlarge and extend into this raptor dinosaur body.
Garret: That was a really interesting process to watch all the—I remember specifically two. There was a whole part where you guys were kind of imitating the way it breaths and how its tongue moves that I thought was really interesting.
Ari: And I’ve been learning a little bit more recently about the air sac, avian air sacs and the way avian respiratory systems work and that the dinosaurs have very similar respiratory systems, and it’s quite different from a human’s, but it’s also interesting to explore with imagining those air sacs within our rib cages and trying to feel what it would be like to be their [inaudible 00:10:36] dinosaur and to be able to absorb oxygen in this way.
Garret: Yeah, it would be nice.
Ari: It would be more handy than our mammal lungs.
Ari: It seems like it super charges you with oxygen.
Garret: Yeah you need that if you’re going to fly I guess, although birds don’t do it. I don’t know, that’s where the mystery is.
Ari: That’s an interesting question.
Ari: I also don’t know.
Garret: Cool. Actually it’s interesting, we talked to somebody at SVP who was from a museum in Europe, and he had just set up an interactive display in his museum where there was a T-rex [ph] in front of you and then two people stood in front of the screen. The T-rex is not a screen, it’s a fake this little T-rex.
Ari: Okay I see.
Garret: It’s supposed to be a female and you were supposed to be a male and the other person next to you is supposed to be a male, and you’re supposed to dance and like mimic a T-rex, flapping arms and stuff.
Ari: That is incredible. I really love that, and please send me that link if you have…
Garret: I will.
Ari: A link to that museum and that guy.
Garret: I’ll find it and send it to you because it was really interesting. He did a bunch of interactive stuff.
Ari: That’s fantastic.
Garret: And then it declared a winner too. The T-rex would pick the better mate.
Ari: That is fantastic.
Ari: I’m just curious if in that exhibit they have any attempts at reconstructing what the T-rex courtship dance might have looked like. I haven’t seen any models of that yet.
Garret: I think it was pretty cheesy, like flap, like a chicken and then scrape your feet more than and a realistic interpretation like you’re trying to do, but still, it’s still looks cool.
Ari: I definitely appreciate it. It’s adorable.
Garret: Cool. You also—you sent me a couple of questions, do you want to talk about those at all?
Ari: Yeah I would love to.
Ari: The first question is from me in a way the most interesting, as a paleontologist or dinosaur enthusiast, how do dinosaurs and prehistoric ecosystems live in your imagination?
Garret: That is a very interesting question. And we interviewed a guy named Brian Noble who’s an anthropologist, but he is interested in dinosaurs and he talks a lot about how there’s this like inevitable interplay even in the most stringent of scientists between their imagination and the media and the scientific understanding of what dinosaurs are like. And I constantly find myself trying to force specific ecosystems to appear a certain way in my mind, and it’s like a constant struggle because you see Jurassic Park 100 times and just like that’s what you think of when you think of a dinosaur and you have to like beat it into your brain like no they probably had feathers and at SVP this year there were a couple of talks where they were talking about how like T-rex probably had lips covering their teeth.
Ari: Yup I’ve been reading that as well.
Garret: Yeah, so there’s so many things that are really interesting, but are completely different than the way dinosaurs are usually portrayed. And then the bigger thing even for me is remembering that there are other animals in the ecosystem than just dinosaurs.
Ari: Of course.
Garret: Like the little mammals or all the different lizards that might have been scurrying around or who knows what all the invertebrates too and bugs and the fact that all the greenery is totally different, like I always imagined grass. I can’t stop imagining grass but there wasn’t grass for most of the time.
Ari: Right. I went to the Museum of the Rockies on my road trip on my way to Colorado here and alongside all of the T-rexes and Triceratops that they had there, they also had displays of microfossils from the Hell Creek ecosystem. And that was very interesting for me to get into those micro details and trying to imagine if you’re investigating below a tree stump or something and the Hell Creek, what that would look like and who would be scurrying around.
Garret: And on that note, I often see people forget or maybe just not think about it enough where they think like the badlands looked like the badlands in the Cretaceous and they forget that it was like a big forest.
Ari: It would have been extremely green.
Garret: Yes interesting.
Ari: Maybe to expand a little bit on the stage show that I’m developing in relationship to this question, the Ghost of Hell Creek which I am envisioning is a feature line stage production, will be an investigation of the world just before, during and after the extinction event, but the media in the Hell Creek ecosystem starring Dakotaraptor which as probably most of your audiences already heard is the giant raptor dinosaur that was discovered by Robert De Palma and just a few years ago.
Garret: Yeah that one is great.
Ari: Yes a beautiful creature and very mysterious and rare which is also makes it an interesting star for the production. And the pieces also about our please adopt a form of proto primate ancestors that would have been just evolving either right after or of course the predecessors to the creatures that were found right after the extinction event would have been living within that ecosystem just before and during the extinction event.
And so I’m looking in to our own bodies and our own human ancestry leading back to the [inaudible 00:16:36] forms and leading back to that time and place and the relationship between these dinosaurs, these Dakotaraptors which would have ruled the ecosystem just before the media hit. And how the dinosaurs would have gone through this process of very painful extinction during the aftermath of the media and how miraculously our ancestors survived that time.
Ari: And I’m interested in collaborating closely with paleontologists on this project in part because I am interested in how these prehistoric ecosystems, Hell Creek for example is living actively in the imagination of someone who’s devoting their life to studying all of the details of that system. And because paleontologists say Robert De Palma who is devoting a lot of his career to studying the Dakotaraptor specifically, he was going deep into the anatomy of the behavior exactly how high could it lift its wings, how fast could it run, was it social or not, what was its prey. And yeah what was its breathing like, what was its timing like, has it moved, has it stalked its prey or has it engaged in courtship or mating dances, what might those have actually looked like.
All of these details in the imagination of the paleontologists are what I’m interested in absorbing and channeling through the body of my performers into this active imagination from that ecosystem that we want to create on stage.
Garret: That’s a really interesting. It reminds me a little bit. Have you gotten a chance to see the Walking with Dinosaurs show?
Ari: I have definitely seen a video of it online, but I have not seen it in person, it looks fabulous, it looks really fun.
Garret: Yeah I think that’s probably Sabrina and my favorite dinosaur show we’ve ever seen, but it’s a lot—It’s kind of similar in context to that. But I mean it’s also based on a show I think the show Walking with Dinosaurs was either in the late 90s or the early 2000. So it’s not super up-to-date and then it’s got a little bit of a kid focus, and it’s easier for them too because they make robotic dinosaurs, they don’t have to physically get on stage and try to recreate the motions.
Ari: I do really love those puppets. I’ve also—I’ve been a little bit in communication with the LA Museum of Natural History which also has a dinosaur show with puppets that are very similar to the ones in the Walking with Dinosaurs show.
Garret: We just saw that, it was pretty cool, and they have feathers, sort of feathers, it’s more like fuzz all over their T-rex.
Ari: When I get to California definitely I’m going to make a point of meeting with them and meeting with the actors that are playing those dinosaurs because I’m very interested in their process. How they train themselves into those characters, and I do know that they have some microphones set up inside of dinosaurs, so the sounds that they’re making are actually being made by the performers.
Garret: Yeah I’ve actually been inside one of those.
Ari: Oh nice. What was it like?
Garret: I got inside a Parasaurolophus because—actually it’s been in my wedding. We had one of those dinosaurs, like a T-rex style one unit guy and that’s huge.
Garret: But I got to get inside those Parasaurolophus and they’re like, “You’re really tall, you might have to get in this,” and they were explaining to me a little bit about how like there’s a—you have to be pretty short in order to get into the T-rex because otherwise you’ll be so hunched over inside, it would be really uncomfortable and it’s heavy too because you have to basically wear the thing. You basically put it on like a backpack and then it weighs I don’t know 50 to 100 pounds, and then you’ve got little levers and things like you’d expect inside a puppet and there’s a little screen that shows out its mouth. There’s this little camera in there so you can kind of see where you are and then a microphone and I think this one had a few buttons so that you could make like a sneezing sound and you could like spray water with a handle and stuff.
Ari: It’s genius really.
Garret: Yeah I can’t imagine trying to operate that thing and look like anything other than a guy trying to carry 100 pounds.
Garret: It’s impressive.
Ari: I’m quite interested in how they train into that because from little clips that I’ve seen, yeah they do get a pretty exciting and almost realistic sense of the dinosaur.
Garret: Yeah it’s really cool. I was amazed. And also in your production, it’s impressive to see how many of these dinosaur like motions you can achieve and even more impressive to me, honestly is staying in that character the whole time and not—I don’t know, that must just be that I’m not a stage performer, but you pull off well.
Ari: Yeah my investigation is a little bit different than those Walking with Dinosaur shows in the sense that I’m really interested in how a human body embodies this information and this character and not erasing the human on stage. You’re definitely seeing dancers, or you’re seeing human bodies in motion but you’re seeking this transformation as the character of the dinosaur infuses every element of the physicality and emotional quality psychology of the performer. That transformation is something that I’m very interested in.
Garret: Yeah it’s really cool. The other thing in your Ghost of Hell Creek description, you have a picture with kind of a preliminary drawing of—I’m guessing it’s you with a Dakotaraptor kind of skeleton, partial skeleton sticking out in front and behind you with some feathers and things. How long do you think you could keep up staying in a pose where your back is horizontal and the suit would work like—I don’t know that seems difficult?
Ari: Even without this suit, lower back pain is one of my major problems that I’ve run into in creating this work so far. And I’m playing with a number of different postures that can achieve the dinosaur shape or form and yet also allow for a breathing room for the lower back muscles so that there isn’t major cramping or physical problems with the dancers. For this costume concept which I created in the early days of conceiving this piece which is based on the skeleton or fossil of the Dakotaraptor and has a fossil skull extended in front of the face of the performer, it has a long stiff tail that would attach to the bottom of the performer, and has wings that will come out of the hands and claws that attach to the fingers, so it’s some hybrid of fossil dinosaur and human body.
This is something that I’m definitely interested in creating when the time comes around. It’s not my first priority with creating this work but it is something that given funding, I would be interested in creating. And I am curious what it will be like to actually work with the long tail like that extending from the body of the dancer and how that counterbalance can affect motion. There is if it’s made well it can definitely allow for a whole another experience of motion that the human body without these equipments can’t especially in terms of the counterbalance of the head and the tail. But those are all experiments that will really have to wait for a time when I have funding for this project to develop the costumes. So we will see.
Robert De Palma did offer in my correspondence with him to allow for casting of the skeletal bones or the reconstruction of the Dakotaraptor skeleton and scale it to human form and hopefully cast in some quite light weight the durable material so that it wouldn’t be causing more physical pain for the performers than they need.
Garret: That seems like the—if you have to name the biggest difference between the human body and a dinosaur, it’s that spine is horizontal versus upright difficulty.
Ari: Yeah, you can see in the solo show that I did, I’m now really working with not a fully horizontal body but with a very much arched back. And that arched back is coming straight from Indonesian traditional dance both Balinese and Japanese and many other dances in Indonesia basically fix that arched back with the shoulders pushed back and the butt pushed up, they say you should be able to hold a mango in the small of your back. And so I’ve been training in that posture for quite a while and I find that it creates some convincing representation of this dinosaur posture without needing to lean the human body all the way forward.
Ari: And it allows for more flexibility in the legs, especially to be able to run or jump or work with these different positions that are going to be of course crucial for creating this dinosaur movement.
Garret: That’s a good point because if you’re just slumped all the way over, it would be pretty hard to do a lot of different motions with your legs.
Ari: I’m interested in exploring different postures and experimenting with the flexibility and strength needed to achieve these dinosaur like motions. And in many cases for certain forms of movement it’s really a process of physical training to bring the dancers to the point where they can achieve those movements comfortably and convincingly.
A lot of the workshops that I’m planning to be putting on especially in San Francisco starting in the New Year, are going to be investigating a lot of those different forms and how we can begin to start with something that’s comfortable for the human body and then slowly exaggerate and exaggerate and build up the muscles and flexibility needed to maintain comfort.
Garret: Yeah that sounds really cool and an interesting problem to try to tackle. I don’t think anyone’s ever worked on that before.
Ari: Mind if we move on to the next question I had for you?
Garret: Sure, yeah.
Ari: Which is how does your study of prehistoric epics and ecosystems affect your experience or perception of your own human body and your activity as a homo sapiens? Just a follow up to that would, what do you think knowledge of natural history and prehistoric epics does for one’s awareness of the present world and our place in it as humans?
Garret: Obviously the thing that immediately kind of falls away when you start to think about these things is just the science of evolution is the kind of fundamental thing. You think about just how much things can change over the course of the history of the earth or even just the last 66 million years. And to that end, I think one of the most common thoughts that I have about humans and dinosaurs is the whole debate which usually falls on the side of humans wouldn’t exist if dinosaurs didn’t go extinct. But like kind of the different approaches that dinosaurs and humans have for dominating our environment and how both have been massively successful even though they’re completely different strategies.
You’ve got dinosaurs that are basically either trying to run as fast as possible or get so big that they can’t be eaten or otherwise get so big that they can eat anything, and then you have humans that basically were just like spongy, completely useless, if you were near a medium sized carnivorous dinosaur there would be nothing we could do without our tools and things. It’s almost like a humbling thing where you think of the biggest toughest human you can possibly imagine, like I don’t know Arnold Schwarzenegger in the early 90s or something. And then like a Dakotaraptor which is like a medium, pretty big dinosaur from its time and it’s like there’s not even a remote comparison in terms of strength.
Ari: There wouldn’t have been.
Garret: I think that’s the main way that I think about it is kind of that—what is that, I guess like a phylogenetic sort of analysis thing where it’s like what’s being selected for in dinosaurs versus what has been selected for in homo sapiens in our ancestors and how completely different things have evolved. I love looking at these different reconstructions of dinosaur phylogeny and how you’ve got these groups like theropods and most of them go hard towards like the carnivorous quick kind of body plan, but then every once in a while there be this little split of herbivores that shoot off of it and carve out a little niche.
Ari: Right. I know [inaudible 00:30:57] I’m not going to say that these are the ones with the long claws?
Garret: Oh yeah Therizinosaurs usually?
Ari: Yeah Therizinosaurs, that’s it.
Garret: That’s what I go with. But if it makes you feel better at SVP, it was the first time we had gone to the Society for Vertebra Paleontology and the first person who goes up says a dinosaur name and it’s completely different than I’ve been saying it and I was like, “Oh crap, I’ve been saying this on our podcast wrong for all this time.” Then the next guy comes up and he says it just the way I’ve been saying it.
Ari: Right. It’s the whole [inaudible 00:31:32] case versus [inaudible 00:31:34] case, potato, potato?
Garret: It’s crazy. And it’s because you have like English combining with Chinese combining with Latin like Latinization and it’s just—you end up with these unpronounceable or who knows how it works out.
Ari: It makes me curious about the names of Latin written dinosaurs in a Chinese accent, and how that comes out.
Garret: It’s really not written, like it’s not so much spoken.
Ari: Part of the impetus behind this question is, now my personal relationship with dinosaurs and these prehistoric ecosystems right now has a lot to do with this contemplation of a world that has no humans in it, and reflecting on what that means for say culture. I’ve been living in Indonesia for the last four years and I’ve also lived in China and spent time in other countries like [inaudible 00:32:40] and Malaysia.
And for me contemplating this world before humanity, I say specifically dinosaurs; there is some great equalizer in that. I find that someone from Indonesia, from China, from Europe, from America or Africa, can all equally appreciate these ecosystems, these creatures in these worlds in almost the same kind of way and it almost bypasses our cultural differences, our linguistic differences, our beliefs, and our customs.
And my interest in this project in part is how to form a kind of cross cultural dialogue through taking dinosaurs and prehistoric ecosystems as the subject matter. And so that’s in part my interest in working with Indonesians on this project and ultimately bringing what I hope would be an Indonesian dance cast to America for a tour with this project and have this shared fascination, love of these creatures be a kind of cultural bridge.
Garret: One of Sabrina’s favorite things to talk about is how dinosaurs bring people together in all sorts of different ways. And it’s not even just kids and their parents or different people in the same culture; it is very much a global thing because I know we have listeners all over the world and everybody kind of responds to dinosaurs in a similar way. We don’t get people from other countries saying like “Oh, you know here we think of dinosaurs as something completely different than you think of them,” or anything like that, it’s kind of the beauty of science in general.
Ari: It is.
Garret: That it’s just, it gets boiled down to this fundamental kind of truth or if you’re constantly seeking the truth especially in paleontology and the best you can do is just iterate on it and try to learn more and more about it and if everybody is focused on just learning and getting as much information out as possible, it makes a lot of this other kind of political stuff fall away. I really like it.
Ari: That is indeed how I’ve been thinking. And the shared mystery of it as well because we can transport ourselves back to this ecosystem. So it is always this process of reconstruction, arguments, and in terms of that living imagination, that act of imagination entering those spaces, that’s something that we can share together, but we can also share the mystery of not really knowing together, and so that mystery and that seeking is one of the qualities that I’m interested in exploring in my art.
Garret: Yeah and there’s a very—what’s the word for, I guess, democratic, or something sort of nature to it where you could be a farmer in Mongolia and discover some super significant dinosaur, like you don’t have to have this high education, you don’t need a ton of money, you don’t need anything, it’s just going out and finding things and that could change everything no matter what people in a far off land are saying, what kind of resources they’re throwing at it, it’s all up for grabs.
Ari: Right. Very much so and also that farmer in Mongolia that you’re talking about knows their land more intimately than anyone else. So when that land is the rock from this prehistoric ecosystem, they have this working knowledge of those rocks, of that landscape, they are in a way the premier expert maybe not in a scientifically way but in experiential away.
Garret: Yeah definitely. And it’s so important that people all around the world appreciate dinosaurs and other scientific especially paleontological things because otherwise if you don’t like, if you don’t care about it and it’s on your land, you just throw it away or sell it to whatever. But if you appreciate that science and the significance behind the find, it helps everybody.
Ari: And another shared element to this study for me is just the maps of the earth from these prehistoric. Even 65 million years ago Indonesia is still under the ocean; America has this great seaway cutting right through the middle of it. And I am interested in almost holding up those maps as a kind of banner because they disrupt our notion of national boundaries completely when you look at an earth, that doesn’t follow any of the geologic distinctions that we used to separate our cultures, our countries today. And I feel in somehow in that differences that map as well as the subject matter, we can touch some sort of commonality in the sense that we all share our mutual, our common difference with that time and with that map, and the mystery in looking and contemplating a world that looks so different from the world that we have today.
Garret: Yeah and just how arbitrary some of the things that we’ve set up are.
Ari: Exactly and how transient necessarily will be if we even go few million years into the future we’re going to continue to see the massive changes in geographical landscapes and boundaries especially with the potential of global warming and rising sea levels.
Ari: And so well—my project right now is very much looking to the past necessarily there is a reflection then on the future that comes from it.
Garret: And that’s definitely one of the biggest values that paleontology brings is if you look at something that went wrong or went right or whatever information you can glean from something that happened in the past and you see the beginnings of that now, it gives you a lot of information for things we might want to prepare for.
Ari: Well that leads pretty well into this last question which you’ve touched on answers to already, which is because my Indonesian collaborators often have little knowledge of the theory of evolution or natural history, it’s not something that’s widely taught in school there. So if you could give a short message to some of my collaborators from other countries, what is in your opinion the most important reasons to be aware of natural history?
Garret: I guess it’s really like any kind of science where the biggest, at least in my opinion, reason to go after natural history or any scientific pursuit is this ability to think critically, and I constantly see the benefits to critical thinking and being able to look at a problem and kind of analyze why you end up at this result or what could be a problem with a certain approach.
And if you would exercise this critical thinking ability it kind of helps all sorts of scientific pursuits and then just general daily life, not getting caught in scams and things like that, and if for some reason you want to discount something like evolution and say, “I don’t believe that evolution happened,” you’re really just setting yourself up for not understanding a very fundamental process, and it makes it more difficult to think critically in other areas because you’ve now got this glaring logical fallacy where something natural is happening and you’re ignoring it.
So now when you want to explain something else, you either have to come up with another logical fallacy or you have to—I don’t know. It starts to get really messy really quick. It’s kind of like the whole notion of if you lie, then you end up lying more, so same kind of thing with science and natural history. If you ignore it and you try to discount it, then you’ll end up just, who knows where. It’s hard to say how misled you can get.
Ari: I mean just looking at the massive fluctuations in weather; in the history of our own species is enough to be certainly aware that nothing is stable in our world.
Garret: Yeah definitely. And then seeing how much things have to change in order to significantly impact a group or a species or collateral or whatever level you’re concerned with and what kind of signs we might be seeing on earth right now compared to things that we’ve seen in the history of the planet can be really beneficial. And I think it’s a really good way to get started in science because it’s a very tangible thing. You can look at a dinosaur skeleton and imagine it walking around whereas practical physics or something, I’m not going to get into that.
I think dinosaurs are probably the original way that I got interested in science, and so I think as long as you go down the right road and you accept the science and you think critically about evolution and things like that, and you kind of don’t have any preconceived notions and you leave yourself open for new discoveries. It really helps a lot in just about every aspect of life, I think.
Ari: And the awareness that birds or dinosaurs can be really interesting for a lot of people. I didn’t capture it on video quite, but my friends that I was working with in Indonesia with the chickens, were really fascinated that these chickens that they interact with and take care of and eat every day are dinosaurs. And I was treating this chicken as a key, as a window into this prehistoric ecosystem. And in going through those experiments with them, there was this new appreciation of this creature.
It’s new and respected in a way all of it as being a survivor with this fantastic and grand ancestry. And it seemed to have a very tangible impact on the thinking of my friends there and myself as well because clinging to chickens as dinosaurs was—is also a new part of my process. I found that that kind of fascination that’s generated by those conversations to be really wonderful and really beneficial, and I feel as a key or a first step towards a lot of other investigations.
Garret: Yeah it’s really interesting especially when you remember that some dinosaurs were very small and then you look at birds and you’re like that might be really similar to what dinosaurs are like. Cool. I have one last question for you, which is do you have a favorite dinosaur?
Ari: Dakotaraptor is too easy of an answer, isn’t it?
Garret: Yeah that’s what I was expecting.
Ari: Yeah well I am currently making a performance about Dakotaraptor so I got to say it’s my working favorite, it’s a beautiful creature; it’s one of the biggest Raptor dinosaurs. If you compare it with Utahraptor, it’s more agile and slim although the same length and height approximately. So I imagine it being one of the most graceful and incredible creatures to watch that might have ever walked the earth.
And it also lived in the Hell Creek ecosystem right up to the media impacts that represents really the last of its line, and it partakes in that dramatic story which is the Cretaceous extinction. So on all of those fronts, I find it to be just such a fascinating creature, and I’m hoping that we find more of them soon. I did hear that a block with some six to eight Utahraptors was just pulled out of a quarry recently. So I definitely looking forward to a lot more information on that particular group of dinosaurs.
Garret: Yeah that’ll be a good one. I think Jim Kirkland is the one working on that and he’s had it for a little while, but they’re now doing a crowd funding thing because they’ve been struggling to get funding to try to get working on it.
Ari: Make sure to share that with me and I will share it onwards.
Garret: Sure yeah. Cool.
Ari: Thank you Garret.
Garret: Thanks for coming on and talking. And this is the first time anyone’s asked us questions which was really fun.
Ari: It was fun for me too.
Ari: Thank you very much.
Garret: Is there anything you want to share like a Twitter or anything like that where you want to share your work?
Ari: Yeah well my website is the easiest place which is arirudenko.com. And maybe you can share a link to my site on your site and in the podcast. And our Fatamorgana Dance Theater is the name of my dance Theater Company and project and that has a Facebook as well. That’s Fatamorgana, F- A- T- A- M- O- R- G- A -N-A dance theater and throw that in the Facebook and you will find it. But my website is the home for all of these projects.
Garret: Great. Well thanks for talking to me. It was very interesting. I was looking forward to it for a while when people would ask, because I often tell people I have a dinosaur podcast and they say, “What do you do?” I use your work as an example. People do a lot of things without a source. They will be like, what do they do other than dig them up, and I’m like, “There’s this guy who is working on a [inaudible 00:47:45] to look like a Dakotaraptor. That sounds so awesome.”
Ari: Good, I’m glad you’re enthusiastic. And right now I’m in this process of looking for funding I’m sending in a couple of grants to synopsis on the Ghost of Hell Creek that I sent to you with the Alpha Peace Foundation, public understanding of Science Grant. So yeah, I’ll keep you in the loop in the process of development here. And I definitely do look forward to building this up and hopefully the next time I’m back on your podcast, I will be sharing something more concrete that can be watched here in the States.
Garret: Yeah that would be great. Good luck with all the grant applications and everything.
Ari: Thank you, great well thanks Garret.
Garret: Yeah thank you.