PREHISTORIC BODY THEATER: bringing paleontology narratives to global contemporary performance audiences

The Oxford University Press Integrative and Comparative Biology (ICB) Journal, a leading publication for the biological sciences, released their first ever volume on art-science collaboration in fall 2018. This edition features an article by artistic director Ari Rudenko on the concepts, mission, and history behind Prehistoric Body Theater. This article is oriented towards the science community, framing GHOSTS of HELL CREEK as an innovative form of global public outreach for paleontology.
This article was based on a talk Ari Rudenko gave at the 2018 Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Conference (SICB) in San Francisco, USA, as part of a special symposium called “Science Through Narrative: Engaging Broad Audiences.” Ari presented alongside Hollywood companies such as Industrial Light and Magic, Pixar, and Dreamworks, discussing how art can bring scientific ideas and collaborations to the mainstream.




Prehistoric Body Theater is an emerging performance company founded by artistic director and choreographer Ari Rudenko, that offers paleontology and the evolutionary sciences a unique form of global public outreach through the medium of contemporary dance-theater.  These productions aim to educate and inspire diverse audiences by presenting an emotionally potent experience of Earth's prehistoric ecosystems and humanity's deep-time origin story. 

Under collaborative mentorship with leading paleontologists, Ari Rudenko generates choreography by mapping the theoretical locomotion and physiology of the featured prehistoric animals onto diverse ensembles of dancers.  These animal characters and their evolutionary narratives are brought to life on stage through evocative use of clay makeup, lighting, sound design, and set installation. 

GHOSTS of HELL CREEK is Prehistoric Body Theater’s first feature production.  This piece tells the story of the life and death of the last dromaeosaurid dinosaurs during the K-Pg mass extinction, and celebrates the emergence of the first primate lineage mammals in the wake of the Chicxulub asteroid impact.

Ari Rudenko founded Prehistoric Body Theater in 2015 in Indonesia, inspired in part by the myriad of traditional and contemporary representations of animals in Indonesian dance. Prehistoric Body Theater has since been developed further through several iterations in collaboration with Indonesian dancers, adopting choreographic techniques inspired by the unique physical dexterity and movement vocabulary of Indonesian dance.  Prehistoric Body Theater offers Indonesian artist collaborators, who are primarily from traditional and indigenous cultural backgrounds, an immersive and physically engaging education in the science of paleontology. These cross-cultural programs are based on a spirit of shared inquiry, not indoctrination, and critical discussions concerning cultural appropriation and decolonial analysis are taken into consideration. 

GHOSTS of HELL CREEK has been developed as both a live performance and as an experimental film. The first full-scale live productions of GHOSTS of HELL CREEK were developed under the Bergstrom Award for Art-Science Interface (an art-science development grant from University of Washington), in collaboration with Burke Museum curator of paleontology Dr. Greg Wilson. The work showed at Meany Studio Theater, in Seattle, USA, on May 5-6, 2018. The experimental film was shot in Indonesia in 2017, funded by a sucessful Kickstarter. The film will premiere as a museum video-art installation in Seattle in late 2019, sponsored by 4Culture Seattle.

GHOSTS of HELL CREEK is currently under development as an international touring production starring an all Indonesian dance ensemble. Stay tuned for details!