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Groundbreaking performance explores disease transmission

Posted on 5 June 2014

The world premiere of a contemporary performance piece and interactive installation at the University of York will combine dance and cutting edge video and sound technology with scientific research to explore disease transmission.

Transmission (c)Becs Andrews

Part of the York Festival of Ideas, TRANSMISSION is inspired by the similarities between the spread of ‘infectious’ ideas through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and the transmission of real-world diseases like swine flu through human populations. 

The performance will dramatically present the dynamics of infection and immunity using sensors embedded in dancers’ costumes and infra-red cameras. The new wireless technology – specially created for the performance - will allow the dancers’ movements to ‘map’ specific patterns of disease transmission, leaving traces of light and sound behind them.  

Held at the University’s Department of Theatre, Film and Television from 19 to 22 June, the groundbreaking event aims to engage the public with infectious disease research and to promote a better understanding of the central role of transmission in disease evolution and control. 

TRANSMISSION is led by award-winning artist and stage designer Becs Andrews in collaboration with Professor Michael Brockhurst, an evolutionary biologist at the University of York; choreographer Simon Birch from Falmouth University's Academy of Music and Theatre Arts; composer Jon Hughes, from York’s Department of Music; and the team behind digital dance performance danceroom Spectroscopy - Tom Mitchell and Phill Tew. Bespoke engineering is provided by Seb Madwick. 

Professor Brockhurst, Chair of Evolutionary Biology in York’s Department of Biology, said: “Transmission is the crucial step in a parasite’s life cycle which determines its evolutionary fitness. It is transmission that makes a disease infectious and able to cause epidemics, and it is transmission that we try to block with healthcare interventions such as vaccination and hand-washing. In order to predict and control epidemics in human populations we must first understand transmission.”  

Becs Andrews conceived TRANSMISSION during her time as DARE Cultural Fellow in Opera-Related Arts (Scenography), working with Opera North and the University of Leeds. 

Now a Visiting Research Associate with York’s Department of Music, Becs Andrews said: “TRANSMISSION combines cutting-edge technology and fluid movement to create a sonic and visual world where even the smallest interactions leave behind a trace. Through the use of powerful non-verbal metaphors for transmission, it creates digital maps of sights and sounds on live choreographed dance performances. 

“Our aim is to communicate the underlying evolutionary processes and patterns that exist in epidemiology and how disease evolves. As scientific ideas are embedded deeply in the choreography, it means the performance can be enjoyed on many levels, both by those who understand the science and those who do not, but are curious to learn more.” 

TRANSMISSION, which brings together artists, scientists, musicians and dancers, is supported by the University of York’s Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders (C2D2), DARE, the University of York, the Wellcome Trust and Falmouth University’s Academy of Music and Theatre Arts. It is funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts programme. 

TRANSMISSION is on show at the Black Box, Department of Theatre, Film and Television on the University of York’s Heslington East campus.  Evening performances from 19 to 22 June at 7pm and 8.15pm. Entry is free but booking is essential. There is drop in entry to the family-friendly daytime interactive installation on 21 and 22 June from 1-5pm, when visitors can try out the technology used by the dancers. 

For further information and tickets visit

Further information:

  • Images for the media to download to accompany this news release are available at   
  • The TRANSMISSION Team includes:
    Lead Artist: Becs Andrews, Visiting Research Associate with York’s Department of Music (
    Lead Scientist: Professor Michael Brockhurst, Department of Biology, University of York (
    Choreography: Simon Birch, Falmouth University's Academy of Music and Theatre Arts, Simon Birch Dance, Dance Republic 2
    Composer: Jon Hughes, Department of Music, University of York
    Lighting Designer: Louise Gregory
    Dancers: James Southward, Polly Motley, Debbi Purtill, Isabel Slingerland
    Video Programer: Phill Tew
    Sound Programmer: Dr Tom Mitchell, University of the West of England
    Bespoke Hardware:  Seb Madgwick, x-io Technologies
  • For further information visit; Twitter: @transmitdance hashtag: #transmission_dance
  • More information on the University of York’s Department of Biology at      
  • More information on the University of York’s Department of Music at        
  • Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2010 and 2015, we will invest £1.9 billion of public money from government and an estimated £1.1 billion from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.           
  • The University of York is committed to research into alleviating the world-wide burden of chronic diseases and disorders. With the support of the Wellcome Trust, the University has established the Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders (C2D2 - to coordinate and maximise the impact of this key interdisciplinary field of research.
  • The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial



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