Mechanics of Life: Movement, Mobility and Me Mechanics of Life: Movement, Mobility and Me 



‘Mechanics of Life’ is an ingenious collaboration that brings together engineers from the University of Leeds, artists from Northern Ballet, and educators and young people from Batley Girls’ High School to explore the mechanics of movement through dance.  

The project draws inspiration from the human body as a remarkable ‘machine.’ Building on our collective expertise in medical engineering, robotics, cultural and scientific learning, dance artistry, and choreography we showcase the body as machine and with machine.  

Through this unique collaboration, we challenge the stereotypes and perceptions of the worlds of engineering and ballet. We have opened our spaces, shared our worlds, and created exciting learning experiences, bringing to life the applications of engineering and the science of dance. In doing so, we have broken down the barriers between our disciplines, roles, and ways of working to create lasting partnerships across the arts, education, and engineering.  




Northern Ballet 

University of Leeds 

Batley Girls’ High School


Royal Academy of Engineering




The ‘Mechanics of Life’ short dance film tells the story of our journey together across disciplines. 


Early-career engineers were supported to build their creative confidence through a programme of workshops and activities to develop skills in design thinking, visual storytelling, and to practice engagement approaches across arts and science. This built capacity for the design and delivery of creative and interdisciplinary public engagement activities for the longer term. 

Our team of engineers, artists, and educators came together over several months to co-produce a series of learning activities for Year 8 students at Batley Girls’ High School, bringing together the worlds of dance, education, and engineering. Facilitated workshops drew out connections between disciplinary areas and developed concepts for a range of learning experiences.


Students participated in an action-packed introductory day at the University of Leeds. Trampolining demonstrated the physics and forces behind spinning and somersaults, and they took part in engineering challenges and visited research labs. Areas of particular interest and enjoyment highlighted by students were used to inform the focus and design of subsequent activities. 

The collaborative process culminated in an ‘experience day’ for the students at the Northern Ballet studios. Sessions were designed to inspire cross-disciplinary thinking and were intentionally delivered by team members from across arts, engineering, and education working together. Activities connected topics such as anatomy, language, range of motion and limits of the body, and the physics of a pirouette. Comparisons between expression in mechanical and organic movement were highlighted by a robot versus dancer challenge. Students also toured the Northern Ballet wardrobe department and considered the engineering behind theatre experiences. Each activity produced an element of content that is woven into the ‘Mechanics of Life’ film. Whether a visual, a position or pose, or sequence of movements, these were co-created with the students who experienced live choreography with the artistic team. The finale of the day was a ballet showcase, which drew the content together, providing the foundation of the short dance film. 

‘Mechanics of Life’ debuted on the big screen at the Everyman Theatre in Leeds in March 2024 with the first viewing by the students themselvescentrepiece of the red-carpet event was the mannequin dancers created by students and engineers, inspired by the mechanics of movement. These featured alongside engineering curio cabinets and Baxter, one of the robotics stars of the show. 


  • Dr Briony Thomas, Principal Investigator, Creative Lead
  • Professor Sophie Williams, Co-Investigator, Medical Engineering Lead 
  • Sophie Hutchinson, Engineering co-producer 
  • Kacper Dobras, Engineering co-producer 
  • Dr Samantha Paterson, Engineering co-producer 
  • Camille Hammersley, Engineering co-producer 
  • Maia Kniveton, Creative Producer 
  • Thomas Irish, Postgraduate Intern 
  • Kenneth Tindall, Co-Investigator, Choreography and Direction 
  • Emily Nuttall, Artistic Co-producer, Director of Photography 
  • Mayuko Iwanaga, Artistic Co-producer, Dancer 
  • Stefano Varalta, Artistic Co-producer, Dancer 
  • Aaron Kok, Artistic Co-producer, Dancer 
  • Dagmar Birnbaum, Cultural Learning Co-producer, Community Dance Artist 
  • Leanne Kirkham, Cultural Learning Co-producer, Director of Learning 
  • Natalie Casson, Design Technology, Learning  co-producer 
  • Alison Calvert, Science, Learning co-producer 
  • Rebecca Lockwood, Humanities, Learning co-producer 
  • Adam Flack, Mathematics, Learning co-producer 
  • Mursaleen Akhtar, Physics, Learning co-producer 
  • Michelle Hendry, Leadership and Project Co-ordination 
  • Class 8CBO, student co-producers 


This project has been supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering under the Ingenious Awards programme, by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, and by the EPSRC EP/R003971/1.