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011218-mis-ent-moore

Merritt Moore, who is in Missoula this week for Ballet Beyond Borders, has pursued two passions: dance and physics. Moore studied quantum physics at Oxford University, where she recently completed her doctorate, while performing in high-level ballet companies.

Merritt Moore's two passions might never have joined on a resume before, and certainly not one quite like hers. She's performed in high-level ballet companies and studied quantum physics at Oxford.

The 29-year-old Los Angeles native is in Missoula this week for Ballet Beyond Borders. The third annual international dance event was previously called VIBE Missoula, short for the Vienna International Ballet Experience.

While here, Moore is judging in the dance competitions, which are open to dancers around the world. She'll also speak at a panel on Saturday, "Creative Brilliance: How the Arts Interact with the Sciences," during the the Art of Diplomacy Conference at the University of Montana.

Later that day, she'll perform in the Gala Finale at the Dennison Theatre. She's planning on a contemporary solo piece she choreographed with collaborators in London. She described it as a personal piece that illuminates her journey pursuing both dance and science, including the struggles and doubts along the way.

Moore began dancing when she was 13. Her first physics class came at age 17. Since she had a lifelong interest in math and puzzles, physics, with its mysteries, puzzles and bizarre, unanswered questions appealed to her.

She enrolled at Harvard the next year, which she said was tough. She was placed in classes with students who had years' of experience in the field. She has a persistent streak, though, and graduated with honors.

Next came the University of Oxford, where she recently completed her doctorate. Broadly speaking, she said she studied the ability to use quantum properties to measure the entanglement of two photons, or single particles of light.

While logging serious time in the lab as an undergraduate and doctorate student, she performed as a member with companies like the Zurich Ballet, Boston Ballet, English National Ballet and London Contemporary Ballet Theatre.

She said it required serious drive. "Every waking moment I'm driven to do one or the other," she said. "I love it."

It helps that in dance, for instance, she loves the process without fixating on the final outcome, which she said hurts other dancers. "They're so focused on the dream that they're really unhappy when there's a dip or a plateau, which is inevitable. If you can make it through, if you have the grit to get through that plateau, you're golden," she said.

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Advisers on either side, whether dance or science, told her she needed to quit if she wanted to be "serious" about her career.

"They really meant it like they wanted the best for me," she said. She believes it's rooted in the false notion that the sciences aren't creative and the arts aren't analytic.

"There are tons of scientists who have extracurriculars in arts and humanities and tons of artists who love science," she said.

She believes that the dual interests were complementary in some ways. Dancing professionally requires "putting yourself out there and making yourself vulnerable."

That experience "really helps in the physics world, because then you feel better about asking questions and not knowing the answers and making mistakes," she said.

More broadly, she said there's pressure to specialize on a singular passion.

"I think having two allows one to be more sane and have perspective," she said. Dancing felt like a relief after spending eight-hour shifts sitting or standing in the lab. Meanwhile, having physics in her life helped keep her from being despondent over critiques and corrections in dance.

She's found a few ways to combine the two passions. With director-choreographer Darren Johnston, she worked on a virtual-reality project called Zero Point that combined VR, physics, dance and robots, in which aspects of the robots' movement were mapped onto projections on the wall. She keeps an Instagram account, physicsonpointe, where she translates physics concepts into pictures.

Now that she's done with her doctorate, she plans to pursue dance full-time for the first time in her life. Her preferred style is contemporary ballet. "There's so much emotion and meaning that comes in with the finesse that ballet brings to the dance form."

She'll keep tabs on the physics world, and could return after a few years, perhaps for VR or robotics projects, or perhaps go into a postdoctorate, a start-up or another related job.

"I'm going to give it all that I've got and see where it goes," she said.

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment editor for the Missoulian.