Movement, Orientation, and the Brain

A Look at the Work of Pina Bausch

December Dance Show by San Francisco Foghorn

Scientific research has shown that we perceive art (especially movement based art) with the help of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are a set of cells in the brain that allow us to recall an action and imagine that action as our own so that we can experience it ourselves either vicariously or viscerally. This is what makes dance specifically such an emotive and provocative art form.

With the passing of the great choreographer and dancer Pina Bausch, many are reflecting on how she hacked the brains of her audience in pushing the boundaries of dance theatre.  As a master of empathy, Pina Bausch was able to explore the range of the audience’s reaction to familiar movements and experiences. As shown in her movie Pina 3D, she was able to work with a wide range of themes while always maintaining the human experience as the common thread.

Her dancers adored her for her compassion and care. She encouraged them to be vulnerable and from there they were able to understand her vision.

Her skill was telling stories of the human experience by incorporating colloquial movement language. One project that did this exceptionally well was «Kontakthof». Performed by three different age groups on different occasions, this piece unearths a series of social issues, fears, and insecurities in a lighthearted and occasionally disturbing manner. The setting however and the dancers themselves were quite colloquial and the dance moves of the dancers were in fact their own. As one watches this piece with dancers of each age group the perception of the piece changes. The same movements on a 15 year old girl will not be read the same on a 65 year old woman. What does this say about our mirror neurons and our ability for perception? Are our brains biased?

Today, more dancers and performance artists are beginning to push the boundaries of our perception with their work by considering the neural responses of their visual cues. Over the course of the next few weeks GLIMPSE  will be continuing this discussion with our readers, so share your thoughts and stay tuned!

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