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!

Ivy Moylan [Re]Views Cinematic Visions

There are many movies that deal with the subject of visions and the  marriage of the “real” and the “unreal,” including standouts such as Donnie Darko, Labyrinth, Jacob’s Ladder, and Pan’s Labyrinth. For this discussion, I specifically selected the films [Requiem, Where the Wild Things Are, and Harvey] because, rather than beg the question as to where visions come from, they instead address the tension that we all experience between daily life and our inner worlds of the fantastic, visionary or imaginary.

Excerpt from GLIMPSE film reviewer Ivy Moylan’s  “[RE]VIEWS: Requiem, Where the Wild Things Are, and Harvey.” Issue 6, Visions
Read the entire review here.

Dr. Tracy Gleason on imaginary friends

“Sini” is a baby alligator. Since all babies are girls (according to her 3-year-old female creator), Sini started as a girl but has since sometimes been a boy.

My own research has suggested that the importance of pretend friends is not the imagery or form associated with them, or even the fondness of children with imaginary companions for imaginative activities in general. Instead, for many if not most children, imaginary companions exist as a forum for the creation of a relationship and all the joys that come from interpersonal contact. Children use their imaginary companions to address social concerns and to understand others’ perspectives. Imaginary companions are associated with the benefits of real relationships, such as emotional support, validation, and affection. In fact, imaginary companions may assist children in learning to regulate their affect by helping them experience negative emotions such as disappointment, sadness, and anger in a context without retribution or recrimination. Similarly, imaginary companions are often a source of joy and comfort, and can even provide a person to nurture.

–Excerpt from Dr. Tracy Gleason’s “Invisible Friends: the creation of imaginary companions in childhood and beyond.” Issue 6, Visions. Learn how you can read the full article in GLIMPSE’S Visions issue at

If you could see what Lily Yeh sees…

We here at Glimpse view seeing as a complex act. When looking at a chair, a house, a tree, or a human being, we’re not looking at a stagnant, isolated thing. We’re seeing the product of past events and movements and circumstances. We’re seeing a thing in transition that has the power to act or the possibility of being acted upon. We’re seeing the potential for change.

This month, Lily Yeh (Artist/Activist interviewed in our China Vision II issue) and the Barefoot Artists depart to Rwanda to continue their work rebuilding communities ravaged by genocide, disease and displacement. In locations where most would see only  destruction and disrepair, Yeh sees “endless resources for…an innovative way to create a new future.”  Here, we present a clip of Yeh speaking at last year’s Bioneers Conference.  Or click here to see the whole transformative thing.

Don’t forget to check out–or if you’re already one of Glimpse‘s fabulous readers, revisit–our conversation with Lily Yeh about the transformation of the Dandelion School in Beijing!

Have An Imaginary Friend? Join the Club

Those who believe that imaginary friends exist only in the realm of child’s play may simply need a better view of the subject. Dr. Tracy R. Gleason, Associate Professor of Psychology and Psychological Director of the Wellesley College Child Study Center, discusses the phenomenon of imaginary friends among children in Glimpse’s upcoming issue “Visions,” and even goes further to explain how imaginary friends subtly inhabit various corners of the adult world. According to Gleason, adults utilize imaginary companions for an array of reasons: from speaking with an imaginary other in preparation for a job interview to writing a novel where the characters are described so vividly that they take on existences all their own.

Our capacity for vivid imagining can serve as a muse for our greatest works of art. It certainly did for American author John Updike, the meticulous and unfailingly idiosyncratic documentarian of the American middle class. In a 2008 video interview with the New York Times (above), Updike describes the process of writing The Widows of Eastwick, a sequel to the famous Witches of Eastwick, which was written almost 25 years beforehand. Amongst other topics touched upon in the interview, Updike compares the experience of returning to the novel to reuniting with old friends (at about 4:04 in the video), and again being privy to their witchy conversations.

Cheers to friends, both real and imaginary.