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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rehearsals for Mirrors

Monday, I'm leaving for Puebla, Mexico, to participate in the PERFORMÁTICA festival. Kristin and I are staging a dance/multimedia piece called "The Mirror Has Six Billion Faces," which will be danced by Cari Cunningham and Rick Southerland. There's a brief article about the piece in the UNR Nevada News.

The piece was inspired by an article in the New York Review of Books, which discusses, among other things, the recent discovery of "mirror neurons":

The importance of body image and motor activity for perception, physical movement, and thought is suggested by the recent discovery of "mirror neurons" by Giacomo Rizzolatti and his colleagues. They observed that the neurons that fired when a monkey grasped an object also fired when the monkey watched a scientist grasp the same object. The monkey apparently understood the action of the experimenter because the activity within its brain was similar when the monkey was observing the experimenter and when the monkey was grasping the object. What was surprising was that the same neurons that produced "motor actions," i.e., actions involving muscular movement, were active when the monkey was perceiving those actions performed by others.

The "rigid divide," Rizzolatti and Corrado Sinigaglia write in their new book, Mirrors in the Brain,

between perceptive, motor, and cognitive processes is to a great extent artificial; not only does perception appear to be embedded in the dynamics of action, becoming much more composite than used to be thought in the past, but the acting brain is also and above all a brain that understands.

We can recognize and understand the actions of others because of the mirror neurons; as Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia write, this understanding "depends first of all on our motor neurons."[5] Our abilities to understand and react to the emotions of others may depend on the brain's ability to imitate the neuronal activity of the individual being observed.

These are some photos from an early rehearsal. Some of the work was developed through exercises where the dancers mirrored each others' movements. It was a strangely intense experience for them. Particularly in the beginning, they were sensitive to moments where one person seemed to be "leading" the mirroring activity, and their subjectivity seemed to be spilling over the mirror line. Hopefully some of those destabilizing qualities will be activated by the finished piece.

The rehearsals, at UNR, took place in an appropriately mirrored studio. Three walls (and even the plate for the light switch) are mirrored, providing melting glimpses of infinitude.

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