“I see something and I like it”: the choreographer’s decision

Dance-making is a multi-layered phenomenon that involves the interaction between cultural, social, technological and biological forces. From the perspective of the brain, creating a dance piece is a complex cognitive task: generating new movement units, remembering sequences of movement phrases, or choosing between movement phrases that are to be improved or not. Nevertheless, very few studies have characterized the process of dance-making from this perspective, while most of them have focused solely on the metaphors or aesthetics conveyed. Our study proposes to understand the process of creating a dance piece as a decision-making problem. Here, the choreographer Sylvia Rijmer is a decision-maker who observes movements generated by the dancers and asks them to see a repetition of the same movement or to see other new movements. This approach has allowed us to develop a quantitative methodology to interpret the choice patterns of the choreographer throughout her creative process. More specifically, we were able to determine which movement phrases were more repeated by each dancer and then ask the choreographer which features of those movements were of most interest for her.

Rijmer reported that those repeated movements carried more potential to become more complex or broken down. Additionally, we have identified three types of behavioural patterns that the choreographer generated while working with the dance. Namely, "demonstration" (when enacting a specific and/or new movement phrase in the field view of the dancer); "complete simulation" (when mirroring the movement phrase that the dancer was doing but not in the field view of the dancer); and "incomplete simulation" (when making a stereotyped body movement with her torso and head while observing the dancer). When questioned about the function of those personal behaviours, she reported that "demonstrations" occur in order to motivate the dancer to generate new movements; "complete simulations" occur when testing the movement that is being worked with the dancer in her own body to see how it feels; "incomplete simulations" occur when she is reviewing the movement of a dancer at a later stage, when they have already crystallized a sequence of movement phrases. This methodology opens a new window into the possibility that the experience of a choreographer can be framed by quantitative analysis on a case-study basis, thus leveraging the understanding of dance-making processes, which are very particular by default. This quantitative methodology can potentially be generalized to other choreographic styles, hopefully leading to a better understanding of those artistic practices as well. This study should also create a shared ground for discussion and future collaboration between cognition scientists, social scientists and artists.


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