Interview with Beatriz Calvo-Merino, part 2: Science and Dance, Brain and Movement

February 24, 2011

This is the second part of the interview with Beatriz Calvo-Merino. Read the first part here: Interview with Beatriz Calvo-Merino, part 1: Dance + Neurons = Dance Neuroaesthetics


Photo above: Beatriz Calvo-Merino by Tom Medak (cc)
Photo bellow: Sylvie Guillem, photographer unknown

For a scientific project you need very complex things. Everything has to be very detailed and precise. How do you, when you start, close the circle?

BCM: It’s complicated. I mean, you have seen here something that is unfinished. Also because this people are professionals, so if you want to do a study properly you need professional dancers and they have to have experiences in scientific projects. And I’m not talking about dancers who are just starting their careers.

Professionals, of course, they have different perspective. It depends on very pragmatic aspect of the collaborations, it’s very complicated because professionals often don’t have enough time. Flexibility is important too.

But, what is good in all these is that this topic is now sort of trendy and in fashion – art and science. People are quite happy funding this type of activities, after a certain level. So, we are now facing important period of time when the government is happy investing in these kinds of researches. Now, of course, the government is not happy investing anywhere because of the recession.

We have to take advantage of the novelty of these collaborations before the whole thing will finish. It’s very difficult and it take a lot of time and effort. Sometimes dancers when they have to do a brain scan, they don’t get anything in exchange. They might get 20 pounds for their time, but there is nothing they can take home.

I take their brain scan, and I take their activity. Meaning, I get information, but for them, they spend about 20 minutes, they might enjoy experience, but they don’t take anything else back.


Random Dance Company (c)

I wanted to ask you that in my next question… How did they feel during scanning and getting into the chamber, did they feel uncomfortable?

BCM: Well, they are often quite happy, because they like the experience, it’s like something that has a WOW! effect: I will get a picture of my brain and I can see everything! Generally speaking, people like this. Of course, you can do this once… (laughs)

But just once…

BCM: Yeah (laughs). So far people have been opened. We have dancers that do all the studies, because they are interested in understanding the principles on how their brain works. They know they are expert dancers and their brain perceive their movement in a different way than the others. So, they are also interested in the topic themselves.

On the other hand, some people didn’t like it at all, although they are volunteers, and they have said that they don’t find it pleasant because of the claustrophobia or something. Or they don’t like the idea of being in a situation that someone is looking into their head.

Therefore, there are many different reasons why people might not like it. It happens and naturally they are free to go. Some people have gone, maybe one person, but the majority stayed and enjoyed the experience. They are very nice. They have nice type of personality in general. So, we have no problems with this.


Random Dance Company (c)

What did you learn as a scientist from the artists?

BCM: Oh, first they opened to me a new world that I didn’t know previously about. I have been studying the movement my whole life, but not in dance. And they opened all this new range of movements and introduced me to the aesthetic.

On the personal level, I’ve became interested in dance, and I wasn’t before that. I was interested in dance as they come in the theatre, but now I have a special interest in dance and following some of my favourite companies. Now I have my taste. So, yeah, I think this has been a very personal rich experience for me.


Sylvie Guillem (c)

So, who is your favourite company or dancer?

BCM: My favourite dancer is Sylvie Guillem. Maybe cause she comes to London every year and I can see her dancing very often. Well, I’m completely biased with the people I’ve worked with. I like more classical type of dance. Yeah, maybe because of the type of the work we do in our lab, a bit of stimuli, and I work more with classical ballet dancers than with contemporary.

But I really appreciate the level of the skill that a classical ballet has, the motoric skill. I’m just amazed and even if I like some contemporary pieces, I still appreciate this super consisted training and discipline of the ballet dancer. It’s something that I really admire, so I go through more classical repertoire.

And how did you pick up capoeira? Because of the similar movements with ballet or what? Did you know it previously?

BCM: The idea was that we need movements which we could compare kinematically. I did a lot of research and I look at a lot of classical dance, contemporary dance, karate, capoeira, martial arts. So, we had a research and looked at many types of movements. Practically everything that needed a skill, including sport.

Because we need in our research to look at the whole body movements and it was very important that the movement are already classified. For example, they had a name like a label, like in a classical ballet you can see this is another thing.

Therefore, every movement has a name in classical ballet, that’s’ the reason we went into this direction. Then we have realized that for kinematical comparison the best martial art is capoeira. That’s the way we had chosen capoeira. But we looked at all sports and martial arts. We just picked up the one that match it better.


Random Dance Company (c)

But it opened sort of this cultural dimension. This structure of different movements through different cultures, like different cultures have different movements and meanings… different way of perceiving things…

BCM: Yeah, they do! This is not ideal for science, but if you want something for comparison it has to be similar. The only difference is dynamic. But suddenly, this dynamic change has happened and it make it more interesting. Sometimes you find things that you don’t expect. Then you follow them, and you find them interesting.

So, it means if you have things that are not so similar you have actually bigger area to work on. Is it harder to classify them?

BCM: Yeah! Because, at the end of the day you have to make a selection. Hence, during the experiment they were only watching 24 videos lasting for three seconds. Hence, you have to select which twelve to show, so there are not that many, and in that way we chose the ones that have labels, and they were short enough to fit in a three second video.

I see, but it’s the beginning of making these kinds of researches…

BCM: Yes. The first paper was made in 2005. So, ten years now we will have more. But still there is so much to do, you know. We only have looked at very small things of dynamic and kinematic of the movement. We have to move to the bigger picture, but slowly and precisely.


Royal Opera House: Chroma by Wayne McGregor (c)

Yeah, and the science is also moving rapidly forward…

BCM: The science, the methods are moving fast forward. Here we use behavioural method. But there are other methods that you can use. In such cases the method gives you other information. But some method might be more appropriate to look at other things.

So, yes! You move towards different backgrounds, but at the same you can change the method, because one method allows you to look at different responses.

For example what I was saying before, the ideal thing would be to have another method to allow you look the time information better. So, if you want to see what happened on time while you are watching this specific movement then you have better understanding and you can see results through this other method.

It takes a long to do one study, so we are slowly going forward within one research. At the beginning there weren’t many people doing science on art and dance, but there more people doing it now. So, now it’s not only one lab doing this. There are many people around the world doing explorations about it. So, things are grow off faster.

Thank you, Beatriz!

  • Pingback: Interview with Beatriz Calvo-Merino, part 1: Dance + Neurons = Dance Neuroaesthetics | Body Pixel

  • February 25, 2011 @ 2:18 am

    What an interesting topic and really great pictures!

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *