The perspective of the theatre on the project STÖRUNG/ הפרעה
– by Josef Mackert
With the project STÖRUNG/הפרעה, Theater Freiburg has undertaken a further attempt to connect artistic and scientific research. Since 2007, we have tried again and again to find new approaches for this special form of collaboration. Previous collaborations were: »Pimp your Brain – Die Verbesserung des menschlichen Gehirns«, »Wunschkinder« and »synenergene« in cooperation with the Institute of Ethics and History of Medicine at University Freiburg; »BrainDance« and STÖRUNG/הפרעה together with the Excellencecluster BrainLinks-BrainTools, a research group for the development and clinical use of neurotechnology at University Freiburg. A discussion concerning all questions which arise by the progress of medical and bio technologies for the future of human society formed the connecting thematic piece.
Within this series of projects, STÖRUNG/הפרעה is the second attempt (after »BrainDance«) to look at dance as a base and central instrument of research. It seemed to be obvious for a project which should deal with the connection of movement and movement disorder. Together with Oliver Müller, who was our most important partner for the mentioned research projects since 2007, we have already explained this once before:
»Scientists in Freiburg have been working on understanding movement for many years. They engage in que- stions about how movements correlate with neuronal activity, how we can measure and predict movements, how movement sequences can be captured by a computer, and how a computer may control a neuronal prosthesis that is capable of performing artificially calculated movements. One of the main goals of this kind of research is to study Parkinson’s disease and to transfer findings into clinical applications. Dancers, on the other hand, are experts in controlling movement, in the precise observation of the »inner« dimension of movement, and in the fragmentation of movement sequences, which ranges from the mere intention to move, the first movement impulse, to the concerted muscle activities which complete a movement. This expertise allows them to expose the subjective experience that is inherent in movement sequences, a knowledge that is relevant to the lifeworld and experience of people with Parkinson’s. (…) As a result, dancers open a gateway to qualitative, phenomenological, and hermeneutic approaches to investigate movement disorders, which complements the empirical and quantifiable research of the Cluster of Excellence. (…) To the participants, dancers are not therapists, but artistic partners which enter into a lively dialogue with them. This approach brings the experience of people with Parkinson’s to fruition, which is a crucial dimension of our project.«
In this text, we’ve tried to describe what the dancer Monica Gillette wanted to highlight, first with her partner Mia Haugland Habib in »BrainDance«, and now together with Yasmeen Godder and the Israeli and German dancers of STÖRUNG/הפרעה: the rich knowledge of movement and movement control, which professional dancers collect in the course of their careers, but which mostly remains »silent knowledge« beyond the work of new choreography and creations for the stage. From the beginning of our projects, the experience and the techniques of the dancers were not used for the work of a new production, but rather that this »silent knowledge« could come to the fore and unfold its relevance in the dialogue with scientific research.
The cited text underlines at the end the second aspect which was important for the specific research approach of dance: The dancers met the manifestations of motion disorder with Parkinson‘s disease not as therapists, but as artist. PD, the international current abbreviation for »Parkinson‘s Disease« is translated in our context as »Parkinson‘s Dancer«. This point may seem peripheral, nevertheless, it is elementary. It required, for example, that the dancers meet people with Parkinson‘s as equal partners who are deliberately never named in our context as »patients.« The artistic experience of the dancers and the environmental expertise of the people with Parkinson‘s have in this non-hierarchical research field the same value. Mutual learning is the only relevant manner of learning here. Even if the weekly dancing for people with Parkinson‘s is traditionally called a »dance class«, it is not a matter of teaching somebody something. Of course, dancers at first make a proposal, which comes from the context of their artistic work – in our case, from the vocabulary of contemporary dance. Then, however, what takes place in these »classes« is a movement research generated and developed from common experiences. The fact that this collaboration also causes therapeutic effects for people with Parkinson‘s is a more than pleasing consequence which has occupied us in the discussions with the young scientists over and over again. But it is not what our work aims for primarily when we work as artists. In order to symbolize this, it was important to hold these dance classes at the theatrr or in the museum of modern art.
To make sure and to reflect on the fact that dance here is not used as therapy, but pursues an independent perspective as research, it was important to offer open spaces to the dancers for accompanying movement research for the duration of their work in this project. Here they were able to process the experiences coming out of the classes for people with Parkinson’s and young scientists, and they could work on the leading themes: balance, unison, embodiment, identity, interactivity, intention, freedom, transition. Through the immediate confrontation with scientific methods, something was explored which one could call »physical thinking.« Here everybody could and should take the freedom to cross present borders of their own artistic practice, to venture into unknown terrain and to use inspirations from this project to survey their own methods and approaches. To illustrate this, here‘s a practical example: In the dance classes for people with Parkinson‘s, one could find they are not able to carry out certain movements alone to which they are actually able to do. However, as part of a group in a common movement, they could. Meaning, the dynamism of a uniform group movement enables individuals through a kinetic energy, for example, to overcome blockades or impulse disturbances. For contemporary dancers to whose movement vocabulary »unison« often rarely belongs, this experience raised a series of questions along the spectrum of »emotion« and »motion«. They suggested to examine this dance form more thoroughly and to take into consideration the scientists insights which are carried over from the research of this phenomenon. So the good moments of the project originated questions of research which resulted from the meetings of artistic, scientific and environmental expertise, and were settled in the »in-between« which is brought up in the definitions of the project as inter-disciplinary, inter-field, inter-population and inter-national. Yasmeen Godder and Monica Gillette have named in their conversation for the program book, to what extent the place for this »in-between« space in our project was – the dance studio, in which all participants met over and over again to do research as a dancer and to dance as a researcher.
(translated by Günter Daubenberger and Monica Gillette, quote by Christine Muranyi)