Martha Jungwirth, Ohne Titel, 2001
Aquarell auf handgeschöpftem Papier, 106 x 71,5 cm
Foto: Studio Weber, Klaus-Dieter Weber (Ressler Kunst Auktionen GmbH)
© Martha Jungwirth/Bildrecht, Wien 2023

‘It might be that when you feel that you’re making a decision, it’s just an illusion.’

This piece is an experiment, conducted anew in every performance. It revolves around the human brain and its relationship with the body. The audience is an essential part of the experiment, because its members are invited not only to watch the dancers but also to find their own groove, to participate from their seats as an active part of a collective system, and to feel the sensation of belonging to a vast hive brain.

Spiegelneuronen (Mirror Neurons) marks the first joint project between Sasha Waltz & Guests and the documentary theatre group Rimini Protokoll. Following on from Andrew Schneider’s remains in 2020, this project continues the dance company’s openness to new styles as well as its commitment to broaden its repertory through artistic exploration and interdisciplinary cooperation with international artists. The collectives come from markedly different artistic directions, but are equally interested in the unconventional use of space and in interdisciplinary work. In this first collaboration, Stefan Kaegi will join forces with both the dancers from Sasha Waltz & Guests and the audience for an exploration of the relationship between the individual and society, conducted through the medium of dance in front of a large mirror.

Mirrors have a long tradition in ballet rehearsal rooms. Historically, their function was mainly prescriptive, serving to perfect the corps de ballet: a synchronized throng of dancers disciplined and drilled into one big organism. It’s no wonder that the mirror experienced a loss of status amid the growing focus on the individual and the rise of subjective freedom in modern and contemporary dance. This documentary dance performance now turns the mirror back onto the members of the audience and includes them in the experiment as a subject of observation.

For the purposes of this performance, a mirror will be installed where the stage usually is. It will not only reflect the dancers but also the entire seating area and the audience, like a giant selfie. The auditorium is therefore where the action happens, recalling the acts of performance art created by Dan Graham in the 1970s. Through its interaction with the dancers, the audience itself is brought to the forefront of the choreographed movement and caught up in the process of ‘embodying’ complex images.

Neuroscientists believe that our nervous system is not centrally controlled but that different areas of the brain are in constant communication with each other, comparable to the non-linear and decentralized algorithms operating within a computer system, which respond to changing context while collecting and processing information. How exactly this happens remains a matter of speculation, even for science. New mechanisms are constantly being discovered, such as mirror neurons in the early 1990s. These neurons cause a similar pattern of brain stimulation regardless of whether we perform an action ourselves or observe the same action done by another person. Although difficult to identify in humans, mirror neurons could be a key to explaining empathy and mutual understanding.

The documentary research for this dance performance draws on concepts from the fields of neuroscience, biology, sociology and artificial intelligence. These will not only be heard and reflected upon, but also experienced and related to. Perhaps the audience will even anticipate or try to evade them. All this takes place as a tangible feeling coursing through one’s own body, bringing audience members together as one big community. The spectators will observe the experiment from a central vantage point, as they watch themselves and the performers via the mirror.

By channelling pulses of movement, a large group of people sat together can become networked in a model-like approximation of the brain. This dynamic tableau is accompanied by a specially composed musical arrangement featuring audio recordings of cognitive researchers. The audience will per-ceive the scenery becoming intertwined with their thoughts, illustrating or counteracting them, completing or refuting them. With varying reactions each night, no two performances are the same.

Translation: Sebastian Smallshaw

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5. February 2024
Spiegelneuronen | Salzburg Festival 2024 – Statement Stefan Kaegi

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