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Super Nature: The Empathy of Performance

a deep sigh a sleepy yawn a quick breath a playful smile Much as language can elicit empathic responses, so too (if not more intensely), performers can move an audience. After the BodyCartography Project‘s intimate interactions in their installation in the Walker galleries last spring, the Minneapolis-based duo has extended those engagements into the upcoming […]

a deep sigh

a sleepy yawn

a quick breath

a playful smile

Much as language can elicit empathic responses, so too (if not more intensely), performers can move an audience. After the BodyCartography Project‘s intimate interactions in their installation in the Walker galleries last spring, the Minneapolis-based duo has extended those engagements into the upcoming performance (by the same name) Super Nature. By re-investigating the age-old question “How can performers affect an audience?” BodyCartography’s Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad scrutinize traditional assumptions about dramatic and aesthetic forms and boldly invent techniques for connecting audiences with performers. During the installation, a performer and an audience member were invited to engage and interact (nonverbally) in a darkened room for ten minutes. The goal? To train both dancers and audiences to think differently about social relations and embodied experience.

Sourcing insights from the installation, the performance Super Nature shares many of the same investigations but drastically shifts the audience-performer equation. Through effortless, natural, and instinctive movements, Super Nature aims to destroy the invisible walls between the spectator and the performer and encourages each to empathize with each other. Dancers in the performance include Justin Jones, Timmy Wagner, Emily Johnson, Anna Shogren, Otto Ramstad, Eneka Bordato Riano, and Francesca Mattavelli. Although audiences will remain seated during the performance, the BodyCartography Project asks us to “dance with them” and experience their movements through our visceral and perceptual senses. This participation in full engagement will surely question our trained ways of being and will hopefully inspire new ways of living as humans!

Super Nature Rehearsal

Similar to the 2010 performance The Artist is Present, Super Nature intentionally depresses verbal and analytical behaviors and taps into the impulsive, kinesthetic, and emotional senses. On the power of empathy in dance, Ramstad explains, “It’s also very much about empathy, giving and receiving it, exploring when and why we feel it. Dance is an empathy machine. It’s really good at projecting that, both between the dancers and between them and their audience. When you watch discomfort, you feel it, too.”

Here’s an audio interview between Bieringa, Ramstad, and dancer Justin Jones that discusses empathy, Super Nature, and dance performance itself.

The BodyCartography Project, with musician Zeena Parkins and visual artist Emmett Ramstad, will premiere Super Nature on October 25, 26, and 27 in the McGuire Theater.

For further work utilizing sensory perceptions, empathy, and social relations, check out: Megan Daalder, Lucky Dragons, Krystal Krunch, and Frans de Waal.