27. May 2022

Something in the Way You Move

Fredrik Ullén, Julia F. Christensen, Luisa Sancho Escanero, Emily Cross, Rebecca Smith and Vincenzo Minervini applaud.

The organizers were delighted with the success of the event. (f.l.t.r.: Fredrik Ullén, Julia F. Christensen, Luisa Sancho Escanero, Emily Cross, Rebecca Smith, Vincenzo Minervini). (Picture: MPI for Empirical Aesthetics/F. Bernoully)

On Wednesday, May 25, the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (MPIEA) presented Something in the Way You Move. Conceived and organized by Julia F. Christensen (Department of Music), and Fredrik Ullén, Director of the Department of Cognitive Neuropsychology, the hybrid event combined lectures, performances, a scientific experiment, and public outreach.

Around 80 audience members attended the event, both on-site in the MPIEA’s ArtLab Foyer and online via livestream, kicking off the evening by taking part in a globally unique experiment on dance perception.

The experiment involved presenting a choreographically consistent performance by dancer Vincenzo Minervini, of the Staatstheater Kassel, in six different ways: Twice live on stage, twice as an avatar on a screen, and twice as a pre-recorded video sequence. After each performance sequence, the audience were given a questionnaire to provide their ratings.

When the data collection was complete, Luisa Sancho Escanero, Artistic Director of the Pfalztheater Kaiserslautern, and Emily Cross, Professor of Human Neuroscience, University of Glasgow, each gave a short lecture, introducing the audience to the significance of expressivity—a factor in dance performances that involves the power of articulating emotion, on the part of both performers and audience.

Meanwhile, during the lectures, some serious investigative work was afoot backstage, as MPIEA researchers Eva Schmidt and Marco Münzberg evaluated the audience’s responses to the questionnaire.

At the end of the evening, the experiment came full circle when Julia F. Christensen explained the research hypotheses on which the audience survey was based and conducted a live comparison with the empirical findings, to the astonishment of the audience. Contrary to the original assumption, both the online audience and the on-site audience equally liked the performances. When it came to the dance video and live dance, however, the live performance was clearly favored. And the human dance performance was the audience’s clear favorite in the comparison between human dancer and avatar.

The core hypothesis of the study, which, centered on the factor of expressivity, was presented at the end; and the survey appeared to clearly prove the value of this aesthetic variable: The expressively danced sequences were rated significantly higher by the audience than the less expressive ones—to the great delight of the scientists responsible for the evening’s program, all of whom share the notable distinction of being both scientist and trained dancer or musician.


Julia F. Christensen
Fredrik Ullén