Recording audience brain activity during live dance performance

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Artists and scientists exploring what makes live experiences special for audiences and performers are staging the first of four dance performances that double as neuroscience studies.

Image shows two dancers, one in a lime green suit standing, one in a darker green suit kneeling on one leg, closer to camera

Steph McMann and Seke Chimutengwende, Detective Work - photo by Hugo Glendinning

From 11-13 November 2021 NEUROLIVE presents Detective Work, a new contemporary dance duet by choreographer and dancer Seke Chimutengwende in collaboration with dance artist Steph McMann.

Detective Work audiences are invited to wear mobile electroencephalogram (EEG) measurement devices to record their brain activity during the show at Siobhan Davies Studios in south London.

In what is to be a world first, EEGs from over 20 audience members will be recorded simultaneously in a live performance context, with the collected data feeding into research on the experience of ‘liveness’. 

NEUROLIVE is a 5-year £1.6m European Research Council funded interdisciplinary project led by Goldsmiths, University of London cognitive neuroscientist and professional dancer Dr Guido Orgs and choreographer and performer Matthias Sperling. 

Over five years, the NEUROLIVE research team will explore how liveness is generated and experienced by studying the minds, brains and bodies of performers and spectators during the experience of newly-created live events. 

With performances around the world moving online during the Covid-19 pandemic, the NEUROLIVE project explores what is missing when live experiences such as dance and theatre performances or music concerts cannot happen, combining the latest neuroscience methods with artistic research and performance making. 

The first commissioned performance of NEUROLIVE, Detective Work, explores choreography as a process of creating and solving mysteries. The performance is a web of fragmented scenes and dances that occur and reoccur in ever-changing ways. Working in counterpoint to one another, the performers come at the material from every angle, rearranging ‘evidence’ in different configurations. 

Detective Work channels the sense that there are many possible outcomes to any single process. Shifting between the absurd, the melancholic and the uncanny, it invites the audience into a place of constant questioning that ultimately feels hopeful. In a time of great uncertainty, Detective Work looks to mystery as an antidote to despair. 

The NEUROLIVE team includes Co-Investigators Dr Jamie Ward, expert in wearable sensor technologies from the Department of Computing at Goldsmiths, and social psychologist Professor Daniel Richardson from the Department of Experimental Psychology, UCL. Research partners are south London dance organisation Siobhan Davies Studios and the Max Planck Insitute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany.

Dr Guido Orgs, Reader in Psychology and Co-director of the MSc Psychology of the Arts, Neuroaesthetics and Creativity at Goldsmiths and Matthias Sperling, Artistic Director of NEUROLIVE, said:

“The NEUROLIVE project studies how fundamental liveness is in dance, and shines a light on the importance of genuine ‘live’ encounters with other people as opposed to virtually or online. The isolation brought about by the pandemic has highlighted what we miss when live theatre, dance and music experiences cannot happen. 

“It has also highlighted that the work of performing artists and performing arts organisations, many of whom are experiencing acute economic precarity, is not celebrated and valued enough. The live performing arts make vital contributions that need to be better understood and more sustainably supported in our society. 

“NEUROLIVE aims to highlight the incredibly sophisticated, insightful and varied ways in which performance-makers engage with live audiences. While NEUROLIVE’s research focus on liveness was conceived before the pandemic, these issues have only grown in importance and urgency over the last couple of years.”

 “At the core of NEUROLIVE’s approach is a strong emphasis on artists and scientists as equal research partners. Together we explore the nature of live experiences from our distinct, yet complementary viewpoints and use our unique skill sets and research methods in the process. We see this collaborative approach as ground-breaking in the way that it foregrounds artistic practice not as the object of scientific research, but as a knowledge-rich form of research in itself. 

“Seke Chimutengwende and Steph McMann’s newly created Detective Work is absolutely brimming with this artistry and will be a real treat for audiences. We are thrilled to be working with these fantastic artists and their collaborators, and we are so excited for audiences to join us and be part of the world-first that these performances will represent." 

The performances of Detective Work are both artistic events and a scientific research process. Audiences are invited to participate by purchasing either a Performance Ticket where they will attend the performance without wearing any measurement devices, or a Performance Ticket + EEG Participation where they will wear an EEG device which measures brain activity, and a breath band which measures breathing throughout the performance. Tickets cost £10 or £7.50 for concessions. 

Neurolive Performance 1 – Detective Work runs at Siobhan Davies Studios, Siobhan Davies Studios, 85 St George’s Road, Elephant and Castle, London SE1 6ER. Booked arrival times are available from 6pm, with the performance at 7:30pm. Approximate end time is 9pm. 

Details, including information on what EEG participation involves, and ticket booking can be found at:

Detective Work trailer by NEUROLIVE