Working through visual analysis

When it comes to examining movement there are many different methods. Photographs can reveal details of the body that the eye might miss, with slow frame motion capture demonstrating both the aesthetic qualities of the performing body as well as the positioning of, and shapes created by the body as it moves. Video analysis will help to examine how a movement is created, making apparent some of the differences between what is felt and what actually occurs in the moment of a performance. And drawings can provide new and additional information, making visible different angles and shapes of the body, different forces and directions.

However, how these images are analysed and made sense of becomes problematic. This is partly because each performer and performance is inherently different, which means that each attempt at gathering data requires a certain level of flexibility. It is perhaps useful when it comes to collecting, organising and processing research data to view the process as a ‘semi-structured’ interview, where new information is created between the body of the performer and the body of the observer/researcher. Where the medium through which the data is collected is constant, but where the pathways through which it is collected may change direction, alter and diverge. And where, eventually, data will need to be re-read and re-examined using a framework that enables information to be organised, compared and contrasted to existing data and re-contextualised in an effective way.
As previously mentioned, whilst this might offer a useful analytical structure for this type of data, certain information contained within a performance will invariably be lost in translation. Yet, as with interviews, the information translated from the stage to the page via visual media provides a range of data that can be re-visited and re-examined once it has been formally organised.

In some circumstances visual work may stand alone to be examined and discussed as a means to better understand its content, in others visual images and themes within them might be placed in a different order to develop a useful taxonomy of different visual categories. However it can be difficult to compare and contrast drawings made on separate pages, particularly if the medium through which data has been collected is very different. Cut and paste options help to map narratives, explore interpretations and make comparisons between different physical qualities of a character or movement; a bricolage-type approach that may also help to provide a multi-view perspective of a single moment within a performance. However, documentation of original data is required which means re-formatting via a cut and paste method isn’t always practical. Digital editing offers a partial solution. This enables the reorganisation of information without effecting the original image, but also enables small changes to be made to the visual data so that different elements within the image might be made more or less visible.

Using iPhoto images created during both the drawing and re-drawing stages of my research were edited. Figure 1. shows an original drawing (left) of dancers from Sleeping Beauty (Sadlers Wells. 2016) as they perform a waltz alongside the following two digital edits (right) of this drawing.
Increasing the brightness and contrast of my image in incremental stages, gave the bold marks, representing the movement of the main dance couple, priority, the thinner marks, representing the larger group of dancers, highlighting the direction of and forces involved in their movement. In this sense, the visual images relate to the documentation of a performance that in turn maps the geography of a space, embodying and externalising part of its scenographic composition.

Enhancing the image in this way therefore made it possible to more clearly identify both the different types of movements observed and the way in which these movements created a flow which in turn defined the performance space. Whilst the final edited image on the right confirmed the differences I had identified between the sharp, angular and straight lines of the movement and the flowing rhythms of the other dancers, it also revealed moments in which the curving lines created by the bodies of the two lead dancers pick up the main flow and rhythms of the group. These moments occurred more frequently at the bottom of the page, the area nearest to the audience. Whilst this is only an example, there is perhaps more to be done in examining how manual tracings could be examined alongside digital tracings.

Figure 1: Waltz – edited drawing.








However, as with interviews, the dialogue between one person and another is key and for further analysis ‘follow up’ drawings of the same performers and the same performance might be particularly valuable when looking to validate research data.

It is possible that the application of editing in this way can make clearer the gaps between one quality of a movement and another, between one sequence of actions and another, and between the angles or shapes of multiple performing bodies. Acting as a means to break up the sequence of movements in new and different ways and to reveal anomalies that highlight something previously unnoticed within the dialogue between the performer and the observer/researcher.

'There are times when the simple dignity of movement can fulfill the function of a volume of words.' - Doris Humphrey.