Journey to Geneva: NobleMotion Explores the Intersection of Art, Neuroscience and AI

“What gets me excited is collaborating and conversations—being challenged, being pushed, and being in the room with people with skills I don’t have,” says Andy Noble, co-artistic director of Noblemotion Dance (NMD). This spirit of collaboration defines NMD’s work Meeting of Minds, which was presented in May at the United Nations’ “AI for Good” Global Summit in Geneva, Switzerland.

The premiere of Meeting of Minds at the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston (MATCH) in January played to sold-out audiences. The project is a unique amalgamation of dance, music, neuroscience and artificial intelligence (AI), created in collaboration with composer Anthony Brandt, Musiqa musicians, projection artist Badie Khaleghian, and neuro-engineers from the University of Houston’s BRAIN Center, led by Dr. Jose Contreras-Vidal.

Meeting of Minds is part artistic performance and part scientific experiment. Dancers perform while wearing mobile brain-body imaging (MoBI) technology that records their brain activity (EEG), eye movements (EOG), and head motion.

Divided into ten sections, the 35-minute work delves into the complexities of building social connections. It begins with the two dancers isolated from each other, their initial encounter marked by conflict and discord. As the dance progresses, they navigate through their differences. The dancers’ movements evolve from highly contrasting to synchronized, with later sections emphasizing eye contact, touch, and unison movement. The soundscape of prerecorded and live music shifts from dissonant to harmonious, mirroring the duo’s’ journey.

Throughout the performance, the dancers’ brainwaves are monitored, providing data on the neural synchrony of the performers. AI programs developed in Contreras-Vidal’s lab play a crucial role in analyzing and cleaning up the data instantaneously, removing artifacts and allowing for accurate visualizations. A visual brain-computer interface translates the live data into projections, designed by Badie Khaleghian, that create alter egos of the dancers that glow brighter as the dancers’ brains sync up. This tangible representation of their neural connection, which Noble says the team coined the “brain synchrony meter,” allows the audience to observe the dancers’ neural activities in real time, creating a unique and immersive experience.

“So much of art-making is saying yes to opportunities presenting themselves,” says Noble, who recalls that he and co-artistic director Dionne Noble’s journey into neuroscience came from a conversation over dinner with Brandt. This led initially to NobleMotion’s work Livewire, which debuted in Houston and was reprised at the International Workshop on the Neural and Social Bases of Creative Movement at Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in Virginia in 2022. Inspired by neuroscientist David Eagleman’s book of the same name, the piece explored five different ways our brains function and captured data for BRAIN Center research on the brain’s adaptability and synchronization during creative processes.

In his “Science Worth Dancing About” TEDx presentation at Sam Houston State University, which included a sneak peek of the choreography, music and early projections for Meeting of Minds, Noble asked the audience to consider: If dance is built into our DNA to help brain development as studies suggest, shouldn’t we acknowledging that?

“If we can identify ways to create greater harmony through the study of brain synchrony in dance, imagine the benefits it could bring to fields like sports, the military and education,” Noble suggests, adding what most in dance already suspect but science may one day back up: “If everyone danced a little more, there would be a lot less dissonance in the world.”

While the data analysis is ongoing and the full impact of the team’s research may yet be unknown, sharing their cutting-edge work on an international stage with half a million viewers streaming is an exciting opportunity. By bringing Meeting of Minds to the The “AI for Good” Global Summit’s table to demonstrate how AI can intersect with the arts to foster understanding and collaboration, NobleMotion ensures dance is not only acknowledged and part of important conversations but hopefully part of necessary solutions as well.

“My work helps me understand myself and the world around me,” Noble emphasizes, “but I also want to leave something behind. I want to make the world a better place in some way.”

Looking ahead, NMD has an exciting lineup of projects and performances. In August, they will present Stalactites at MATCH, a metaphorical exploration of caves with innovative lighting designs and climbing structures, created in collaboration with Bryan Ealey and Travis Lake. They will also host a summer intensive program and showcase NMD2’s latest works. Plus, as NobleMotion Dance continues at the forefront of innovative performance and research, Noble promises “phase three” of the company’s collaborative research on brain synchrony will include a study of improvisation and the potential for creating alpha waves through dance.