An Analysis of Sanddornbalance as performed by Ms. Miyoko Shida

Some of my friends recently pointed me to a video clip, which shows Ms. Miyoko Shida performing a balance performance called Sanddornbalance.
(ここ最近、数人の知人から以下の映像を教えてもらいました。Ms. Miyoko ShidaがSanddornbalanceというバランス芸を披露している映像です。)

They notified me of the clip because I am involved in a research of human skills. They expected me, as a sort of specialist, to tell why her performance impresses us so deeply. To respond to their curiosity, I describe below how I analyze her work.
(知人らがこの映像について教えてくれたのは、私が人間の技能を研究しているからです。そして技能研究の専門家として、映像に捉えられている技について何らかの説明を与えることが期待されました。その期待に応えて、Ms. Miyoko Shidaの技能を分析してみます。)

My explanation is largely based on the pioneering work by V.S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein, who explained neurologically how we find the beauty in the work of art:
V.S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein, The Science of Art: A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience. Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 6, Numbers 6-7, 1999, pp. 15-51(37).

I list up ten reasons why her performance looks beautiful. In what follows, I take the performer’s point of view, not observer’s one, for the sake of clarity and simiplicity.

1. Peak shifting (輪郭の強調)
The lighting outlines the branches she picks up and holds up, helping us to perceive the construction instantaneously. Her costume, the well-fitted to her, emphasizes her body and catches our eyes to track her motions for every inch.

2. Isolation (集中あるいは焦点化)
By inducing observers’ attentions to a particular point, the scene becomes dramatic. The color ‘white’ as shown of the feather is so distinct on the stage. Other elements including her costume are assigned quiet colors and made simple not to catch attentions.

3. Perceptual Grouping ゲシュタルト知覚
The form constructed by those branches looks like a leaf. (Some say it looks like a fish-bone, but it seems to be a leaf to me.) The whole construction looks botanical, in which she looks like a stem when she puts it on her head, a stem leading to the leaf. It is also amazing that what she constructed, i.e., the leaf, consists of branches, the things which normally have leafs as their parts. The reversed relation between the whole and the part somehow stimulates us intellectually.
(何本もの枝を組み合わせて葉の形のようなものができるところが面白さを感じさせます。しかも、枝を組み合わせて、「葉」というもともと枝についているもの — 部分 — を再構成するという「全体と部分の逆転」が見られ、それがまた幻惑的な効果をもたらします。)

4. Contrast 対照
There is a sharp contrast between the feather and the branches supporting it. The feather is light while those branches are heavy. The feather is also short while branches are long. Another contrast can be seen between the big construction and the small woman supporting it.

Let me remind you that the same performance is invented by a man. His performance shows less contrast in terms of the relation between the big and the small.
(SBを編み出したのは男性のようですが、彼のパフォーマンスをみると、「大きい vs. 小さい」といった後者のコントラストはいくらか弱まっているように思います。)

5. Perceptual Problem Solving (問題解決の様子が見えること)
She grabs our attention by forcing us to think what she does next all through her performance. We project ourselves onto her and feel the excitement together. Observers start thinking which one should be picked up next and how to take a balance. Pauses increase a tension and observers are released of it for a while when she has suceeded in picking up and putting it onto the construction while still keeping the balance. This cycle of tension and relax is repeated for a number of times, which excites observers.

6. Generic Viewpoints (観客が慣れ親しんだ角度で見せること)
Concerning the camera work, the TV crews do their job nicely. Each shot is taken from an appropriate angle and helps the viewers to continue looking at her motions without being distracted of the flow. (Well, they cannot eliminate those people in the studio watching her performance. I ignore that part, the idiomatic shots.) No strange angle is employed in depicting her. It is clear what one should perceive for each shot.

7. Visual Metaphors (視覚的メタファー)
What does the construction express? There is a visual metaphor there. The thing constructed with branches and the feather seems to be a leaf and is supported by a woman. The whole message is of nature. Leafs, branches, trees, etc., they are all indicate the nature or our environment. Those branches are however dead. The woman constructs a leaf using those dead branches. It seems to narrate an archetypal story of death and rebirth, where the femaleness plays an important role.

8. Symmetry (対称性)
Symmetry induces a sense of beauty within us. The construction is symmetric, needless to say.

9. balance & harmoney (バランスと調和)
These lie in the core of her performance. She embodies the concept of balance and harmony by showing us the performance. Those properties touche us. The final action, i.e., removing the feather, leads to the destruction of the whole construction. It is shocking, but reminds us of the importance of the balance and harmony.

10. Repetition, rhythm, and orderliness (繰り返し、リズム、秩序)
A sense of rhythm emerges by repeating the same action. Each cycle contains choosing a branch, picking it up, and putting it on the construction while keeping the balance. The exact motion punctuates the time, resulting in a rhythm. Its tempo is slow, but the slowness contributes to tranquility. Repeating the same action with a rhythm leads to an order as observed in the leaf-like form of the construction.

That is all. It is a good exercise to analyze her performance if you would like to deepen your understanding of the work done by Ramachandran and Hirstein. More amazing is how she controls her motions so well, which is of my interest. I hope we can look into that part in future.

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