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MIT NEWS, “Janney and Baryshnikov Create Electrocardio-Choreography”

NY TIMES, “DANCE; At 50, Taking the Stage (and a Risk) Alone”


“WHAT IS A HEART?” – Trailer


While a Research Fellow at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies in 1981, Janney began researching heartbeat monitor systems, talking extensively with members of the MIT community. Janney modified a Transkinetics wireless telemetry system and had a custom audio filter built, isolating the sound of the heart’s electrical impulses to the brain and it’s surrounding muscles.


hb-dancer1In 1982, Janney was introduced to choreographer/dancer Sara Rudner, whose fluid polyrhythmic movements he was familiar with from her work with Twyla Tharp Dance. Together, they developed the first performance, utilizing the customized heart monitor, with the focus on exploring the heart as both a machine for pumping blood and the “seat of the soul.” The result of their collaboration—Heartbeat—was first performed in 1983 at The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and was chosen as the “Best in Boston” in dance for that year.

hb-dancer2Since that time, Janney has choreographed the piece with poets, musicians (including saxophonist Stan Strickland), singers and dancers—including Mikhail Baryshnikov, whose world tour of the piece included a performance at New York’s Lincoln Center in 199x.

Heartbeat is now “scored” using a bio-engineering device developed by Philips Medical, Inc. Placed on a performer’s chest and amplified through the use of custom filters and a sound system designed by Janney, this machine provides an unusual percussion track. Layered over this “track” is live vocal music based on jazz scat and Indian tabla rhythms.


Performances: Institute for Contemporary Art, Boston, MA: Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Washington DC; Joyce Theater, New York, NY; Lincoln Center, New York, NY; Mohave Desert, California, City Center, New York, NY

HBeatProject credits: Sara Rudner; StanStrickland; Mikhail Baryshnikov

Project sponsors:
Transkinetics, Inc. BOSE Corporation; Philips HealthCare, Inc.
The Institute for Performance Sculpture, Inc.