Investigations in Microgravity, Kitsou Dubois and Imperial College Biodynamics Group

Kitsou Dubois dancing in zero gravity.
Kitsou Dubois, Microgravity, Gravity Zero, 1999

In this interdisciplinary research collaboration, choreographer Kitsou Dubois worked with Imperial College's Biodynamics Group to investigate the control of movement in weightlessness

Kitsou Dubois has been developing a process of experimental movement performed in an environment of altered gravity conditions. With focused pre-flight training techniques and disciplined dancers, her choreography tames the adrenalin-fed wayward tendencies of bodies in weightlessness and forms them into shapes of apparently effortless beauty.

Between 1999 and 2003, The Arts Catalyst initiated and coordinated a long-term collaboration between Dr Dubois and the Biodynamics research group at Imperial College to investigate the control of the bodies in altered states of gravity, including weightlessness. The group comprised Professor Bob Schroter, Dr Nick Davey, Dr Olga Rutherford, Dr Anthony Bull, Dr Alison McGregor, Dr Steve Rawlinson, Dr Paul Strutton and Dr Alex Nowicky.

The team participated in 7 parabolic 'zero gravity' flights with the European Space Agency in Bordeaux, France, and the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, Russia. Outputs included a series of video installations, performances and demonstrations, as well as masterclasses, and a scientific paper.

Artistic & Scientific Investigations on Zero Gravity Flights,  Russia and France, 2000 - 2003

In September 2000, Dubois and her dancers took part in a parabolic ‘zero gravity’ flight arranged by The Arts Catalyst Project Atol Flight Operations at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City, Russia.  In this flight, Dubois investigated the ability of her dancers to control defined movements in zero gravity.

In March 2002 and April 2003, the group participated in two ESA parabolic flight campaigns in Bordeaux. In these flights, Dr Nick Davey led a neurophysiological study aimed at understanding the corticospinal control of movement in varying gravitational conditions. Dubois was investigation collaborator as well as one of the subjects. More details of the experiment are outlined below under Scientific Investigation .

Alongside this work, Dubois trained 3 other dancers - Mathurin Bolze, Jörg Müller and Laura de Nercy - for work in parabolic flight and in 2000 the company participated in a parabolic flight organised specifically for her research by Arts Catalyst and Projekt Atol Flight Operations at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, Star City, Russia, in which she had the freedom to use most of the entire aircraft interior as a studio/stage for pure complex movement research during 10 parabolas.

During her work with Arts Catalyst, Dubois produced a 4-screen video installation Gravity Zero and a new film Trajectoire Fluide, and then further films and installations using the footage and research from the flight, in collaboration with video artist Eric Duranteau.

Artistic Outputs & Public Presentations

Gravity Zero, Lux Gallery, 1999

In 1999, The Arts Catalyst and Lux presented a new multi-screen video installation commissioned from Dubois: ‘Gravity Zero’ at the Lux Gallery.

Altered States of Gravity, Imperial College Gallery, 2000

In 2000, in London, we commissioned and presented a video installation of Dubois and the Imperial Group’s work, Altered States of Gravity for the “Creating Sparks” festival.

Trajectoire Fluide & Fille Air – film & installation, 2002 - 3

In April 2002, Dubois premiered her new video 'Trajectoire Fluide’ made in collaboration with Eric Duranteau. It was accompanied by talks by Dubois and Professor Robert Shroter and a demonstration of TMS by Dr Nick Davey.

Trajectoire Fluide was re-made as a video installation and shown in France during in 2002. From October - December 2003, the new installation 'Fille-Air' was shown at the La Maison de la Photographie, Paris, and in 2003, Dubois made the performance 'Trajectoire Fluide' at La Villette, Paris

Scientific Investigation

The team set out to investigate how the nervous system controls the subtle process of adjusting posture. And whether people who
are very good at moving their bodies, like dancers, have a better developed control system.

In the first investigation, led by neuroscientist Dr Nick Davey, the team wished to find out how it is that the back muscles contract to counter arm movements on the opposite side. Is this controlled by the brain in a coordinated way – does the brain switch on the pathways to the left back at the same time as those to the right arm? Or is it a reflex response? The team measured how active different muscles were at different times by recording electricity or electromyography (EMG) produced by the muscles, and how active the pathway from the brain was, for which transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was used. With TMS, magnetic pulses stimulate those nerves in the brain that project to back muscles, enabling the team to investigate how the responses in the back muscles to TMS change when the arm is extended.

Gravity’s action on the body brings into play balance organs in the ear as well as touch and stretch sensitive organs in the skin, joints and muscles, which can confuse the results, so the team wished to perform the experiment in zero gravity. The team applied to and was accepted for participation in the European Space Agency’s 32nd and 34th ESA parabolic campaigns in 2002 and 2003. They found, both on the ground and in zero gravity, that the back muscles were turned on when the arm was extended and that the pathways from the voluntary control areas of the brain were more active when this happened. This told them, overall, that the drive to the back muscles is stronger when the opposite arm is extended and that it is the brain’s voluntary control areas that control the stabilisation mechanism. The team concluded that the sense organs in the skin, joints and muscles were not heavily
involved and that the stabilisation of the body during arm extension was not simply a reflex response.

Another interesting result was the response of the body’s muscle to removing gravity. Rather than relaxing in weightlessness, as one might expect, the muscles of the back in fact became more active regardless of the position of the opposite arm. In other words the spine became more inflexible in zero gravity rather than the more flexible state it is in on the
ground. The team thinks that this process enables the body to orientate itself more easily when its gravitational point of reference is removed.

Scientific Paper

In April 2004, the scientific paper 'Human corticospinal excitability in microgravity and hypergravity during parabolic flight', written by the group, was published in Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine 2004 Apr;75(4):359-63.


The project was commissioned and organised by The Arts Catalyst, and funded by Wellcome SciArt Funds and Arts Council England, and supported by the European Space Agency.