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Using dance for stroke rehabilitation

by Kelly Stone

An image from the Proximity show. Photo courtesy ADT. Photography © Chris HerzfeldAn image from the Proximity show. Photo courtesy ADT. Photography © Chris Herzfeld.

Susan Hillier takes Joan through balance exercises using the ADT technology.Special effects from the Australian Dance Theatre’s (ADT) international hit show Proximity are being adapted to help in  rehabilitation for people with stroke and brain injury.

School of Health Sciences researcher Associate Professor Susan Hillier (pictured below middle) has joined with Australia’s leading contemporary dance company in ‘Proximity Clinical’ – a research project using Proximity’s video engineering system in a clinical setting at the Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre.

Prof Hillier recently spent a week at Hampstead working with the ADT’s acclaimed artistic director Garry Stewart, ADT dancers and French video engineer Thomas Pachoud. Pachoud conceptualised the Proximity theme of exploring the mind body relationship by manipulating dancers’ images in real time and enhancing a range of large-scale hypnotic and immersive video effects.

Joan, Prof Susan Hillier and Garry Stewart. Photo courtesy ADT.At Hampstead, Pachoud, Stewart and Assoc Prof Hillier were able to use the same technology to provide visual feedback to people with stroke on their posture and movement.

Assoc Prof Hillier says the response from people who took part was extremely positive.

“People who have experienced a catastrophic neurological event like stroke or head injury may be left with a complex set of sensory and movement dysfunctions,” Assoc Prof Hillier says.

“We have evidence that vision is the sense least likely to be impaired post-stroke. So providing visual feedback to patients through this technology might provide a firmer possibility of positive neuroplastic changes, with the patient able to see clearly on screen how they currently move and what simple things they can do to improve their movement.”

Assoc Prof Hillier says she was delighted to be approached for the research by Stewart – an acclaimed choreographer whose stage works for ADT has rapidly grown the Adelaide-based company’s significant international reputation.

Stewart, who spent time as an Artist in Residence at Deakin University, says he wanted to find a way to take the special effects from his show and turn them into a tool for rehabilitation.

“An initial comment made by a choreographer to me while I was at Deakin University about stroke was like a light bulb going off in my head,” Stewart says.

“I knew Professor Ian Gibbons from Flinders Medical Centre and he told me Susan Hillier was absolutely the person to speak to. Susan came out and saw the special effects, we did some initial work with a couple of patients and then she managed to get a little bit of funding to get Thomas out from Paris.

“This week (at Hampstead) has been incredibly rewarding and the feedback has been great.

“Rehabilitation must be gruelling in so many ways. I thought it would be really great to be able to break up that routine for patients into something that’s a bit more fun and aesthetic.”

Stewart says the ultimate outcome will be to develop a prototype interface with a control unit that physiotherapists can easily use with their patients.

“It’s a privilege for us at ADT to feel that we might be able to create something to help people in the real world, outside of theatre production, that had its origins in a creative project,” he says.

Assoc Prof Hillier says the prototype will be delivered on laptop and iPad in a form that can continue to undergo trials and be used to seek funding for second stage development.

Note: There is a public version of Proximity Interactive on now at the Artspace Gallery until August 24 – go to ADT’s Moving Image exhibition for more information.