And machine makes two

Huang Yi & Kuka (Brisbane Powerhouse in association with Seymour Centre)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

February 18 – 20

See the line between humanity and robots blur as a dancer transfers his human qualities to his robot… “Huang Yi & Kuka” is as remarkable in reality as it reads in writing. The work is flawless in its poetry, intertwining dance, mechanical engineering and robotics, often to the silence of an awed audience (the type so absolute that you can hear the vibration of silenced phones in pockets).

As the show starts to the simple sounds of piano, Huang Yi and an industrial robot from the Taiwanese company KUKA move alongside each other. As classical music crescendos as they merge together, it is easy to forget that there are not two humans on stage, so fluid, humanlike and precise are the machine’s movements, especially when moving a laser with and around Huang Yi.

This is a very cool show… not cool is a gushy fangirl way but cool in astonishment at the cleverness and inventiveness to contemplate and then execute its premise. And it is easy to appreciate the commitment of its development (for every minute of KUKA’s movement, Huang Yi spent ten hours programming it). Movement is impressively synchronised down to the finest of details of mimicry and response, which serves to showcase the essential emotions of the show’s series of vignettes.

robot 2

The work’s final scene, although disjointed from the others, sees two other dancers, Hu Chien and Lin Jou-Wen face each other, raising and lowering their arms in jittery slow motion as Kuka shines a red laser beam on them, seemingly controlling their limbs as they embrace and part, moving like marionettes. And in their scenes, Huang Yi and Kuka are equally lithe, conversing a tender tale as they communicate and interact with gestures, looks and touches. Indeed, intimacy abounds, particularly in its cello segment duet of human and robot.

robot

From its opening number in which man and robot dance in parallel, lighting is impressive in both highlight and shadows. The work allows multiple interpretations; without words, it is left to audiences create their own narrative from the clues of Huang Yi’s aging movements and an old-fashioned mechanical metronome that ticks as the sole sound until stopped by the bereaved robot’s outreach (its movement is that defined). The result is at times one of gentle sadness, but sadness tempered with touches of humour. Indeed, there is an essential beauty to the work that ultimately leaves audiences with a rewarding sense of joy.

As a collaboration of modern dance, multimedia and mechanical engineering, “Huang Yi & Kuka” is a unique and moving choreographic creation: full of tragedy, joy and contemplation of humanity, the relationship between humans and machines and our connectedness to the technological world. Brisbane audiences should feel privileged for opportunity of its experience.

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