Technology is quickly catching up to the capabilities of humans and in some instances surpassing us. For many, technology is something that was introduced during their lifetime and for others it has always been there. 40 plus years ago the concept of robots like C-3PO (a droid programmed for etiquette and protocol in the Star Wars films) was merely an idea, but today it is quickly becoming a reality. We are developing, building, and replacing ourselves with technology at a rapid rate. We are at a point where our civilization is so dependent on technology that we become crippled without it. It is this reality, or as she says “Life,” that inspired Spanish born choreographer, dancer, and filmmaker, Blanca Li, to create her latest production ROBOT.
Written by The BASTARD Child
Photographed by Idris + Tony
“We are creating these machines and the newborn are immediately adapting to this world where machines are part of their natural life.”
The question: “How would it be if these machines had a personality, could they be dancers, singers in a show?” that called Li to begin her research to find out how to incorporate technology into her latest production. Her research brought her to Japan in search of those working in robotics. While there she met Maywa Denki, the artist who created the 7 members of the robotic orchestra. She was inspired by the individuality of these sculptures. They were “not only technological, but poetic, beautiful and fun.” It was exactly what Li was looking for so she turned to her long time collaborator, composer Tao Gutierrez, to write the music that each robot would play live during the show.
“Technology gives us the freedom to do so many things, but at the same time it is controlling us.”
As the musical aspect of the show concept was developing the question as to whether robots could be dancers was still unanswered. The robots that she had seen while in Japan were too big and heavy to move in a way she felt would not bore the audience. On the verge of compromise, she returned to Paris and found a start-up company that was manufacturing a family of companion robots. NAO, as they are called, is a two-foot tall, cute and loveable robot created by Aldebaran Robotics that was built to be a companion, and entertainer. NAO is used to assist the elderly and as a therapy tool for autistic children by moving, recognizing, hearing and talking. NAO is intended to be a friendly companion much like C-3PO.
“We have a brain. We find the balance alone. The robots you have to find the balance for.”
After a long audition process, pushing the NAO to its fullest potential as a dancer, Li decided to cast seven of the robots in her production. She pulled together her trusted team of dancers and technicians along side the robotic musicians and entertainers to begin the laborious rehearsal process. Together they spent day and night in the same studio for 3 months facing challenge after challenge often times making Li seriously ask herself “Why did I do this?” The robots dependency on a connection to wi-fi makes them unreliable as a performer in a live show, which requires a more demanding role from the humans performing with them to create a seamless performance. The most challenging aspect Li explains was giving the robots a personality through the choreography since the robots had limited flexibility and balance. She describes the process as animation. Every movement the robots performed had to be configured and corrected in a very precise way so that they didn’t lose balance and fall over. It was precisely this strenuous process that helped Li rediscover how “fantastic and rich” the human body is.
It has taken nearly three years for Li to answer her initial question. Performing to audiences around the world she has remarkably accomplished the “sense” that she set out to tell in order to express human’s relationship with the machines and she succeeds in giving these robots a real personality through the language of dance. The show can currently be seen at BAM until the 14th of June.