Wed, Jun 24, 2015 - Page 11 News List

Dancing at technology’s edge

As a youngster, Huang Yi dreamed about having a robot companion. Now he has one as a dance partner and creative muse

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Dancers Hu Chien and Lin Jou-wen will perform alongside choreographer Huang Yi and an industrial robot in Huang Yi & KUKA at the Cloud Gate Theater in Tamsui, New Taipei City, this weekend.

Photo courtesy of Jacob Blinkenstaff

Dancer/choreographer Huang Yi (黃翊) had not yet been born when the Jackson 5 popularized “The Robot” dance with their 1973 Dancing Machine, which inspired youngsters around the world to dance like clunky robots (few ever achieved Michael Jackson’s smoothness of style). However, years later as a youngster growing up in Taiwan, Huang dreamed not only of having a robot as a friend, but dancing with one.

As an adult, he is living out that childhood fantasy, spending hours — hundreds of hours — with an industrial robot that has been both his muse and a dance partner — and is as graceful as he is.

The fruits of those long hours of programming will be on display this weekend, when Huang Yi Studio + presents Huang Yi & KUKA (黃翊與庫卡) at the Cloud Gate Theater in New Taipei City’s Tamsui District (淡水).

The show is the culmination of a project that Huang began in 2010, which led to a 20-minute duet that he and KUKA performed at the 2013 Ars Electronica in Austria and was then helped enormously by a three-month artistic residency at the 3-Legged Dog Art & Technology Center (3LD) in New York City that he and two dancers, Hu Chien (胡鑑) and Lin Jou-wen (林柔雯), began late last year.

However, Huang’s obsession with the intersection of technology and dance began years before, while he was still a student at the Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA, 國立臺北藝術大學).

The school’s dance department is justly proud of Huang, with the teachers noting that he was one of the first to go through the university’s seven-year high school-college program, not to mention the masters’ of fine arts he earned a few years later.

“I’m a pure [TNUA] product,” he joked in a telephone interview on Sunday.

DANCING WITH ROBOTS

Huang used computer programming and other technology in several of his earlier works that he did either on his own or for Cloud Gate 2 (雲門2), including Symphony Project I Violin (機械提琴—交響樂計畫之一), which paired dancers with computer-played violins and won him a Digital Art Performance Award at the Digital Art Festival Taipei, and his Spin series, where he had dancers interacting with and dancing around a video camera mounted on a long crane arm.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門) founder and artistic director Lin Hwai-min (林懷民) famously labeled Huang an enfant terrible, although Lin bemoaned his love of technology.

However, thanks to those earlier shows, he was not dismissed out of hand when he contacted Ausberg, Germany-based KUKA AG, a maker of industrial robots, in 2010.

“If I had not done anything with technology, I would not have been able to contact them, but I won first prize in Taipei Digital Art Performance, so I had something to show the company,” Huang said.

The company was not sure about his idea of dancing with one of their robots.

“One employee, a Mr. Liao, said that when KUKA is moving, you cannot enter the work area. If you can find a way to dance with KUKA without entering its moving area, then we can loan you a KUKA,” Huang said.

“I could not touch it directly, but I could touch using light … it looks like he is touching me, but he is not,” Huang said.

“The first year I followed the rules,” he added with a laugh.

Huang now longer has to follow those regulations so closely, thanks to sponsorship from the Quanta Arts Foundation (廣藝基金會), which provided him with his own KUKA, although he had to sign a contract that he was responsible for his own safety.

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