Wed, May 02, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Humanoids have humans beat in ‘Robot’

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

The Blanca Li Dance Company delighted audiences with Robot at the Dadong Arts Center in Kaohsiung last weekend as part of the Kaohsiung Spring Art Festival.

Photo courtesy of Laurent Philippe

Spanish choreographer Blanca Li’s Robot reminded me of a Pixar film: ostensibly aimed at children, there are enough gags and wordplay to keep adults entertained.

The Blanca Li Dance Company gave two performances last weekend of her 2013 production at the Dadong Arts Center for the Kaohsiung Spring Arts Festival, and Saturday’s night’s audience — from the youngest to the oldest — were clearly captivated.

However, as talented and wonderful as her eight dancers are, and they are very, very good, they did not stand a chance once the tiny NAO robots by Aldebaran Robotics and other mechanized objects took the stage, beginning with the moving trash can with clanging lid that trails Yacnoy Abreu Alfonso as he sweeps the stage with a large broom.

The show opens with Gael Rougegrez immobile at center stage as a series of computer-mapping images cover his body with everything from anatomical detail to outlines of famous movie creations such as Maria’s double from 1927’s Metropolis and Star Wars’ C-3PO, to the point where a viewer is not sure if it is really a person standing there.

A horizontal line of minimally-clad dancers appear, bending and folding their bodies, manipulating their legs and other limbs into positions as if they were clay figurines for a stop-motion film, a reflection of the work that Li and her team went through in teaching the NAO robots to dance.

Instruments created by Nobumichi Tosa’s Maywa Denki then take center stage, each one given a solo to highlight its talents, including the two flower-shaped xylophones, with petals that slowly furl and unfurl.

However, it is the introduction of the first of the NAOs that really captured viewers’ hearts. Rougegrez helps the first of the tiny creatures out of its carrying case, holding its upraised arms much like a parent helping their baby with its first steps.

SOMETHING NAO

The robot’s head follows Rougegrez’s every step, every gesture, as he begins to teach it how to move, a lesson that ends with a sweeping pas de deux that ballet lovers could discern fragments from Giselle or Swan Lake.

While that first dance lesson was a success, the other four NAOs did not all fare as well, frequently tipping over and having to right themselves. One could not, requiring a technician to carry it off and bring in a replacement.

Each fall brought audible gasps, each righting drew delighted laughs.

Younger audience members also responded with shrieks of delight to a bit where Yann Herve, wearing an antenna headpiece, is controlled by a shouting Yui Sugano armed with a giant remote-control handset.

A sequence with a sequined-clothed and feather boa-bedecked NAO crooning Besame Mucho (sung by Li) to a chorus line of four women proved another hit.

The contrast of the dancers’ trained and toned bodies to the robots was again highlighted in a scene where dancers, back in their briefs, are connected to wires hanging down from above, fluidly moving together and individually.

The show, which also included exquisite dancing by Remi Bernard, Iris Florentiny, Africa Manso Asensio and Margalida Riera Roig, finishes with a clutter of mechanical debris strewn around the stage, and the NAOs sitting around, as a Romba vacuum-cleaner toils across the front, a reminder that human or robot, all is just dust in the end.

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