Huang Yi and Kuka
3LD Art & Technology Center
February 12, 2015
by Tom Phillips
copyright 2015 by Tom Phillips
Like dolls, robots can come alive -- but they only have the life we give them. “Huang Yi and Kuka” is the dance of a man and his robot – a sad story of a man who, like a latter-day Dr. Coppelius, comes alive in his inanimate creation.
On stage, he repeats this abdication of self, handing over the human qualities of growth and creativity to Kuka, a friendly robot with a long flexible neck, who looks like a cross between T-Rex, Big Bird and Snoopy. He teaches the robot to dance to a metronome, then to a Bach cello suite. He refits the machine with a camera eye which shoots images of him and then another dancer writhing on the floor, then turns and shoots the audience squirming in their seats.
At the end, Huang Yi leaves the stage and the robot takes on the role of choreo- grapher – using a red laser beam to direct a pas de deux of the two other dancers, Hu Chien and Lin Jou-Wen. They reach awkwardly for each other, missing the mark, then touch and finally embrace before the laser steps in to part them.
Of course, Huang Yi is the real artist. The robot steps in as a surrogate, it seems, to shield him from egoism, allow him to preserve the illusion of selflessness and therefore perfection. That’s the psychodrama, and it struck me as sentimental in a peculiarly Asian way. This is not the heroic self-sacrifice of tragedy; it’s extreme modesty, radical self-effacement.
The hour-long show takes place in dim light, with monochrome costumes. The only touch of color is supplied by the robot, a kind of industrial orange. Kuka turns out to be the liveliest, most human character, searching and learning eagerly.
Huang Yi is a well-oiled, occasionally explosive dancer in a style reminiscent of Merce Cunningham. He’s also a dynamic, decisive choreographer, to judge by his robot’s performance in the final pas de deux, which it conducts with the passion of a Valery Gergiev, using the red laser as a baton. The couple seems to come alive under the robot’s direction – an historic role reversal apt for our times.
Drama with robots seems so far to be mostly an Asian phenomenon – cf. a Japan Society program reviewed here last year. Maybe these artificial beings supply a handy outlet in cultures where self-expression is undertaken cautiously.
"Huang Yi and Kuka" runs through February 17 at the 3LD Art and TechnologyCenter.
Copyright 2015 by Tom Phillips
Photos © by Summer Yen