Dim lights, classical music, a dancer, and a robot on an empty stage. The dancer approaches the robot with subtle curiosity. They meet as if for the first time, communicating through gestures alone, slowly learning about each other. Welcome to Huang Yi and Kuka, a contemporary dance theatre piece exploring the relationship between man and technology.
Kuka is a robotic arm commonly found in industrial assembly lines. Dancer/Choreographer Huang Yi spent four years developing the show, and as we learn from the show notes, is also Kuka’s programmer. The uniqueness of this creative process is evident in its execution on stage.
Visually stunning in its simplicity, all elements of the production work together effortlessly, taking us on a journey. The piece is sublimely poetic. Yi’s dance is precise and fluid, with its vocabulary rooted in contemporary dance and in everyday gestural language. As his relationship with Kuka develops, the dancer begins to move more like the machine. Kuka’s own movements are so believable and so accurate that the robot seems alive, possessing a personality of its own and even feelings. In one scene in which Kuka is briefly left alone on stage, its gestures so powerfully convey the sadness of loss, I found myself surprised to feel so much empathy with the robot.
The abstract nature of dance and physical theatre, without the burden of language, makes it possible for the audience to intimately and subjectively interpret meaning on a deeper level. With my head uncluttered, I could easily let go of the chatter and experience being present in the moment and believe many in the audience felt the same. The mood was almost ritualistic.
Huang Yi and Kuka deals with important themes about the role of technology in our lives as well as man’s place in the universe – like God, he’s able to give life. Furthermore, the piece opens up a whole a new world of possibilities for performance-makers exploring the use of technology on stage, and well worth seeing this unique piece presented by Brisbane Powerhouse’s WTF Festival.