Man and machine in perfect step
Dancer stages unique robotic show
Huang Yi had a difficult childhood, but his fascination for robotics and arts helped him through the pain. Fast forward and Yi, from Taiwan, is now an awardwinning choreographer whose work wouldn’t be complete without the help of Kuka, his robotic arm dance partner.
“When I was a child my family had a financial misfortune, which put a lot of stress on my parents,” he recalls. “I did not want to impose any additional stress on them, so I detached myself from all my emotions - I wanted to be a perfect child, like a robot, with hardly any personality left at all.”
“My favourite cartoon character was Doraemon, a Japanese cat robot who is always there to solve problems for its owner.”
Yi’s love of robots became intertwined with a passion for dancing, inspired by the fact his parents were both ballroom dancers.
For Yi, dancing with Kuka is a process of “beautifying the sorrow” he experienced. “It is the expression of loneliness and self-doubt, but also self-realisation and self-comfort. Dancing face-to-face with a robot is like looking at my own face in the mirror… I think I have found the key to spin human emotions into robots.”
The robot and base plate, which weighs 795kg, is designed for repetitive factory tasks, so Yi personally programmed it to match his steps. He requires two days of technical set-up to get Kuka ready for the perfect theatre performance.
He says: “The biggest challenge is having to be the software programmer, choreographer and dancer all at the same time. I complete a set of movements as a dancer, then have to switch to become a programmer to code the routine into Kuka, while at the same time objectively analyse the movements. On top of that, we also added an emergency stop button that can be triggered by the rehearsal director as a safety precaution. Fortunately, we have not had any need to use it.” The whole performance is done in darkness.
Yi says he built a real connection with Kuka to make it all work, but understands that like humans, machines can break down too. He wants to dance with Kuka as long as possible, but he’s also researching other robot models so “one day there will be other Kukas on stage” to inspire more people. His message “If you grew up in difficult circumstances - please don’t give up chasing your dreams. I hope that art will have the power to bring people out of poverty.”
CARE TO DANCE: Catch Huang Yi and Kuka
tonight and tomorrow at The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi. nyuad