Man and ma­chine in per­fect step

Dancer stages unique ro­botic show

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE -

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


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