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Do the Robot

Dancer Explores Human-Technology Relationship

By Liam Farrell

Huang Yi

Jacob Blickenstaff

Jacob Blickenstaff

Huang Yi has been dancing for nearly 30 years, but it’s only recently that he has been exactly sure what his partner is going to do next. That’s because Yi, 31, a prolific Taiwanese choreographer and self-taught computer coder, programs and performs with an industrial robot named KUKA.

Yi is coming to College Park Sept. 23–26 as part of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Artist Partner Program, giving performances as well as a lecture and meeting with dance and Maryland Robotics Center students. He says dances with KUKA—a large robotic arm that looks like it was plucked straight from a car assembly line—explore our changing relationship with increasingly sophisticated technology that can now be more precise than a human performer.

“No one can really know another person,” he says. “With robots, I can almost realize what I imagined (in a performance).”

Martin Wollesen, executive director of The Clarice, says Yi is stretching the boundaries of high-tech puppetry.

“This robot has humanity and grace,” he says.

Although often seen as a topic for other parts of academia, Wollesen says the arts have an important role to play in investigating scientific breakthroughs. Through a performance like Yi’s and KUKA’s, the audience can see something often isolated in laboratories be brought to life.

“Within the context of his performance, you actually become connected to that in a way that moves beyond the intellectual to the emotional,” he says. “It adds layer and depth to our understanding.”

Robots—even those of the dancing variety—have been fertile ground for movies and television. Yet Yi sees his performance as something more dynamic; film, after all, is often fiction, whereas his duet with KUKA is real.

“It’s like a documentary, not like science fiction,” he says. “I just want to keep developing this relationship with the robot. How much more can I discover?”

Performances

Tickets are available for Huang Yi’s appearances on campus:

• Yi will talk with American studies Professor Sheri Parks as part of the College of Arts and Humanities’ WORLDWISE Dean’s Lecture series at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 23 in Gildenhorn Recital Hall.

• Yi will discuss his art with Professor Satyandra K. Gupta, director of the Maryland Robotics Center, in “ArtistTalk: Manipulating Data for Performance” at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 24 in the Kogod Theatre.

• Yi will perform with KUKA at 8 p.m. Sept. 25 and 26 in the Kogod Theatre. Both events will include a post-performance conversation.

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