TPM x RAD

A dance + robotics collaboration

The People Movers and The Robotics, Automation, and Dance (RAD) Lab at the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana are collaborating on an ongoing project integrating dance with robotics, currently titled Babyface. This work investigates gender roles and how machines can reinforce and/or subvert them.

The People Movers and The Robotics, Automation, and Dance (RAD) Lab at the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana are collaborating on an ongoing project integrating dance with robotics, currently titled Babyface. This work investigates gender roles and how machines can reinforce and/or subvert them.

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“Don’t worry, if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. Treat me as a smart input/output system.”

 
— Sophia, Hanson Robotics

Through an ongoing residency, Ladenheim and RAD Lab members are developing a robotic costume featuring a pair of mechanical angel wings. This structure simultaneously creates an effect of grandeur and awe, and a rigid, limiting characterization that becomes burdensome over the course of the performance. The performer is a revered spectacle because of this affect, but also cannot be different than her container; this tension between aspiration and limitation fuels this work.

Pressure sensors situated around the performer’s ribcage cause these wings to expand and contract in relation to breathing, which connects the ongoing liveness of the performer to the design of the wings’ ambient motion. The performer can manipulate her own breath intentionally to activate the wings; however, the wings’ movements are also responsive to the performer’s stamina and emotional state — in other words, the performer must work very hard to manage the structure that is both part and separate from her.

Kate and Lab members are responding to an unfortunate circularity with deep historical roots. 

Technologies (from corsets to social media) pressure women to look and perform beautifully, effortlessly and non-threateningly, feeding a culture that expects less of women who conform while simultaneously punishing those who do not. This translates into newly created technologies (i.e. Instagram algorithms that prioritize and highlight promoters that perpetuate these stereotypes, the voice of Siri or Alexa, and Sophia the Robot) that inherit those same patriarchal prejudices.

This collaboration uses technology creation and embodied practice in tandem to exploit these prejudices and reveal the emotional impact of this harmful circularity.

Come + SEE

September 7, 2019

Come see the first performance of Babyface at the DanceNOW Joe’s Pub Festival.

Saturday at 7:00pm
@ Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater
[425 Lafayette Street (at Astor Place)]

 

tickets >

CREDITS 

Dancer and machine choreographed by Kate Ladenheim with Wali Rizvi and Reika McNish
Music by Myles Avery
Costume by Reika McNish with Kate Ladenheim and Wali Rizvi
Machine built by Wali Rizvi and Reika McNish
Collaboration directed by Amy LaViers (RAD Lab Director)
Performed by Kate Ladenheim