Robots [performance]

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Performance (2009). Produced by Le Voyage Extraordinaire. Directed and conceived by Christian Denisart. Set design by Gilbert Maire; costume design by Cécile Collet; music by Lee Maddeford; choreography by Corinne Rochet and Nicholas Pettit. Cast includes Laurence Iseli and Branch Worsham.

Robots is an amalgam of dramatic musical performance and dance Theatre. The production premiered on 1 May 2009 at the Théâtre Barnabe in Servion, Switzerland. Performed without spoken dialogue, it tells the story of a reclusive inventor, his Robot companions, and the arrival of a woman. The action covers three days in the life of the Man (Worsham), who has been given a last chance to rejoin the world of flesh outside his apartment where he has contentedly relied on his three robotic companions until the arrival of the Woman (Iseli).

The action opens with the Man, a charming, quiet and gentle individual, being awakened by his robotic manservant Igor, cylindrical and coatrack-like. Other members of the household include the robotic dog-like Bruno, a cross between an MP3 player and a Roomba vacuum. The Man has received a letter announcing the visit of the Woman. Upon her arrival, things go subtly wrong bit by bit as the robots, his pride and joy, make her exceedingly uncomfortable, making it clear that they have to go.

In the second act, the Man's inability to cope with the spontaneous unpredictability of human interaction causes him to turn to his third creation, a previously veiled and disturbingly lifelike robotic woman, Leila, reminiscent of Maria from Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926). Whereas Igor and Bruno are definitively robotic in their construction, Leila is in part detailed and humanoid. Her lower half consists of two large robotic wheels, but her torso resembles a fully articulated dressmaker's mannequin. The Man re-enacts his initial meeting with the Woman with Leila, correcting the mistakes and creating his ideal scenario. As the scene closes, he once again covers Leila with a canvas.

In the final act, the Woman returns; before the Man answers the door, he resolutely rejects his robotic creations, sending them into another room. He attempts to interact normally, but becomes flustered. The Woman sees the canvas upstage and unveils Leila. Her shock, disgust, and jealousy render any further meaningful interaction between the Man and Woman impossible. In her attempt to destroy Leila, the Woman is electrocuted and killed, along with the Man's hopes of ever rejoining the world.

The set and costumes add to the fairytale sensibility of the production with designs that are neither Victorian nor modern, retaining a stripped-down Steampunk quality. The music utilizes the vast pipe organ surrounding the stage of the Théâtre Barnabe. Maddeford's score contains elements of the carnivalesque in the calliope sound of the organ with thematic repetition reminiscent of the work of Philip Glass. The choreographers blend modern dance and mime to provide the narrative for the performance.

The Robots were developed by François Junod of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the Swiss corporation Bluebotics. Each robot represents a specific type: Igor stands for industrial and service robots, Bruno is robotic/computer entertainment and media, and Leila embodies the efforts of robotics to mirror the human. Using a laser-based guidance system and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) protocols, the robots' movements and stage blocking are completely preprogrammed. [JGu]

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