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Canberra Today 14°/17° | Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Memorable and beautiful dancing with drones

Chimine Steele-Prior performs in the Australian Dance Collective’s “Lucie in the Sky”. Photo: David Kelly

Dance / “Lucie in the Sky”, Australasian Dance Collective. At The Playhouse, July 14. Reviewed by SAMARA PURNELL.

“LUCIE in the Sky” is a new type of theatrical experience. There was quite a buzz of excitement before the show. 

A dancer in a shaft of white light opens the show. He is joined by five more dancers, and then the drones, like a burst of fireworks or fireflies to introduce their presence.

The interplay between dancers and drones that follows takes the viewer on a gentle journey of the place and possibilities of AI and of human and technological interaction, the exciting, or perhaps terrifying prospect of robots with emotions and independent thought, and of our ability to deeply connect with entities other than humans.

The characters of the dancers and their paired drones are based on Carl Jung’s archetypal figures and they shared similar traits with each other, matching their characteristics. Harrison Elliot was a standout for his effortless leaps, tumbling and floorwork as “The Magician”, and his interaction with the energetic and persistently playful drone “Skip” (The Jester).

Lilly King and Chimine Steele-Prior gave lovely performances as “The Artist” and “The Caregiver” respectively. The choreography was comprised of fluid, watery movements with perfectly executed isolations and overwhelming empathy and care from and by the drones “Rue” (The Sage) and “Lucie” (The Friend). The title of the show – “Lucie in the Sky” was not named primarily after The Beatles song, but the trademarked name, Lucies, of the microdrones used in the production. The assured, captivating dancing could stand alone as a performance if it were presented solely as dance.

The dancers are within centimetres of these programmed drones, endowing the drones with a sense of care and connection to the dancer. In the group sequences, the music, flashing drone lights and choreography was playful and Spielburg’s 1987 movie “*batteries not included” kept coming to mind. It is surprising that the same number of drones as dancers was not used and in an ensemble routine, one dancer was in darkness, seemingly without a drone match.

“Lucie” begs the question: “Could drones have the same effect on dancers/us as other people can?” The answer appeared to be a resounding yes. The drones were playmates, even guardian angels and a pas de deux between two male dancers had less impact here than the duets between human and drone. It really did put the drones on equal footing to be active and reactive, to influence and to respond.

Costume designer Harriet Oxley has the dancers clad in beautiful, flowing, predominantly white costumes that look both ancient and futuristic, calling to mind the costumes in the latest “Star Wars” movies but in a pure, almost angelic form. Alexander Berlage’s lighting design was clean and moody, utilising yellow and white shafts of light with white neon. The composition and sound design of Wil Hughes was melodic and beautiful, seamlessly morphing strings for the empathetic, sadder moments and drums and thumping beats for the energetic and humorous dances and to build the anticipation.

That sense of anticipation and an expectation that at some point things would turn menacing, chaotic or even evil pervaded the performance. There is a death, but both humans and drones are inherently good, empathetic or at least benign in this depiction of them. In fact almost every element or character in “Lucie in the Sky” is surprisingly warm and good-natured.

This beautiful production was directed and created by Amy Hollingsworth alongside a highly specialised creative and scientific team of drone programmers from Verity Studios, Dr Catherine Ball and the Cybernetics department at the ANU.

What is presented here is a mesmerising, engaging and innovative work, moving and thoughtful, memorable and beautiful to look at and with food for thought on the way home.

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