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May 23, 2017

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Choreographers explore frontiers of experimental theater

Twenty-something dance choreographer Huang Yi (黃翊) could live without the Internet and isn't glued to his cellphone, but he can hardly tear himself away from robots.

"I've wondered why I have an intense interest in robots. Maybe it's because when I was little I liked Doraemon — I think it's got something to do with my childhood," said Huang last week.

That's a childhood lived alongside massive global advancements in robotics technology, to the point where androids today can be made very similar to humans in physical resemblance and mental faculties.

Huang as a boy was engrossed with what robots could do, and Huang as a 28-year-old rising star still is.

This fascination shows in his work. The latest version of his "Spin" series — "Spin 2010" — is a dazzling show built with 13 automated projectors and artificial limbs that "dance" eerily alongside flesh-and-blood dancers. In his "Second Skin 2011" experimental showcase, Huang worked with costumes like a giant fishbone suit and a mechanical skirt that moved both with and against the performer, in a kind of perverse collateral relationship.

These innovations have made Huang's repertoires a full-house hit overseas and at home, where he is the youngest choreographer in Cloud Gate Dance Theatre 2. In 2011, Dance Magazine named him among the world's "25 to Watch."

But his newest show has got none of his trademarks. In "Double Yellow Lines" (雙黃線), Huang is serving up modern dance and nothing but; dance stripped roughly to the bone.

Here's the scene: one piano and one table heaping with household goods. There are three performers: two dancers plus a piano man. The trio performs without a soundtrack and without any of the automated acoustic add-ons that have become calling cards of a Huang Yi production.

"All of the sounds you hear will be created on the spot. It's a return to traditional performance," said Huang.

The dance is primitive, too, with no robotics to facilitate. Action sequences don't deliver visual explosions, but instead tell the story of two dancers in dialogic conversation, learning to get along. Or not. Sometimes the duo's minds are more like the production title — double yellow lines traversing the expressway with no hope of ever getting to meet.

The result of eliminating virtually all sound and sight enhancements is a production that's hyper-focused on drama, or the basic back-and-forth between characters. Choreographing a stripped-down show has also triggered some hard self-interrogation for Huang, who has relied on his precocity in dance technology to carve out a promising career.

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