Something About Skin: Contemporary dance with a robot vacuum

Something About Skin: Contemporary dance with a robot vacuum
Created and Performed by Lee Tsung-Hsuan and Chang Chien-Hao. Melbourne Fringe Festival. 12 & 13 November, 2020.

The highly unusual concept of this performance has the choreographers and dancers Tsung-Hsuan and Chien-Hao working with a robotic vacuum. This very unlikely mediator of the show creates a quirky and unexpected perspective as the performance is livestreamed predominantly through the eyes of a moving camera placed on the vacuum. 

This results in some idiosyncratic and unnatural views, giving the performance an interesting contrast between real physicality and technology or artificial intelligence. This perspective brings the audience especially close to the performers, particularly in the opening sequence where the dancer’s body frequently seems to come perilously close to the machinery. This also produces an unexpected and sometimes confronting intimacy with the performer.

The relationship between the dancer and the technology is imbued with tension and as the show progresses this tension seems to increasingly become the focus. The importance of exploring the tactility of the body and movement shifts towards an emphasis on the lens. 

The choreography has some delightful elements with the unusual and close proximity to the performers. This is especially appropriate for the online context and the staging is striking– replicating an ordinary household yet with a clear sense of contrivance. This is where the opportunity to give the robotic vacuum distinct characterisation could have been exploited more. This could have been a way to give more dimension to this eccentric exploration of a strange rapport with an inanimate object and further emphasise the importance of skin.

Patricia Di Risio

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