2047 APOLOGUE

Live performance collaboration with Zhang Yimou

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Introduction:  2047 APOLOGUE is a concept performance created by famed Chinese artist Zhang Yimou. Debuting in 2017 in Beijing at the National Center for the Performing Arts, three related productions were developed with the second and third occuring in 2018 and 2019 respectively. An apologue is a brief fable or allegorical story that serves to convey a useful lesson without stating it explicitly.[1] Zhang fused traditional Chinese folk arts with robotic and other futuristic technology to present the theme and a rhetorical argument about the relationship between human beings and technology.

Artistic Design Objectives: The artistic and design vision for the show sought to connect historic crafts, industries and musical traditions with the current and distant future and to fuse them with narrative threads depicting the technological forces driving humanity. Both positive and negative potential impacts are presented for consideration as the pace of change accelerates our relationship with technology in the future. Chinese folk arts are presented with different high-tech treatments such as robotic dancers and laser lights thus igniting a new vitality to the ancient traditions.[2]

Zhang said that the show aims to get people to rethink the relationship between high technology and human beings.  "If we confiscated everyone's smart phones here, we all would feel that we couldn't make it through the day. Our life has been dominated with high tech. So the show is not only to entertain but also to enlighten people," he explained. “If you were to view the advance of civilisation from a linear time perspective, in one direction you will see 5000 years of civilisation; toward the other direction a future of science and technology, rapid and iterative. Here we are standing in 'this moment': A moment in which we take from our forebears but depart toward new creation, a moment in which we cross over from the protracted 'past' and draw boundlessly toward the future.” [3]

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Development and Implementation: The first season had 20 production teams with artists from 7 countries and included a live media and 6 axis robot performance with a band of four Chinese marionette performers, and a spectator. He seems to get an idea from the marionettes, and as soon as these leave the stage, he goes to the back and unveils four large ABB industrial robots. He brings back the marionettes, to show these to the robots – and the robots apparently like the idea of being puppet masters. As soon as the marionettes leave the stage, the robots try out their new-found knowledge – on their creator. The rest of the act has him struggling to escape the controlling grasp and physical manipulation of the robots – and ultimately failing. 

The second season continues the original theme and goes beyond combining disparate art forms but also explores the relationships between them. Combining ancient musical tradition with a large robot band developed by andyRobot, one performance included three retired loggers from Fujian province performing ancient songs that date back nearly 300 years. The technological counterpoint to that was a large robot band including laser activated guitars, harp, and timpani drums. Old and new combined onstage to dance, sing and play their instruments to astounding effect. 

The third season was performed in 2019 at the National Centre for the Performing Arts Beijing and large roboScreens were used in a collaboration with FUSE*FACTORY who created a beautiful suspended dance (Dokk) with an air dancer and integrated with real time visuals and live singers. For a performance called Robot Girl Love, a custom harness was developed so a dancer could be connected directly to a large 6 axis robot. The girl becomes part of the robot, like she is a machine waiting for someone to play with her, then a boy comes along with his phone and pays to turn her on. They dance and have fun until the money runs out. The exquisite and graceful robot programming of andyRobot, hardware from ABBrobotics, and expressive dancing from Li Chao, Hu Wei, and Li Bin, made for a very compelling show.

andyRobot has brought his mechanized robot performers to all 3 seasons of 2047 Apologue. "Robots are like wild animals," he explains. "I train robots like training tigers. The first time we had four robots and this time we have nine. In the first season, my job was to train the robots to understand dancing," he reveals. "In the second season, I teach them how to work with musical beats.” "Zhang gives me the gift to find my greatest potential," he continues. "I am doing something that I never thought I could do until I came to China."[5]

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References: 

 

[1] Wikipedia. (2012, February 1). Apologue. Wikipedia. Retrieved January 11, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apologue

 

[2] Lin, G. (2018, June 14). When Robots Become Artists. Inkstone. Retrieved January 11, 2020, from https://web.archive.org/web/20200111195026/https://www.inkstonenews.com/arts/last-wonton-when-robots-become-artists/article/2150819

 

[3] Factory, F. (2019, December 1). FUSE*FACTORY | 2047 APOLOGUE. Fusefactory.it. Retrieved January 11, 2020, from https://web.archive.org/web/20200111192736/https://www.fusefactory.it/en/projects/2047-apologue/

 

[4] Nan, C. (2018, June 13). ‘Second Season’ Of Zhang Yimou‘s ’2047 Apologue’ Opens In Beijing - Chinadaily.com.cn. chinadaily.com.cn. Retrieved January 16, 2020, from https://web.archive.org/web/20200116153333/https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201806/13/WS5b20c6f9a31001b825721206_1.html

 

[5] 胡哲. (2018, May 28). A Moral Imperative - Chinadaily.com.cn. Retrieved December 14, 2019, from http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201805/28/WS5b0b49f0a31001b82571c920_3.html

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