Dancing with a robot

Dancing with Baryshnibot. Alice Williamson, Courtesy Merritt Moore

Dancing robots usually perform to pop music but every once in a while, there’s a move toward classical music and ballet, e.g., my June 8, 2011 posting was titled, Robot swan dances to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Unlike the dancing robot in the picture above, that robot swan danced alone. (You can still see the robot’s Swan Lake performance in the video embedded in the 2011 posting.)

I don’t usually associate dance magazines with robots but Chava Pearl Lansky’s Nov. 18, 2020 article about dancer/physicist Merritt Moore and her work with Baryshnibot is found in ballet magazine, Pointe (Note: Links have been removed),

When the world went into lockdown last March [2019], most dancers despaired. But not Merritt Moore. The Los Angeles native, who lives in London and has danced with Norwegian National Ballet, English National Ballet and Boston Ballet, holds a PhD in atomic and laser physics from the University of Oxford. A few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, she came up with a solution for having to train and work alone: robots.

Moore had just come out of a six-week residency at Harvard ArtLab focused on the intersection between dance and robotics. “I knew I needed something to look forward to, and thought how bizarre I’d just been working with robots,” she says. “Who knew they’d be my only potential dance partners for a really long time?” She reached out to Universal Robotics and asked them to collaborate, and they agreed to send her a robot to experiment with.

Baryshnibot is an industrial robot normally used for automation and manufacturing. “It does not look impressive at all,” says Moore. “But there’s so much potential for different movement.” Creating dances for a robot, she says, is like an elaborate puzzle: “I have to figure out how to make this six-jointed rod emulate the dance moves of a head, two arms, a body and two legs.”

Moore started with the basics. She’d learn a simple TikTok dance, and then map the movements into a computer pad attached to the robot. “The 15-second-routine will take me five-hours-plus to program,” she says. Despite the arduous process, she’s built up to more advanced choreography, and is trying on different dance styles, from ballet to hip hop to salsa. For her newest pas de deux, titled Merritt + Robot, Moore worked with director Conor Gorman and cinematographer Howard Mills to beautifully capture her work with Baryshnibot on film. …

You can find Moore’s and Baryshnibot’s performance video embedded in Nov. 18, 2020 article.

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