• Chimene Steele Prior. Photo by David Kelly.
    Chimene Steele Prior. Photo by David Kelly.
  • Harrison Elliot. Photo by David Kelly.
    Harrison Elliot. Photo by David Kelly.
  • Harrison Elliott, Jack Lister, Chase Clegg-Robinson, Taiga Kita-Leong, Chimene Steele Prior and Lilly King. Photo by David Kelly.
    Harrison Elliott, Jack Lister, Chase Clegg-Robinson, Taiga Kita-Leong, Chimene Steele Prior and Lilly King. Photo by David Kelly.

Playhouse, QPAC
May 5

Anthropomorphism is alive and well in the Australasian Dance Collective’s world premiere production of Lucie in the Sky. Six years in the making from conception to stage, this ambitious production emanated from Artistic Director Amy Hollingsworth’s fascination with aviation (she's also a helicopter pilot], the animated films of Pixar, and of course dance. Was it possible to translate the universal appeal of the Pixar films to the stage?

The idea of coding drones to show emotion was born of a meeting with Dr Catherine Ball, founder of the World of Drones Education. Verity Studios, Zurich-based indoor drone specialists who work with the likes of Cirque du Soleil and Justin Bieber, were brought in to manage the complex drone navigation. They are also known for their signature microdrones, weighing less than 50 grams, and trademarked Lucie. Hence the work’s title.

The very prescient premise (given the current debate about AI) that underpins this complex work is the nexus between technology and humanity – our unpreparedness for a future of rapidly evolving technology, and the role creativity might play in meeting our need for "connection, community and empathy".

There are 11 cast members – six dancers and five drones – and each has a name suggesting an emotion or attitude – The Jester, The Artist, The Sage, etc. The dancers are in elegant, futuristically-styled cream pants and top combinations (design by Harriet Oxley), in a mix of different fabrics. Each drone is identifiable by the colour of its light source, chosen to reflect its personality. They have also been ascribed specific human traits, and hobbies. Hollingsworth’s aim is to have the audience identify and empathise with each human and drone personality alike.

In a black setting, Alexander Berlage’s monochromatic lighting design, including a floor level line of fluorescent tubes across the front and back edges of the stage, navigates the tricky balance of allowing the coloured lights of the drones to pop, while keeping the dancers visible. However, in this half-darkness facial expressions are sometimes unclear, making individual dancers difficult to identify.

The opening moments are powerful. To the throbbing bass beat of Wil Hughes’ expressive original score, an overhead spot fades off and on over the sinuous movement of a lone dancer centre stage. A sudden blackout is then punctuated by a swarm of brightly lit drones high, centre stage – the overarching technology versus humanity theme clearly delivered.

What follows is a series of solos and duets, both with and without drones, each exploring the interconnectedness between animate and inanimate personalities. Separated by fades to black, they did however feel rather unconnected to one another, and as I had only a scant read of the detailed program notes prior, identification of the different personalities was made even more difficult. Nevertheless, there were highlights.

An athletic tumbling duet between the green drone, Skip, and Harrison Elliot (The Magician) showed the dexterity and split second timing of both the drone’s programming and the dancer. Skip’s propensity for fun and swooping down on cast members was also clearly implied by their boisterous interactions.

Lucie, The Friend’s purple-lit personality was also easily identified – shy, empathetic, and loving – in an intimate, tender duet with Chimene Steele-Prior (The Caregiver).

The work was most powerful when the dancers finally came together as a group, moving in unison with the drones. Humour was also injected when the dancers momentarily became a human "Newton’s Cradle" with the drones at either end "instigating" the movement. 

Choreography throughout by Hollingsworth together with the ADC dancers is luscious – rippling from grounded detailed movement on the floor to airborne athleticism. All six dancers are wonderful to watch – Lilly King, Chase Clegg-Robinson, Jack Lister, Taiga Kita-Leong and Steele-Prior and Elliott. 

Lucie in the Sky, ambitious in conception and execution, also celebrates the collaborative ethos underpinning Australasian Dance Collective. And although the work’s conception may not have been fully realised this performance, it breaks new ground, gives much pause for thought, and is therefore well worth a look.


'Lucie in the Sky' continues until May 13.

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