Science fiction met real-time emotional animation in Australasian Dance Collective’s “Lucie in the Sky.” When the company released news of this work, there was resounding excitement—bold, pioneering, and arguably the most ambitious artistic choice ADC has made to date. From the outset, one question hovered over “Lucie in the Sky:” can we, as artists, anthropomorphise objects using choreography and spatial empathy to elicit an emotional response from our audience? A question that was answered with three words: emotionally coded drones.
Dance, drones, and artificial intelligence—the interweaving of these three facets began with a single conversation six years ago between artistic director Amy Hollingsworth and founder of the World of Drones Education, Dr. Catherine Ball. What resulted, after years of research and collaboration is “Lucie in the Sky”—a full-length dance work that questions the nature of human interaction, interrogates the concept of artificial emotion, and blurs the ethical lines between the two.
“Lucie in the Sky” is complicated brilliance. It asks difficult questions without feeling the need to provide answers, a stance that worked to its benefit. The cast is made up of nine figures—six dancers and five drones—that act as dramaturgical conduits for emotion and experience.
The drones themselves are tiny. Sourced and programmed by Verity Studios—drone specialists based in Zürich—they are lightweight, manoeuvrable, and fly as if they are fae-like creatures with plastic propellers for wings. Each has been anthropomorphised. They have a name, character trait, and associated colour to help the audience differentiate between them: Skip is the Jester (green); Rue, the sage (blue); Red, the rebel (red); M, the leader (yellow); with Lucie as the friend (purple).
Overall, the production is uncanny. It is situated between the known and unknown; our lived reality becomes overrun by the possibility of what our futures may look like when AI is integrated into the everyday. We see a melding of worlds as the company tests out hypotheses onstage by showing a variety of human/drone interactions. Harrison Elliot and Skip, for example, performed the delightful possibility of companionship. Elliot’s playful exchange with Skip, combined with his athletic fluidity as a dancer, made the partnering seem like a game. Skip appeared to be a staple in Elliot’s life—a tiny companion who knows how the other moves and reacts to dynamic change.
Chase Clegg-Robinson, on the other hand, showed the paranoid destruction of the human body—of a slow descent into madness caused by a rejection of technology. Her convulsive and animalistic movements were uncomfortable to watch (in the very best way).
In one section, the audience is transported into subverted real-life scenarios. A fashion show where dancers and drones, alike, strut down the catwalk. A party where the drones act as both source of kaleidoscopic light but also as the partygoers. We also see M, the leader, acting as a drill sergeant and calling the dancers into line.
Despite the emphasis on technology, “Lucie in the Sky” uses the humanity of its dancers as the centre-weight for experimentation. No matter what the drones do, no matter what scenario is explored, the production comes back to the dancers. There is a gravity to this production; a weight that has caused a conscious approach to this review. “Lucie in the Sky” sits on a revolutionary precipice that looks out on what will be the future of dance. A future that extends far beyond the physical body. The topic of artificial intelligence and prevalence of technology is a polarising one, yet ADC approached this with careful consideration (something I am slowly learning to be a signature trait of the company).