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Alumnus Jean Abreu choreographs two-headed robot in new Southbank show

Mon 16 April 2018

Two dancers share the stage with a little robot called Macheba in a new dance work by Trinity Laban alumnus Jean Abreu.

Solo for Two embarks on a six-venue UK tour this spring, opening at The Edge in Bath on the 16 May, before making its London premiere at the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, on 23 May.

British-Brazilian choreographer Jean Abreu moved to the UK in 1996 and graduated from Trinity Laban in 1999 with a Diploma in Dance Theatre. He choreographed his first work in 2003 and later that year received the Jerwood Choreography Award. He founded Jean Abreu Dance in 2009.

Abreu has spent exactly half his life in Brazil and the other half in Britain. Solo for Two sees him work with acclaimed Belgian dramaturg Guy Cools to explore how this dual identity, formed in-between different cultures and dance languages, is created by cycles of loss, letting go and new beginnings.

A man and a woman, two sides of the same coin, struggle to find their place in the world. In a powerfully physical duet, they dance to a new electronic score by Luca Biada and a bittersweet collage of songs and laments. The dancers are inextricably linked in a battle for survival and a new identity.

Macheba is the creation of technologists Michele Panegrossi, Luca Biada and computer scientist Leon Watts in collaboration with Jean Abreu and Guy Cools. The robot is built on Raspberry pi and Arduino boards inside a plexi box and equipped with a birdy light, distance sensors, a projector and sound installation.

The robot is operated as part of the choreography, and mirrors, observes and interacts with the dancers, scanning their memories and projecting their feelings. A two-headed female character, Macheba’s light represents a conscious eye, while the projector is her self-conscious level. By giving her a name, human characteristics, movements and behaviour are attributed to the robot, and the audience is invited to consider human-robot interaction and the increasing role of technology in our lives.

With the use of robotics in Solo for Two, Jean continues to explore the challenges of technology in his work, following BLOOD, his 2013 collaboration with Gilbert & George.

Solo for Two is co-commissioned by Southbank Centre and Horniman Museum & Gardens, and supported by Arts Council England, University of Bath, Bath Spa University, Swindon Dance and South East Dance. A site-responsive performance takes place at the Horniman on 19 July.

(Image © Ambra Vernuccio)