Christian Louboutin’s red-soled shoes have been seen on early Rodarte runways and on the feet of every big-name celebrity, though this week they’ll get their most unexpected endorsement yet. In choreographer Blanca Li’s newest piece, Robots, beginning a six-night run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music tomorrow, a tiny animatronic figure will take to the stage sporting Monsieur Louboutin’s finest. Yes, a robot in Christian Louboutins.
To those familiar with Li’s work, a robot in top-notch designs shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. The Paris-based Spanish choreographer counts Stella McCartney and Azzedine Alaïa among her friends, and recently wowed crowds with a performance in Paris for the launch of Alaïa’s debut perfume. “I’m always inspired by Alaïa and his work. A lot of his dresses make me think about how my movement becomes different, and I can create a choreography for the dresses themselves,” Li told Style.com on the eve of her performance for the designer.
Robots, though, is a completely different endeavor than her Alaïa-commissioned piece. The journey to choreograph a dance including robots began in 2011, when Li visited the studio of Maywa Denki in Japan. There, she encountered Denki’s robots, each of which could be programmed to play an instrument. From there, she discovered the NAO robot, a small humanoid figure, about the size of a 1-year-old child. The two happenings together lit a spark in Li’s mind. “More and more we are interacting with all kinds of machines. We use regularly whatever new technology brings us, and what’s surprising for me, to see how fast we adapt to all these new technologies,” she explained of the decision to embark on a piece mixing human and robot choreography.
Producing Robots was no easy process. Li and her team experimented with the NAO robot for months, discovering the movements that worked best with human choreography. “For me, what was very important was how to find a way that these robots really become part of the company. They are on the stage, and they have their own presence, and I want to build a moment of emotion with them, even though the interpreter is not a human, it’s a machine,” Li said of her vision for the robots, adding that the ultimate goal was “that we forget, even for one second, that this was a machine.” (Judging by the clip here of a male dancer partnering with the NAO robot, we think it’s safe to say she’s accomplished that goal.)
As for the robots’ fashion, the NAOs sport looks inspired by Japanese uniforms. At certain points in the piece, dancers wear similar items; at others they are in flesh-colored separates, contrasting their organic forms against the robots’ mechanic ones. Perhaps unlike other choreographers, the fashion is anything but an afterthought to Li. “When I’m at the beginning of the choreography, I’m already thinking of how the dancers are going to be dressed, and this way I imagine the movement,” she explained. Still, those Louboutins happened a little bit by chance. After the designer saw Robots in Paris, he expressed interest in working on a pair of shoes for the small figures. While it’s a new element for the New York performances, Li is excited about the prospect—and thinks her robot would be, too. “I think because he’s wearing Louboutin, the robot will be very, very happy.”