Robot – Blanca Li Dance Company: Barbican Theatre, The Barbican, London, 22 February 2017

Robot ears

Two obljects in this photo aren't real robots. Can you spot them?

Two are two pretend robots in this photo. Can you spot them?

I would liked to have said Blanca Li’s Robot was a case of style over substance but there wasn’t even a great deal of style in it. It was a messy hotch-potch of vignettes that didn’t connect to each other and went on for far too long.

The robots were good. They appeared in many shapes and guises and also supplied the music via a series of Heath Robinson-style contraptions. They also provided the star of the show in the lead NAO robot. NAO is a little chap, about two feet high, who looks humanoid and has the ability to manipulate joints in a convincingly human fashion. He also has a pair of endearingly round eyes and a gently becoming manner.

Sadly he’s also not very good at standing up – he and his four identical cohorts were constantly falling over. At first it just seemed like it was part of the show, a way of demonstrating the fragility of life, but it just kept happening and, frankly, it got annoying. However, when they did stay on their feet, they were entrancing. The scene where NAO no.1 is taken out of his box and treated like a new-born child by one of the dancers was utterly charming.

Which brings me to the eight, very fine dancers who dealt with a bewildering array of styles extremely well and never gave less than absolutely everything. What they were given, however, was not very interesting; plenty of sculptural posturing and manic run-arounds, but rarely anything that related to the mechanical world around them.

It was telling perhaps that their most effective moments were as background fodder to the robots. Li is best-known for her work with Daft Punk and Beyoncé and there was a definite sense here that left to its own devices (which it was, for long periods), the choreography lacked a focal point that only the robots could provide.

Still, Charles Carcopino’s video projections were excellent and any show that has a feather-boa’d NAO robot in a sparkling silver suit singing the whole of Besame Mucho clearly can’t be all bad.

Robot runs at the Barbican until 25 February 2017. Tickets can be found on the Barbican website.

Gerard Davis

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