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Robot Vernacular


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I'm interested in the kinaesthetics of such dances, the way in which mechanism and organism are both signified, each blending into the other.

For example, the initial jerking movements whose range of motion are severely limited signify “robot” and highlight the performer‘s skill precisely because they are modifications of his normal movement as a living organism. When his movements become more fluid (in way characteristic of 1980s popping) they take as their point of contrast not his everyday motor behavior, but his stylized “robot” movements.

The performance draws not only upon the vocabulary of robot kinaesthetics but also on a stylized version of organism kinaesthetics and the two rhetorics are made to play against each other. The performance in this sense can be said to be polyphonic.

There is also a layer of racial complexity in that “The Robot” was pioneered by black Americans in the 1970s. Performances such as the one depicted in the video clip above have roots going back to African-American street vernacular and insofar as they communicate to new generations of dancers and audiences, they branch and grow into something else.1

UPDATE:I have an entry that considers a commercial wherein the dancer in the video above, David Bernal, performs. In post-production, Gene Kelly’s face is digitally imposed over Bernal’s (as well as over the faces of two other dancers dressed up as Kelly).

Thanks to M. for alerting me to Bernal’s presence in both videos and for pointing me to an interview Bernal gave on kotte.org.

Kottke posted Bernal’s interview two years ago to the day, and I would not have learned of it except for two people connecting to me and providing me information.

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1 With thanks to K. for the del.icio.us link.



The gentleman in this video is David "Elsewhere" Bernal: one of the three bodies in which Volkswagen mapped screen footage of Gene Kelly to make that ridiculously awesome GTI commercial (view commercial here; interview with Bernal about that commercial here). I think the most obvious giveaway that Kelly is just a well-dressed Bernal is a signature move seen about 2/3 of the way through your clip, a choppy flow from wrist-to-wrist that I like to think of as "the human strobe-light". :D