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Robotic Swan awakens the soul within the machine

Rusty, soggy and crooked, Olimpia’s coloratura sopran hangs apparently lifeless over the pit, which marks the heart of R1, Sweden’s first nuclear reactor 40 meters underground at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Nowadays, the impressive space is an experimental scene. And here, the choreographer Åsa Unander-Scharin and her co-workers, among them composer Carl Unander-Scharin, have found a perfect place for their mechanical creations. It is an encounter between advanced technology, dance and music, where each work is based on classic myths known from the opera and ballet world.

Åsa Unander-Scharin describes in her doctoral dissertation from 2008 the lure of using digital technology and puppets to get an idea of human qualities in the bodily movement. The name of her dissertation called Human Mechanics and Soulful Machines, and it can also summarize the tour of Opera Mecatronica. Here are eight works from 1998 onwards, three of which are interactive and three are presented in film form.

Olimpia makes her world debut at R1. It is a rare experience to see the skinny marionette become live, so human frail and yet virtuoso in their expansive movements. The head, a decomposed exhaust gas purifier, moves laconically to a crazy and dramatically echoing aria which is a synthetic processing of Offenbach’s opera Hoffmann’s adventure.

There is melancholy and beauty in this retro-futurism. You read emotions and life in the mechanical objects, which with dazzling simplicity encompass the hypermodern and archaic, thus opening up for associative irrigations of the mystery of life.

Robocygne is also a new acquaintance, an adorable black swan that with trembling feathered wings and a body in tulle dances to the wizard Rothbart’s theme from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The long, slender neck has small-sized vertebrae that allows it to bend with impressive vigour. It is a humble and yet somewhat dangerous creation that incorporates both animal and human being. A ballerina that it is hard to leave.

Among the interactive works is the Stockholm premiere of Ombra mai fù found, a copper tree with sensors responsive to movements. As you approach, the aria from Handel´s opera Xerxes is performed – where the main role lovingly praises the tree and its shadow. It is beautiful and at the same time a bit comical to wander under metal leaves that tremble by the sound waves.

In the winding corridors of the reactor cellar, you can see The Lamentations of Orpheus (in a film version), an orange industrial robot that expresses the sorrow for Euridice. With its 500 kilograms of high tech, Åsa Unander-Scharin began her endeavour twelve years ago. Do not miss this strange acquaintance, suggestively lit by Anders Larsson

(Svenska Dagbladet, Anna Ångström, Nov 18, 2010)

At every turn, this rare swan

The last one is Åsa Unander-Scharin’s robot swan with its elegant line and touching fragility. It has been part of a ”mytho-poetic landscape” of video projections and music montage, and is now part of a performance with 14 dancers, filmed by the Swedish television for all the people.

(Margareta Sörensson, Danstidningen, 2011)


The robotic-opera. A seductive meeting between art and technology.

When singer Matilda Wahlund suddenly enters into the Golden Foyers of The Stockholm Royal Opera in pink rubber boots, it is a quite shocking operatic start for Carl Unander-Scharin’s ”Regnaria”. One of the pieces that makes up the performance ”Opera Mecatronica Live” by Åsa and Carl Unander-Scharin that last Saturday gathered hundreds of enthusiasts. The audience is offered more chances this week (7-9 May) before ”Opera Mecatronica Live” continues its tour to Rotterdam. Before the live performance, I strolled around among the two artist’s many projects since the 90’s, where classics have been processed with advanced technology forming wonderful and robust mechanics. Like the installation ”Petruchka’s cry” where the spectator himself with a crank makes Petruchka come to life while the beautiful ballerina-doll (with a CD as her tutu) spins around.

The main part of the show is nevertheless the live performance where the audience follows the five singers Kristin Gornstein, Henriikka Gröndahl, Signe Lind, Matilda Wahlund, Anna-Sara Åberg up and down the stairs.

 Arias by Purcell and Händel are transformed, changed and distorted by various forms of digital technology. Operatic classics are embedded in a fascinating futuristic soundscape. The whole is the result of the Extended Opera course at the Opera School in Stockholm, led by Carl Unander-Scharin in collaboration with Åsa Unander-Scharin.

The most innovative and exciting takes place when Åsa and Carl Unander-Scharin really goes for it and let ”high culture” – opera and ballet – meet or rather almost crash against high technology. My favourite is the crazy flapping and jerky dancing Robocygne (here on film only). And of course Ombra Mai Fu, the copper tree, that is controlled by motion sensors and that wakes to life singing Handel´s aria while its fans calm the audience as we approach.    A seductive rendezvous between art and technology that results in a cooling meditation over the existence in the shadow of the tree.

(Dagens Nyheter, Örjan Abrahamsson, Maj 2013)


The Dance Museum launches the October Festival with an explosive encounter between youth and wisdom. And do not miss the rare bird in the underworld, in the Galerie de Maré one floor down.

After the mid-day dance – nine performances until 13 October – the underground must be visited. In Galerie de Maré downstairs, the choreographer Åsa Unander-Scharin & Partners have designed the fabulous installation ”Swanlake Revisited”.

The entire gallery has turned into a ”mythical poetic lake” with flowing enigmatic video animation (by Lene Juhl and Mark Viktov) which creates an underwater illusion around the main attraction: an animated video of Unander-Scharin’s robot swan, created in 2010, now performing live, in person, at the entrance to the gallery.

The robot swan is a mechanical, technical but above all moving miracle (technology by Lars Asplund and Alexander Larsson at Mälardalen University). Here you can see, with your own eyes, how human movements, first deconstructed and then given a new body in the robot swan. Since the 1990s, Åsa Unander-Scharin has developed and refined this human non-human movement language. The robot swan is the master piece.

During four intense minutes, the swan dances towards its death, of course, to Tchaikovsky’s music. But like Bird Fenix, the robot swan resurrects at the Dance Museum. Not as in the myth every five hundred years, but every hour.

Do not miss this rare bird.

(Örjan Abrahamsson, Dagens Nyheter, 2011)

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