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MEETING is a natural melding of the dancers’ respective skills. “Alisdair designed the percussion bots and I created the choreography,” continues Hamilton. “It’s a good collaboration – we do feed off each other and trigger new ideas. We work rapidly together and we work well to support each other – we’re on an equal footing.”

Musicians work with metronomes to maintain a regular beat while composing or playing; considering this led the two to explore dance where the choreography is governed by pure rhythm imposed on the dancer’s body, rather than the other way round. In other words, the dancers have to do what the machines tell them. “It presents us as dancers with an incredible challenge, says Hamilton. “It’s like a duet almost – that sense of the machine forcing us to stay up to speed. It’s mathematical. These pieces can be as long as you want them to be. It sounds more scientific than artistic. Macindoe confirms the physical demands involved in performing MEETING. “We’re not using normal phrases. This work is very challenging to the performer. There’s a distinct right and wrong. The machines are programmed with numeric codes. In the performances, there are hundreds of beats in the piece, and there is an assigned activity to each beat – and we have to keep up.”

The machines are 64 small robotic percussion boxes which tap out rhythms using pencils. Yes, pencils. “They’re called percussion bots,” says Macindoe, the inventor, who confesses that his machine making practice is obsessive. “They are simple looking wooden boxes, little drums with a wireless computer inside. And they work like someone is tapping a pencil on the table, something we all often do unconsciously. With that rhythm there is no common down beat; I liked the sound. They’ve got a domestic human rhythm, outside the traditional musical time signature, whereas with a metronome there is a downbeat.”

Much of the tension in MEETING comes from bodies moving to a seemingly familiar tapping noise that could almost be generated by humans but which, unlike music created by living musicians, is impervious to the demands on the dancers. The two performers have made things hard for themselves. “It’s a fantastic starting point. We have programmed them but they pull us physically,” says Hamilton. “The dance is more difficult than what we usually do because we are driven by this sound. The percussion bots are not slowing or stopping, they’re relentless – the sound is like repetitive music but there is no conductor. And we are trying to cover as many variations of the rhythmic structure in our movements. They are very, very sensitive with different speeds, interstices, the sounds are almost human. The really great thing is that you empathise with them almost,” adds Hamilton.”

The work, says Hamilton, is more like a music recital than a contemporary dance performance. “It creates a study of choreographic style. There is the sense of machine controlling the body, a sense of body percussion – we are ‘slaves to the rhythm’. We don’t have much agency. The score creates a slow burn for the arc to work, there’s a combination of activity between two different performers with so many different possibilities. How do we show everyone everything? It’s limitless.”

“Antony approached me and said ‘I don’t want a sound design, no speakers, use some other idea.’” Macindoe continues. “We worked with the theme of rhythmic percussion but with a different locus of control.” How come there are 64 percussion bots? “That’s the software – it sends a wireless signal. 64 is a pragmatic choice,” answers Macindoe. “It’s a great number for this project, it’s 8×8, we work in 8 bits, and it’s a musical number. As far as the choreography is concerned we are performing in time like robots. The design of Meeting is pragmatic, it’s not abstract. It’s straightforward. Having said that, it’s crazy and bizarre, but the pieces don’t have an ulterior to them, or things that unfold – we are looking at what is accuracy, what is perfection. MEETING is more like watching a sport or a battle. It’s dance to a number of patterns, a number of codes. The dancers have to memorise them.”

In case you’re wondering, the robots win. “MEETING does the opposite to what you expect,” adds Macindoe. “In dance, it’s usually the dancers that move you – this time it’s almost the other way round. At the end of the work the little robots play bells and chimes on wooden blocks and sound more like a group of percussionists. There’s a human side, with emotion, but they’re actually robots. The body begins to play a smaller role, there’s a clear cross-over, the bodies recede and the machines are left in space, still working.”