Will A.I. replace us or make us more human?
Jean-Christophe Maillot’s new creation Coppel-i.A. premiered at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco on Friday, December 28, 2019, and we had the chance to attend Saturday’s performance by the talented dancers of the Ballets of Monte-Carlo. In his modern version of the classic ballet Coppelia, Maillot confronts us with the dilemma of Artificial Intelligence, where scientist Coppelius wants to create the perfect woman, while choreographer Maillot searches for the ideal dancer. It was an exhilarating and powerful performance that culminated with a standing ovation. Jean-Christophe Maillot does not cease to amaze us!
The original classic ballet Coppelia, The Girl with Enamel Eyes, is a funny, comical ballet for all ages, full of humor and mime, based on The Sandman story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, first published in 1815. The story centered on a girl named Coppelia who sits on her balcony all day never interacting with anyone. Frantz falls deeply in love and wishes to marry her. His fiancé Swanhilda is upset when she sees Frantz enamored with Coppelia. When she learns that Coppelia is just a life-size dancing automate created by a solitary and deranged scientist Doctor Coppelius, the estranged Swanhilda decides to impersonate the doll to regain Franz’s heart, creating chaos. In the end the affair is resolved, and Swanhilda and Frantz makeup and get married, finishing in a happy ending.
Maillot freed himself from the classic narrative, in working with a rewritten score and a very innovative staging, to embark on the conundrum of A.I. He even added an unforeseen tailpiece to the story, where Coppelia leaves her android condition breaking away from her maker. Will A.I. replace us or make us more human, that is the question!
Maillot does not create ballets to entertain us, but with the firm intention to provoke us, making us reflect on present burning issues. He confronts us to another crucial question: Is A.I. friend or foe? I myself believe it is a useful tool, but the choice is up to us humans on how it gets implemented.
When Jean-Christophe Maillot was asked if it would be conceivable for him to have an artificial or augmented dancer in his company, he responded: “I would be curious to see what it would be able to do as every choreographer has the hope of discovering the ideal ballerina who performs all movements perfectly, but I think I would tire of that quickly. Even if Science would make it possible to reproduce flesh, muscles, skin and motion convincingly, such a ballerina would never feel emotions like the artists I work with every day. I need to create closeness, emotional ties that make me feel I am receiving as much as I give them. I need to share the ties of friendship with my dancers, and I’m not sure that A.I. could every provide that one day.”
Coppel-i.A.’s futuristic dreamlike staging was confided to multifaceted Aimee Moreni, creative director, designer, stylist, photographer, scenic artist, and I would add to that list, incredible fashion designer! The highly imaginative Moreni had already collaborated in 2018 on Abstract’s Life by Maillot. Once again, she was given ample latitude in producing her own story within Maillot’s creation through the dazzling haute couture costumes that embrace and transform the dancers, and the space-age décor that changes like a chameleon amidst the lights and shadows effects. The fantastic staging, that at times resembles a camera shutter, was purposely built to accompany the troupe on tour.
Bertrand Maillot, Jean-Christophe’s talented brother, composed the new music score for Coppel-i.A. by deconstructing the original Leo Delibes’ partition from the 19th century. The composer came up with a modernized melody to support Maillot’s contemporary and provocative science fiction based storyline. With his new musical composition he managed to provide emotional support for the dramatis personae’s appreciation of real life versus illusion, thus putting the dancers’ emotions into perspective.
“What all of us have to do is to make sure we are using A.I. for the benefit of humanity, not to its detriment.” —Tim Cook