“The show was moving, it inspired us,” cheered the audience at Belarusian Irena Mihalkovich’s dance performance at the Utopian Dystopia festival in Kochi. Irena, whose stage name is Mohini, choreographed in Indian classical dance the trauma a woman could experience in her lifetime. But with a major twist, the protagonist was a machine instead of a human.
The heart of the story focuses on an AI prototype of a woman. Whenever the machine breaks down, it starts reacting psychotically and falls into a runtime error. The entire performance was developed as software analysis.
Irena also incorporated a video titled “Balance” into her performance, which indicated finding the higher self. The performance was completed with sound effects and the voice of an AI as well as a backdrop reproducing the brain of the machine, representing its environment and what it sees and passes through. Upon reaching the climax, the character finally finds healing and enters a phase of self-hypnosis.
AI is included in the choreography through visuals and sound. The performance begins with a pre-recorded automated voice. As the mode changes, techno music takes over. On stage, a screen is projected in the background. Images of software problems and system restarts are projected on the screen. The emotional stability of the protagonist is represented through these issues on screen. AI sound effects infused with every runtime error enhance the overall performance impact.
find the story
“Certain things come to mind, and you start to live like a chain that connects art to its audience,” Irena explains. It was during one of the routine chats that a friend mentioned a robot dancing Mohiniyattam, a traditional dance form in Kerala. However, Irena deviated slightly from the thread and formulated something quite different.
“So far, machines are capable of many skills, but we still haven’t heard of AI that actually generates human emotions,” says Irene. She is convinced that the days when machines will start to look like human beings are not so far away.
Irena has her roots in Belarus, a country on the Russian-Ukrainian border, the epicenter of an ongoing war. The war in Europe tore her apart personally, and she recreated through her performance using music and sounds of explosions. Another cause for the system reboot is the damage that war brings to his character’s life. Child abuse, struggling to find a place in the world, breaking down barriers, dealing with toxic masculinity and losing loved ones in war are all incorporated into the choreography. In short, it’s an amalgamation of all the atrocities Irena has witnessed, read about, and experienced.
Besides being a performer, Irena is a dance teacher, yoga trainer and model. She is also developing an independent film on the Devadasi system that prevailed in India.
Re-rooting in India
In 2014, when Irena moved to India as an ICCR scholar, she had a vision: to learn Indian classical dance. Although she learned the basics of Indian classical dance from her hometown in Belarus, she was terrified of moving to another country.
“Today you can find any information online. But it was not the same back then,” says Irena. Now she laughs at how the Indian climate, culture and horror stories she’s heard about snakes and coconuts falling on your head scared her. “Fear has big eyes. Sometimes things are scary. But not to the extent that our brains do,” she added.
Irena was an international relations professional at the time, but she always knew that she belonged elsewhere. “My entry into international relations was a choice made under family pressure”, explains Irena. However, watching her perform on stage, it is obvious that she was born to be a dancer.
The future with AI
AI is transforming every industry it touches. While many live in fear of AI replacing them in their workspace, Irena has a different perspective.
“If AI can do our job, won’t everything become much easier? We could use that time to spend some quality time with our friends and family,” she asks.
She believes in working only up to a certain limit. “I don’t know why working hard is a point of pride. It’s not a healthy life. Every person needs a break,” she added. In this regard, she believes that AI would make this world a better place.
As she prepares for her next master’s degree in Norway, Irena hopes to present her work at other festivals and other platforms. She is also looking forward to developing her work with AI and classical dance by collaborating with industry experts who can provide a solid technical foundation for her choreography.