about mml

The Machine Movement Lab (MML) project is an arts-led research project that seeks to trouble and expand our relationships with machines. Co-founded by Petra Gemeinboeck and Rob Saunders in 2015, MML brings together dance improvisation and posthuman dramaturgy with robotics and machine learning, grounded in an enactive, performative framework. It is a collaboration with dancers, choreographers, AI researchers, engineers, and numerous materials—from cardboard, PVC tubes, plywood to aluminum framing, motors, motor controllers, cables, cable binders, and software programs­ – across robotics labs, dance studios, fab labs, and gallery spaces.

The project seeks to challenge conventional hierarchies in robotics by bringing together dancers' corporeal thinking and kinaesthetic empathy with machine learning to shape a more horizontal playground for human-machine encounters. Current visions of our near future with robotic companions are fuelled by a desire to render things more alive and relatable by blurring the differences between humans and machine-things.

Yet merely producing shallow reflections of us, this assimilation effort perpetuates the exclusive hegemonic politics that dismiss and demobilize the matterings of less privileged humans and nonhumans alike. Things mirroring (human) bodies thus only imprison both bodies and things in mimicry and servitude.

MML, in contrast, seeks to trouble our relationships with machines to both demystify and re-enchant machine-things (see Taussig, 1993). Re-enchanting things in our practice highlights the material-performative potential inherent to things and solicits collaboration rather than control. Embracing and aesthetically foregrounding the asymmetries between humans and machine-things by physically and dramaturgically entangling them, MML gives rise to strange trans-bodily resonances. Rather than serving to make the strange look more familiar, aesthetics here is about rendering differences relational.

The Machine Movement Lab—in a nutshell—explores the playground that is opened up by enacting agency through movement dynamics and how this sets the stage for carefully attending to a dancer’s body entangling with an artefact and how the two mutually extend each other, spatially and affectively. A core premise of our relational-performative approach is the notion of agency as enactment. Agency, in other words, is brought forth in the encounter of bodies and/or things; it is not a property that a machine can be imbued with. Karen Barad’s agential realism (2003, 2007) rethinks the construct of interaction, which assumes two separate, pre-existing entities with built-in agencies. Barad’s concept of intra-action, in contrast, acknowledges how subjects and objects co-constitute each other and emerge in the dynamics of the encounter.

This website explores the project’s evolution over the years, tracing a journey from its inception in 2015 to the latest stages of research development in posthuman performance-making from 2019 to 2023.

The Machine Movement Lab project brings together various, distinct research projects that have been partially supported by various funding bodies:

  • Performative Body Mapping—designing the Cube Performer (2016-2019): Australian Research Council (ARC) [DP160104706]
  • Dancing with the Nonhuman—performance-making as research tool (2019-2023): Austrian Science Fund (FWF) [AR 545]
  • Human-Robot Experience (HRX)—diversifying and making participatory human-robot interaction (2021-2025): the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council (ARC) [FT190100567].


becoming-with: early costume experiments

MML began with literally probing into the richness of human-nonhuman entanglements by asking dance performers to inhabit, wear or extend themselves into a wide variety of materials and their relational potential.
Our focus was on utilizing simple, non-organic shapes, seeking to examine the machinic potential from within and investigate how porous we could make the boundary between subject and object. Focusing on geometric shapes allowed us to steer clear of life-like forms and zoom-in on the dynamic, transformative qualities of movement and its capacity for relation-making.
Becoming-with the cube involves dancers reconfiguring their bodies as well as letting themselves being shaped by these nonhuman sensations and to resonate with them—to feel-think-move-with the cube. Movement, in this approach, becomes a generative force, capable of making bodies, meanings, and relationships.

becoming-with: more-than-human

We chose the cube for our initial machinic prototype because of its simple, omni-directional shape and how it offers a counter-position to common tendencies to mimic organic forms; we also found that juxtaposing this plain regularity with rich-dynamic movement qualities opens up new opportunities for meaning-making.
The costume stands-in for a robot-in-the-making and allows human performers to step into the shoes of a cubic machine performer to explore its unique material-relational potential. We refer to this as Performative Body Mapping, enabling dancers to extend into and attune to the different material affordances of a nonhuman-like artefact. The aim of this hybrid entanglement is to collapse the distance between human and machine, not by masking their differences but by bringing them into resonance instead.

becoming-with: early encounters

This page shows early attempts to explore conversational encounters between bodies and things in Sydney, AU, Falmouth, UK, and Vienna, AT (2017-2019). Choreographers involved: Tess De Qincey (AU), Katrine Brown (UK), and Marie-Claude Poulin (AT); dance performers involved: Kerstin Packham (AU), Linda Luke (AU), Sarah Levinsky (UK), Audrey Rochette (CA).

becoming-hybrid: stretching the subject-object boundary

with dancer Audrey Rochette, video © Petra Gemeinboeck 2023.
According to new materialist thinking, boundaries between subjects and objects are made and continuously re-made as part of our ongoing intra-actions with the world. In this series of experiments, we are exploring what happens when we linger along the seams that demarcate the boundary between our body and the thingness of an artefact.
We found that this mode of careful, hybrid attunement, where both cube and dancer mutually extend each other, opens up and stretches the subject-object boundary and renders it porous.

becoming-tentacular: relational encounters

MML develops a posthuman performance-making practice that explores new modes of trans-corporeal attunement, empathy, and meaning-making between human bodies and machine things. Our emphasis is on exploring the more-than-human entanglements that emerge from this diffractive approach, specifically how the dancer's body and the artifact interfere and extend each other.

becoming-tentacular: co-worlding

Recently we began to experiment with an expanded network of human and non-human performers to explore the possibilities of world-making—a becoming-with cube-world and the ongoing embodied, playful attunement to the intertwined processes of worlding—a co-worlding.


dancing with the nonhuman: [VIE-2-2-1]

video © Petra Gemeinboeck 2022

5min extract from Machine Movement Lab: Dancing with the Nonhuman [VIE-2-2-1] improvisational human-robot performance, 29 & 30 November, die Angewandte, Vienna.

Posthuman dramaturgy
Petra Gemeinboeck
Dance performers
Felix Palmerson, Audrey Rochette
Creative robotics
Rob Saunders
Robert Downie

dancing with the nonhuman: [SYD-2-2-1]

video © Petra Gemeinboeck 2022

Bodies and things are inherently relational and porous, always ready to be reconfigured and entangled. The improvisational performance seeks to materialize the proposition of a more horizontal playground for dancing with machines, requiring us to get entangled and resonate with them. It means collapsing the distance between subjects and objects, stretching and opening up the boundaries between them, exploring the spaces in-between, and extending tentacles into other boundary spaces. Getting entangled, the diffractive way, Dancing with the Nonhuman activates a hybrid playground for rendering boundaries elastic and differences relational.

Posthuman dramaturgy
Petra Gemeinboeck
Petra Gemeinboeck, Arabella Frahn-Starkie, Felix Palmerson, Siobhan McKenna
Creative robotics
Rob Saunders
Dance performers
Arabella Frahn-Starkie, Felix Palmerson
Robert Downie
Video documentation
Michele Barker, Kristina Mah
Video editing
Michele Barker, Petra Gemeinboeck