Umbrella Project participants color the nighttime sky during the premiere performance at PopTech last fall. Photo: Pilobolus.
The Umbrella Project. Photo: Ho Yin Au Photography.
The Umbrella Project. Photo: Ho Yin Au Photography.

Dance company Pilobolus creates interactive performance with MIT robotics

About the Performance

The performance group Pilobolus and the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) collaborated to create UP: Umbrella Project, an event that bought together hundreds of members of the MIT community to participate in a large-scale, live performance piece. Each UP participant was provided an umbrella equipped with red, green and blue LED lights. Using hand controllers designed by researchers in the MIT Distributed Robotics Lab at CSAIL, participants, functioning like “human pixels,” independently changed the color of their umbrellas.

Guided by the Pilobolus creative team, participants then used these umbrellas to create images projected in real time on a large outdoor screen—producing a colorful and ever-changing display that is both an experiment and live art. In exploring this kind of collective behavior, the Umbrella Project advances the study of “swarm intelligence” in the hopes that these insights can be applied to design more human-like robots.

Presented by the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST).

Public Events

Past Events

UP: The Umbrella Project
May 19, 2013 / 7:45pm
MIT Jack Barry Field

An algorithmic choreographic large group performance in which Pilobolus creates unexpected improvised dances using the spontaneous response of a crowd holding illuminated umbrellas to pixelate themselves as images on video screens. Functioning as individuals in a group—or pixels on a screen—participants wielding umbrellas fabricated with multi-colored LED lights create a performance piece together that is projected in real time on a large screen.

Collaborators at MIT

Daniela Rus, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Director of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL)

Kyle Gilpin, Postdoctoral Fellow, MIT Distributed Robotics Laboratory, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL)

About the Artists

Pilobolus is an internationally acclaimed performance collective, renowned for its unique, diverse collaborations that ignore preconceived barriers between creative disciplines. The company is committed to constantly making things, always creating collaboratively and always exploring ways of using the human body as a graphic and expressive medium. Pilobolus was founded in 1971 by a group of Dartmouth College students with no training in dance and no interest in playing by the rules. They employed an inventive naïveté that the contemporary “Pilobolus 2.0” energetically applies to the diversity of opportunities in today’s world. The company puts its intense creative energy into action in the communities where it performs, teaching groups of people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities new ways of thinking independently, forming genuine human connection, working collaboratively and finding beauty in unexpected places.

Pilobolus currently performs its work for over 300,000 people across the U.S. and around the world each year. Pilobolus was featured around the world on the “79th Annual Academy Awards Broadcast,“ and on “60 Minutes,” “Sesame Street,” “Oprah,” “Ellen” and “Late Night with Conan O’ Brien.” Pilobolus has been recognized with many prestigious honors, including a Scripps Award in 2000, a Dance Magazine Award in 2010, a TED Fellowship, a 2012 Grammy® Award Nomination and several Cannes Lion Awards at the International Festival of Creativity. In 2015, Pilobolus was named one of Dance Heritage Coalition’s “Irreplaceable Dance Treasures.”

More at the artist’s website: Pilobolus.