Drexel and Parsons Dance Premiere 'Hello World' Drone Performance in NYC

Dan Ziegler

A swarm of drones, created, programmed and operated by Drexel students, gracefully flew alongside dancers during a performance, titled Hello World, in a multi-week run at The Joyce Theater in May 2017.

This captivating performance, which explored the evolution of man and machine, was the result of Drexel’s months-long collaboration with New York City-based modern dance company Parsons Dance. The concept was born after Artistic Director David Parsons contacted to Drexel’s Youngmoo Kim, director of the Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center, after hearing of the Center’s past experience and success working with technology and performing arts projects. 

Kim, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, assembled an all-star team of undergraduate students to make Parsons' vision happen, including College of Computing & Informatics students Dan Ziegler, Zach Silverstein, Tess DiStefano, Kyle Abramowitz, Mike McGinn, and College of Engineering students Adam Cho, Gary Grossi, Savannah Lee and John Capone.  "It is truly a unique fusion of cutting-edge technology and art in partnership with a world-class dance company," said Kim. 

The team of undergraduate students first developed and programmed drones as part of an interactive dance performance that debuted in December 2016 at the Prince Theater in Philadelphia. Dance students in Westphal College of Media Arts & Design also worked with David Parsons in the early stages of developing the work. 

"We're a group of undergrads with various levels of expertise coming together to work on these projects and somehow it worked, and that's an accomplishment," Ziegler said. "In the beginning, we didn't think [flying drones around dancers] could work, but it absolutely did."

The team – with the help of Kim and co-advisor and CCI Teaching Professor Jeff Salvage – made significant improvements to the drones in preparation for the performances. The team tested out these tweaks during rehearsals with Parsons dancers on Drexel's University City Campus. First, they were working with more drones than before; a more compact drone design allowed the team increase the "dancing" drones from two to six drones. Second, they upgraded the drone lights from solid white lights to multiple tri-color LEDs to produce a richer visual experience. 

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