Humanity in the digital age
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Humanity in the digital age

IBM 1401 by Sai Somboon explores our relationship with technology in a unique format

Sai Somboon with the dance team. (Photos: Glom Theatre)
Sai Somboon with the dance team. (Photos: Glom Theatre)

The Sodsai Theatre at Chulalongkorn University will soon host an extraordinary fusion of dance, theatre and technology titled IBM 1401. This contemporary piece, directed by New York-based Thai artist Sai Somboon, delves into the complex interplay between humanity and technology.

As Sai prepares for his directorial debut in Thailand, he brings a wealth of experience and a unique vision to the stage. From July 5-21, audiences will have the opportunity to witness a unique blend of fluid choreography and storytelling, exploring themes of connection, resilience and obsession in the digital era. Throughout the piece, performers express the profound impact of machines on human society while exploring the enduring bonds that unite us.

IBM 1401 features the hauntingly beautiful music of Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. The composition, IBM 1401, A User's Manual, is the heartbeat of the performance and intertwines with the movement of dancers and the narrative itself. In a recent interview with Life, Sai reflected on his inspiration.

"The biggest inspiration is the music. It's very cinematic, almost like a movie soundtrack. Listening to it, I envisioned a story based on the human relationship with a computer. This narrative led us to create a dance theatre piece with no speaking, allowing the audience to interpret it in their own way," he said.

Glom Theatre

The performance is a collaboration between Thailand's innovative arts collective Glom, and the Department of Dramatic Arts at Chulalongkorn University. Glom, founded in 2022, aims to push boundaries of what is creatively possible through interactive events. Their mission aligns perfectly with Sai's vision of creating intellectually stimulating work that engages the audience on multiple levels.

At the core of IBM 1401 are themes of connection, resilience and obsession which are intricately woven into the performance.

"It's about obsession and seduction by a computer. During the early 1960s, this technology was just emerging and the engineer in our story gets sucked in and seduced by this computer, almost like it's a soulmate or a partner," Sai explained.

"The tension between the computer, the engineer and his wife is something we wanted to explore, an intense and unprecedented connection with technology."

Today, as our lives have become increasingly intertwined with techno­logy, these themes resonate strongly. A distinctive feature of IBM 1401 is the live string ensemble that accompanies the performance, directed by Jonas Dept. The ensemble includes musicians from prestigious Thai orchestras to create a rich and immersive soundscape.

"There is nothing like performing as a dancer with live music," Sai revealed. "It's about different elements coming together -- the live music, the beautiful string ensemble and the performers. The set is also a big character in this piece, almost like parts of a computer coming together.

"As you know, this is not a traditional play. It's also not a musical. It's a dance theatre show. There's no talking and it's all movement. We wanted to bring in new ways of seeing art."

Sai's Thai heritage and his experience in the New York City dance scene uniquely position him to bridge cultural and artistic divides.

Reflecting on his background, Sai said: "I am Thai 100%. Both my parents are Thai, and I spent eight years growing up in Thailand. Working with Thai artists, there's so much enthusiasm and eagerness to do things that have not been done before. As a Thai person, I take time to understand individuals and get to know the dancers, which influences my work deeply."

His cultural insights and understanding of both Eastern and Western traditions allow him to create works that resonate on multiple levels, enriching the performance with a profound sense of authenticity and empathy.

This blend of cultural perspectives is evident in the way he approaches his work and his interactions with the cast and crew.

Working with Glom, the innovative theatre company based in Chiang Mai, has been a transformative experience for Sai. "Glom is amazing because we are trying to do things that haven't been done before in Thailand," he said.

"We want to present work that is intellectually stimulating and collaborates with different groups in Thailand. Part of our mission is to nurture and develop local talent. We had a week of workshops before the audition to see how people move and use their bodies. It was fascinating to see how they could improvise and collaborate with each other and with me in this artistic process.

"IBM 1401 captures the essence of human connection during the early digital age through a unique blend of stylised and pedestrian movements. We convey this through dance.

"There are movements that are more abstract, but also realist at the same time. The dancers' performances reflect the historical context and emotional landscape of the characters."

As Sai prepares for the debut of IBM 1401 in Bangkok, he has hopes for what the audience will take away from the performance.

"I hope the audience will see and appreciate the power of dance as a storytelling tool. I hope they'll see the intersection of dance and theatre and feel the music. Ultimately, I want them to interpret the show in their own way and take away their own reflections."

IBM 1401 Performance Details

  • Venue: Sodsai Theatre, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok
  • Schedule: July 5-7: 2pm and 8pm July 12-14: 2pm, 8pm July 19-21: 2pm, 6pm
  • Tickets cost 1,200 baht for adults and 500 baht for students. Tickets can be purchased at
  • For more information visit


Director Sai Somboon. Glom Theatre

Glom Theatre

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