And All Things Return to Nature Tomorrow
Choreographer and dancer Phillip Adams is the founder and driving force behind contemporary dance company BalletLab, that much is certain. But trying to gain a better understanding of what it is and what it does is a little harder. Tim Hunter explores the world of BalletLab.
Adams established BalletLab in 1999 after a decade of working in New York. He saw an opportunity to set up a dance company that would explore the relationship between dance and other art forms, as well as pushing boundaries and redefining perceptions. Which is a mouthful in itself.
“We pride ourselves with being on the cutting edge and the local avant-garde,” Adams explains.
“We separate ourselves from other Melbourne dance companies with our live performances and hybridise that with visual arts, and we feel comfortable working in different contexts between museum and the performance venue.
“That’s taken 15 years to develop, and we’ve built a body of articulation in dance, cinema, theatre and the cross-disciplinary nature of those artforms, and we’ve arrived at the right time for me to be investigating my work in a more hybrid manner.”
In short, Adams is challenging the very nature of dance, performance spaces and audience expectations and participation.
Which brings us to 2013 and BalletLab’s latest work, And All Things Return to Nature Tomorrow.
It’s part of the LÓreal Melbourne Fashion Festival’s Cultural program, and as Adams enthusiastically explains what it’s about, high concepts, art theory and words such as ‘experiential’, ‘esoteric’ and ‘ethereal’ are thrown around, which, to be honest, doesn’t make things much clearer. But maybe that’s the point: “You have to see it; you can’t even write about it. It’s experiential, it’s seductive and sexually charged” – is as succinct as Adams gets.
Essentially it’s a double-bill performance… more of an experience. The first half, And All Things Return to Nature, has been commissioned from guest choreographer and dancer Brooke Stamp, with whom Adams is united “by a utopian impulse to build a structure that allows the audience to have an ‘experiential’ experience”.
It explores the nature of being and evolution, the rhythm and the inherent sound of the universe as she sings the performance into being. The audience are as much a part of the performance as the dancers in order for it to fulfil its vision, and as the work develops around them, it leads into the second half of the work, Tomorrow. Choreographed by Adams, via two years of research of architectural landscape of modernism that involved a supposed UFO landing site in the Mojave Desert and a recording session at the purpose-built acoustic ‘tabernacle’, the Integratron in California, the future is both built, and returned to its origins – in nakedness.
Yes, nudity. In fact, the whole second half of this work is performed naked. Adams didn’t find it confronting so much, more of a necessity for the work that was developing.
“As the process evolved, we couldn’t wait to get our clothes off,” Adams admits. “We feel quite comfortable, and the audience soon gets over it and participate with us in building a new environment, complete with blankets, string, rock, earth materials, measuring tapes and cement mixers.”
And that means that both audience and dancers are building, within the performance space, these environments, and then everyone is lying under these structures waiting for the alien abduction.
“It’s a bit sci-fi and cultish,” Adams says. “But what ties it together is the architectural promise that what you have built and where you are going is tomorrow, the unknown.”
And as a world first, the March 21 performance is 'Nude Night', where both performers and audience will be naked for the performance.
“Working naked cuts to the chase, and gets to the essence of what it is you need to say in the creative process. When you are clothed and do the same thing, it doesn’t feel as natural or as authentic. I want to shift the paradigm of what’s available in the dance world, and this project is another way to push boundaries.”
Adams regards Melbourne as an ideal city and culture to explore avant-garde dance.
“It is a great place to create. We have that freedom; we’re not tied by any European thread to the romantic and classical era. In that capacity we are fresh and young and have an indefatigable imagination to lay bare.”
BalletLab is about to join forces with the Victorian AIDS Council for a work called Kingdom. “We’ll be working with the Positive community of Melbourne, where we will celebrate and bring well-being, awareness and education to people by creating 60 performative, visual and storytelling portraits, and we’re aiming to present this at the World AIDS Conference in 2014. It’s inspired everyone I’ve spoken to about it.
“Collaboration is at the deep consciousness of BalletLab’s work,” Adams sums up. “It’s very deep, and our GLBTQI audiences always get a thrill out of what we have on offer. Because it changes the way that queer is defined.”
And All Things Return to Nature Tomorrow, March 15 - 23, 2013, Southbank Theatre, 140 Southbank Blvd, Southbank. mtc.com.au