As with all BalletLab works, it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before, and so it was at the world premiere of dance work Ever, held inside the Victorian company home, The Temperance Hall. Inside this building clad wholly in puritan white, we gathered to view, inside a main performance space of a white, picket-fenced rectangular enclosure, two fascinating parts play out, both meditations on Quaker values and the American West, by acclaimed director and national dance icon, Phillip Adams.
This show does not disappoint, returning him to his early career excellence. Any night with Adams delights aesthetically, in costume, setting, refined and elaborated artistic finesse, with pop cultural references, and a queer-identification, as well as through unique movement design and pairings, and Adams here offers up the best of both his conceptual interests- dance and philosophy. For those who think dance shouldn't be intellectual, it's an unexpected coupling.
All Adam's works heightened experiences, with histrionic sonic amplification, these manifestations of both the irrational and the unconscious take us where no one else would. It’s like walking on the moon, into deep space, or through a scene in sci-fi film Barbarella. Also, watching a master craftsman at the height of his powers. No one else would dare to take us to the places Adams does, and, as with all world-class artists, we follow willingly.
This work is a meditation on purity and corruption, disease and contagion, signified via the ruination of the claustrophobic white of the first half by enlivening colour. Part I presents a New World pathological Christian space, obsessed with cataloguing merit or worthiness for God's love, for redemption or salvation, posited here as a kind of clinical cruelty. The desperate repression seen in this section, with its clipped four-person ensembles and panicked duets, calls to mind Hitchcock’ film, The Birds.
Six dancers animate incessantly with juts, jumps, twists, and flailing movements. But it is a dance of containment, in their tight-fitting costumes, the linear frame of their enclosure, and the smothering whiteness of the landscape they seek air from. Their manic moves force them to loop about each other and themselves, as does the title of the strenuous music accompanying them, John Adam’s Shaker Loops and Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen. They appear as fragile birds – doomed in action, in competition for freedom, whose frenzied agility disturbs.
Adams partners for costume with theatrical, fashion and artistic designer Akira Isogawa, who presents beautifully simple cut out swathes of linen and calico for the first half, which resemble puppetry smocks and dresses, with pleats, folds and line as expression of the complexity which hides human hearts beneath exterior stricture. One pure black interloper enters the scene, dancing with the white clan, then disappears. In such a terrain, there is only black and white, and black is the cat amongst the pigeons. This section is 100% dance and we all loved seeing Adam's hysterical, and complex, group ensembles in action.
On par with Picasso, and Almodovar’s cinematic brilliance, visual art is central to this work, and painting in the second half becomes partner with a first part of pure movement, where Adam's inscribes his reinvented dance technique on the body. The second half starts with a short film of paint being smeared onto black and white ribbons, amongst which rests Adam's silhouette. A meditation on the viscosity and sensuousness of paint, cleverly depicted is the realisation – what is a world without colour? This two-tone duality is thereafter corrupted by the insertion of primary colours as rich paint poured over their strands- red, yellow, black, and electric blue- blending to form new tonalities. Adams is physically covered in this mess, which soon appears wondrous. After the sterile coolness of the first part, the lush abandon of spilled paint enervates!
Adam’s interest is also in the materiality of things- how they fold, fall, wrap, blend, transform, mutate, and change, through happenstance and casual causality, and the pathways created through these relationships, often brought about through direct contact. As with people. He unique gift is to translate this discovery into movement design on the body, via his unique vernacular and spatial placements, as well as holding it as aesthetic motif for the blending of all things – cells in the bloodstream, nationalities, gendered relations, identity. The way we see ourselves in this lifetime and world is perhaps a limited framework for conception.
Matthew Adey's sets and prop are as much of the performance as the dance. As if the elastic bands in your brain were not pulled tightly enough, the second half gives us a 20 metre long inflatable blue ‘mattress’, 5 metres wide, where we watch the dancers slowly roll along, encased, womblike, inside luridly coloured, bag-like ‘jumpsuits’ in the same red, yellow and blue. Make of this what you will. I'm still uncertain. As it should be. You leave Adams with your mind more open than it before you came in.
A retro iconography of the mythical ‘West' is quietly signposted in this work, with references to prairies, cactii, Mexicana, and lassoo's, but these are mere props which toy with the real. Where culture really colonises is via the mind and this inclusion of kitsch shows the arbitrariness of all cultural coding, whether high, low, imposed from above, or made up by lay people. Here is ridiculed the imposition of religion, the social order, social mores, and the submissiveness expected of the people. This work is a riposte to some core American values which also exist inside Christian democracies the world over. It takes a great confidence to take on such grand ideas and the luxurious skill of a company such as Adam's raises such queries with exciting pleasure!
Seeing a BalletLab work is anything but quotidian. It's searing inquiry transports you into a conceptual strangeness which allows you to question the veracity of dominant paradigms. Get into the fringes of cultural perceptions with BalletLab's latest chapter!
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold and non-traditional performance platforms. On the street or in the box seat, she looks for quality works that push the envelope.
Ever shows 6 – 21 October, 8pm Monday – Saturday (60mins) at Temperance Hall. Buy tickets here. The performance space is accessible.
Disclosure: The Plus Ones were guests of TS Publicity.
Image credit: Jeff Busby.