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BalletLab at the Australian Ballet Studios in development for Aviary BalletLab at the Australian Ballet Studios in development for Aviary
photo Jeff Busby
JUST BACK FROM TROY, NEW YORK STATE, VIA SAN DIEGO, ARIZONA AND DUSSELDORF, PHILLIP ADAMS HAS BEEN OFF THE BEATEN TRACK OF LATE. I MEET HIM AS HE PREPARES TO DEPART FOR ANOTHER DESTINATION—TIJUANA, MEXICO. WE TALK ABOUT GLUCKSCHWEIN, THE PRODUCTION HE IS MAKING WITH THE MEXICAN DANCE COMPANY LUX BOREAL. THE PIECE WILL FEATURE A SHEPHERD, DANCERS DRESSED AS SHEEP, 50 MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC ON STAGE PLAYING TOY PIANOS AND SOME RITUALISTIC SACRIFICE.

festival de mexico

Wild as it may sound, Gluckschwein is actually part of a formal exchange between Mexico and Australia, run by the very respectable Australia Latin America Foundation, with dedicated funding devolved from the Australia Council. Over two years from 2010 to 2011, there will be residencies in dance, physical theatre and music, “aimed at sharing skills and creating new work between Australian and Latin American artists and artistic companies.” David Clarkson of Stalker began the initiative with a physical theatre project in Colombia and Roland Peelman of The Song Company is working in Guadalajara, Mexico. Alongside Adams, another Melbourne based choreographer, Rebecca Hilton, is working with Mexican dance company La Lagrima in Hermosillo.

Phillip Adams has been to Tijuana twice already. The four weeks of rehearsals to come will precede a final visit to prepare the work for its world premiere at the Festival de Mexico in March 2011. He is inspired by the openness of the Mexican dancers, who recovered well from his initial attempts to freak them out. Broken in by running naked through the streets and confronting some of Adams’ more extreme preoccupations, they were quick to overcome cultural barriers and throw themselves into the experience.

Gluckschwein is an echo of the parallel production, Above, that Adams will make with his own company BalletLab. It addresses similar themes of death, mortality and transcendence. For over a decade, Adams tells me, he has been pursuing related ideas. He traces an arc through the 1999 production Amplification (RT33) and its 2009 companion piece Miracle (RT93) that encompasses all his work. “Above will be the closure of this journey,” he says, “Why not finalise this enquiry into sex, life and death with a look into the afterlife?”

Adams saw work in the Festival de Mexico last year and is confident that audiences will enjoy the extremity of his vision and that the material will touch a chord. He has not attempted to incorporate specific cultural references but is sure that they will emerge in the work that he has devised with the Mexican dancers. Whilst Gluckschwein will tour for Lux Boreal and already has dates in San Diego and parts of Mexico in 2011, Adams will focus upon his BalletLab work as soon as he is back from Tijuana.

mona foma

Adams will spend the latter part of this year developing Above; which will make its world debut at MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) FOMA (Festival of Music and Art) in Hobart, Tasmania in January 2011 (see preview). Commissioned by MONA, Above will be presented as part of a trilogy, alongside Amplification and Miracle. These works will constitute the only dance presentations in the festival, which is curated by Brian Ritchie of Violent Femmes and characterised by a hard rocking, left-field, internationalist aesthetic. This prominence is testimony to the long-standing relationship between BalletLab and MONA founder and art collector David Walsh, whose own much-anticipated museum will be opening its doors to the public at the same time as the third “MOFO” festival. Adams is proud to be so closely associated with what he anticipates to be “a landmark event for the arts in Australia.”

Walsh’s previous support for BalletLab includes a pivotal investment in the New York State residency that led to the creation of Miracle. “This level of patronage and prestigious recognition is highly unusual,” says Adams. He is extremely excited by this opportunity to show his works together in the way in which they sit so coherently in his mind. “Above will be more of an event than a performance,” he says. “It will have the same impact as Amplification and Miracle but on a larger scale. Like Gluckschwein, Above will feature 100 toy pianos on stage and an element of public participation. There will be biblical motifs and an exploration of sacrifice.”

In his press material, Adams talks about the work as “a fairytale in the guise of a modern road movie.” When I ask about the artistic collaborators in the work, he tells me that he will only work with the dancers, and that he will undertake all other design elements, taking the design of Miracle as the starting point. “I am looking for a raw, pared back aesthetic for this piece,” he says. This makes Above unusual for Adams, whose strong mission for BalletLab has always benefitted from the input of first class composers, costume designers and other design professionals such as architects.

ballet and beyond

Whilst Adams has no current invitations to present the entire trilogy elsewhere, he is confident that such offers will come. Amplification, the work that really broke BalletLab on to the international scene in 2000, with its sex and death concerns and brutally beautiful dancing, will receive another outing at Melbourne’s Malthouse in the Dance Massive festival in March 2011. Miracle, the piece that premiered at Melbourne’s State of Design Festival last year, was recently shown at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Centre (EMPAC) in Troy, New York State, in its Filament festival. EMPAC presented Amplification in 2007 and supported the Miracle residency in 2008, and this year, demonstrated their ongoing investment in BalletLab with two presentations of Miracle and an artist talk. EMPAC also worked with the company to invite other North American presenters to see the work. Adams hopes that further US touring will emerge from his long-standing relationships with the region and is also pursuing opportunities in Europe. His recent showcase presentation at the Internationale Tanzmesse NRW in Dusseldorf, a large dance platform and networking event, was an unusual move for an Australian company, but one that he is hoping will lead to commissions to make work with international companies and invitations to tour the BalletLab repertoire.

And Phillip Adams continues to add to that repertoire, with another work to premiere in Australia in 2011. Aviary is the result of a partnership with the Australian Ballet instigated through the Australia Council’s Interconnections program, which encourages a sharing of resources between arts organisations large and small. In 2009 Adams brought his contemporary dancers into the studios of the Ballet to work with classically trained dancers. Inspired by the music of Oliver Messiaen and by themes of war, masculinity and royalty, all overlaid with conceptual ideas about birds, the choreography pursued a meeting point of contemporary and classical.

A second development introduced the “dandy” aesthetic, drawn from a fruity palette of references from Beau Brummell to Gilbert and George. The collaborators for the final development, to take place in December this year, are a very BalletLab-like group, including milliner Richard Nylon, visual artist Gavin Brown and fashion designer Toni Maticevski. Adams says, “We are all of a generation; all Melbourne dandies.” Adams himself will perform in the piece, alongside five BalletLab dancers and one graduate of the Australian Ballet School. Aviary will be a large scale work for the proscenium arch, fitting, Adams says, “of the prestige of the relationship with the Ballet and the ambition of the piece.” This grand vision presages exciting times ahead for followers of the inimitable Adams and his BalletLab.


BalletLab, www.balletlab.com; MONA FOMA, Hobart, Jan 14-20 2011, http://mofo.net.au/

This article was originially published online, Nov 8, 2010.

RealTime issue #100 Dec-Jan 2010 pg. web

© Sophie Travers; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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