Axeman Lullaby | BalletLabPhotos - Jeff Busby

Choreographer Phillip Adam’s latest work continues a fascination with the Australian landscape. While Brindabella (2007) portends the mystical and enchanting aspects of a mountain range, this new work is loosely inspired by the landscape as represented in 1970’s Australian cinema, films like Fred Schepsi’s The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (1978), where murder and a monstrous mythic landscape meet, teetering on a fulcrum between indigenous past and uncertain post colonial future.

Blood red lighting sets an alchemical mood. A sense of foreboding prevails. Axe wielding dancers, setting to an absurd task. What amounts to tackling, disassembling a large square in the form of a wooden field. A metaphor perhaps for what transpires in a postcolonial place like Australia. It is a carefully arranged wood field artfully strewn together like a Rosalie Gascoigne collage. Suggesting perhaps that any cultural heritage or belief system needs to be destroyed, obliterated, dissected before it can be rehewn, reconstituted or transformed.

Tossing turning the field into a chaotic heap, the dancers bodies inflected with tension, short sharp measured footwork, angst, violent rage in motion in a chorus of splinters and off cuts. In the backdrop an Axeman stands like a mythic figure, swinging his axe, keeping meter and rhyme like a human metronome for the unfolding ballad. In the foreground an androgynous youth mimics the heroic image of the Woodchopper. Dancer Stuart Shugg stands tall and slender in contrast to the ad hoc heap and the divine presence of the woodchopper (Laurence O'Toole).

In the slow fade up of white light, a Victorian bush setting is revealed, Dancers Joanne White, Claire Peters, Carlee Mellow appear in a white frou frou of Victorian gowns floating, drifting like clouds. Their incessant bantering, chanting cajoling with racial slur, a dire contrast to the deft delicate choreography, circular motion like waltzes suggesting the civility of the English court.

Sitting quietly contemplatively in the background, in the shadow of the woodchopper is a dark silhouette of a man. This sitting man (Jacob Brown) moves quietly forward into the white light, striding out slow tribal footwork deep into the black earth. His dance gathers in pace, in striking disarray to the Axeman rhythm, the sitting man as changeling, walking out a different beat, a different story.

In the final scene the dancers form an arc, dancing with the strewn wood taking it to their hearts, stretching it skywards, downwards, outwards, ceremoniously making a chorus of circles, sliding and gliding the wood to make a soft chant of flesh and wood that is mesmeric, redemptive, a lulling for the soul.

In signature baroque style BalletLab brings together performance, visual and sound art, a broad lexicon of dance styles, melodrama, film grabs alongside a haunting sound score composed by collaborator David Chisholm. The ensemble ever mercurial. slipping between genres, capably and at times enchantingly, making mystical connections between different sensory worlds.

Adams in his idiosyncratic way pays homage to the humanist tradition, this very symbolic fusion, the conjunction of square and circle that fascinated artists and philosophers during the Renaissance. Adams draws different forms, oppositions, cultures to make mystical connections where once there were none, to make poetry at the fulcrum.

BalletLab presents the world premiere of
Axeman Lullaby

Venue: Chunky Move Studios | 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Dates: Thursday 7th – Sunday 17th August
Times: Wed & Thurs 8pm, Fri & Sat 7pm & 8.30pm, Sun 17th 3pm

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