- Paul Andrew
More than a decade after its premiere, BalletLab will this month revive Phillip Adam's acclaimed dance work Amplification as part of the 2011 Dance Massive. Using the car accident as metaphor for mental/physical disassociation, Amplification has a reputation for being provocative, chilling and confronting.
Multi award winning dancer and choreographer Brooke Stamp performed in the original 1999 production and again performs in this new version at the Malthouse Theatre. She talks to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.
We still use the expression 'train wreck' to discuss human havoc – yet it's cars that continue to kill and confound us. Your thoughts about this Brooke?
I personally have little connection to car culture beyond maybe questioning the ethical and environmental implications of our contemporary world in general, but I do think it’s strange. I tend to walk a lot, I like to hear, see, touch, smell and engage with the natural world as much as possible. Interestingly your question makes me think of times I’ve driven around Los Angeles, and how this experience epitomises the paradox of our time and environment. I recall the deeply psychedelic energy of the Californian landscape, the valleys, the ocean, the mystical desert surrounds, but it’s this paradise with its tone of heat and its pollution so thick you can’t breathe, it’s the horrific accidents and breakdowns, it’s speed and aggression that’s both as beautifully poignant as it is painfully absurd.
Actually cars to me are like science fiction entities that we cheat death in daily, we function with them on these giant man-made grids of rules and structures, lights, lines and tunnels, we demonstrate remarkable compliance to systems and order, yet a kink in the chain of concentration can mean imminent catastrophe. I’m not sure that Amplification so much comments on the ‘foolishness’ surrounding car culture, but it certainly points towards the potential chaos inherent in the psyche of human endeavour.
In the case of Amplification what resonates for me is the human body versus the fetishized nature of the car as object. The rawness and handsomeness of a menacing aluminium structure, the restless bass note of the engine, the feverish whirling of the wheels and the heat driven shrieks and squeals generated by burning rubber as they spin. It’s incredibly sexy. There’s perhaps a visceral fear response to loud engines and such, and somehow I draw this with me into the performance of this work. While I might cower at the invasiveness of the machine, the spirit of abandon and violence in the psychology of speed as it interrupts my private own utopia, I too perversely enjoy this phenomenon of invasion. Like the work Amplification invites us to, I find I want to be closer to the noise, I want to slow down and look at the shocking aftermath of the accident, feel horrified, be blinded by the flashing lights, experience the thrill of my own vulnerability. Being closer to the ‘train wreck’ or potential havoc is a perversion that is definitely harnessed in the work.
A car crash is also a powerful metaphor and not just for JG Ballard?
The crash, the breakdown, the apocalypse or even the unbridled speed at which the planet is rotating, all forge toward the sense of adrenaline in this work. It’s through life itself that human beings test what we don’t know, we tempt catastrophe, we’re always experimenting, curious to experience the limits of our control.
We might consider the crash of the mind or spirit, but it’s the physical body as it nears death, the ending before the beginning or the rebirth that I choose to examine in the psychology of the performance. Phillip talks about the microscopic look at the 1.6 seconds of impact slowed down, and in some ways for me I can assimilate this idea to the performance, and consider the impact or crash as a metaphor for existence itself. The universe, the burning out of a giant star, the possibility of a meteor hurtling toward us and demolishing the planet, and the hopeful glow of the aftermath before a new cycle is birthed. I have little interest in just dancing the beautiful design of choreography, it’s the question of how to ‘dance existence’ that drives me.
Lynton Carr’s use of Holst’s The Planets and of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring equally summons such grandiose notions. I think as dancers in the work we experience the poetic duality of our strength versus our limitation, and as human beings too, we live only within our known potential. Thankfully we can harness the gift of our subconscious to experience our unknown potential. I think It’s somewhat devastating that we can’t fly, breathe underwater, or become invisible etc. So, I think we make art, it’s all a giant metaphor.
The dancers simulate what type of car crash scenarios, feelings, emotions and human responses?
I’d have to say that true to Phillip’s choreographic language and the evolution of our practice over these years, Amplification doesn’t so much call for exploration or simulation of response, the action and the material manifests an authentic physical response, an inescapable charge if you will, and if emotion or intensity is observed by the audience then it’s because it’s actually happening in the dancer as they perform. It’s the sight of their bodies under actual duress that is both painful and mesmerizing.
I think there’s more a kind of sensory revelation of emotion, which feels just like aspects of the industrial noise records Lynton pulls into his turntable score sound. Bodies collide smash and press against each other, are tossed around and manipulated as though under the pressure of the full throttle, the speed and pump of the accelerator pedal and the hard core breaking before impact. I’d also add too that in Phillip’s fantasy, the foot at the accelerator would be immaculately encased in a brilliant Louboutin pump. Somewhere in the work’s subconscious there’s a Lynchian image of a beautiful long thigh wrapped in a classic Dior pencil skirt pressed against a black vinyl seat. Beyond the fantasy it’s the dancers manipulating each other, it’s the thrashing, throwing, whipping, and manifest adrenalin that is frequently described in this work. Phillip talks to us about the wild cheetah and its prey, the slow motion image of the beast as it captures, shreds, tares and nurtures its find.
The question is how much can the body take before it too crashes? Honestly in my experience with this piece it’s not uncommon that to come off stage in tears or in a physical state of shock after a solid performance. This is when the body has been exorcised, so that the emotional state inherently arises. We are literally experiencing the Crash.
The choreographic rigor and detail in this piece is of a time and of a genre that I believe Phillip harnessed in 1998/99, at the zeitgeist of a new cycle in Melbourne Dance making. He occasionally queries whether he really knew what he was doing during the creation of this work after his arrival back from a career in New York, but I feel that beyond his research at the Alfred Hospital Morgue, or of TAC Crash Test Dummy videos for example, Phillip works somewhat like Pollock at the canvas, he works very much from intuition and his own personal mythology. With Phillip, imagination and instinct reign supreme.
BalletLab's production of Amplification (choreography by Phillip Adams) plays at the CUB Malthouse, March 22- 26, 2011, as part of the 2011 Dance Massive. Further details»
Top Right - Brooke Stamp
Bottom Right - Amplification. Photo - Jeff Busby