Phillip Adams’ choreography sometimes repeats a physical action until it achieves the transcendent extremity of a ritual. By taking on the subject matter of mass hysteria and apocalyptic cults, where the held breath of expectation is clothed in mantras and cyclical behaviours, he has found a fitting underpinning.

In BalletLab’s 2007 Brindabella, the piece was literally bisected by four dancers jogging in near-unison around the stage. It went on for far longer than one expected and, in doing so, it suspended the audience from any act of judgment or any desire to draw literal meaning. It was a relatively unadorned pause in between more elaborate worlds on either side. It acted as an enforced threshold, the thud of footfalls was mesmeric and the circling bodies were hypnotising. We were being lulled into a different state.

In Miracle, it’s all about different states—the hallucinatory, the delusional, the ecstatic, the postmortem. We start in a state of quiet dislocation. The space is filled with brightly lit haze, creating an obscuring curtain of white. As the haze fades, four figures are revealed far back on the stage. They stand in a line, in loose-fitting robes: orange, yellow, blue, green. The costumes, by fashion designer Toni Maticevski, are a confectioner’s riff on tie-dye.

The dancers retain their stance and their silence for a long, enticing moment. After all, when you are waiting for the end of the world, anticipation is the key. Then, suddenly, and with great force, the sky opens up and peals of sound rush forward along with the dancers. Their bodies carve out a diagonal sweep and the speakers crush out an orchestrated wall of strings, voices and beats. Holding hands, the dancers retrace their steps, their mouths agape with cries, and they cross forward and back again and again until their efforts drive them into prostration. The effect of such intensity could be galling, eviscerating or transformative but the emptiness of the stage, marked simply by a square of grey, and the swathes of movement suggest an animated Franz Kline painting: urgent and physical, but safely contained on a canvas.

In a question and answer session after the show, Adams felt that this particular run of Miracle had been “too cosy, too comfortable” for the performers. He stressed the importance of the hysteria being experienced, not merely represented. Yet, he also spoke of his desire to achieve a “cinematic” effect. Perhaps he meant something else with this statement, but it seemed at times that the performers were fully enveloped by the experience, yet in the vast reaches of the Meat Market they were held at a projected distance from us that was neither threatening, nor fully engaging—we were invited to watch them but not to feel like one of them. We witnessed hysteria and ecstasy, but were never transported to that state ourselves.

Hysteria and performing arts are hardly strange bedfellows. The success of a theatrical experience usually demands a communal suspension of disbelief, arguably an act of mass hysteria. Thus, in making the experience of hysteria the sine qua non of Miracle, Adams binds the success of his concept and choreography to the success of its mass reception.

Nevertheless, even on a “cosy” night when the fever doesn’t quite set in, the extraordinariness of Miracle’s components is apparent. The stunning score is a joint creation by David Chisholm and Myles Mumford. They mix and process a range of diegetic and recorded sources live for every performance, in what they describe as a “plunderphonic” composition. In the large, blank space, the multiple speakers cut through the air giving shape to the void.

The performances, despite Adams’ qualifications, display a rare mix of sensitivity and visceral dedication. BalletLab’s work has increasingly tilted towards the second part of its name and the exploratory nature of experimentation requires a very different specificity to that of ballet. Like Deborah Hay’s company of dancers in the recently toured If I Sing to You, the dancers in Miracle are constantly aware of the whole and not just themselves. The result is an apparent freedom of form, an organic flow of actions and reactions that feel autonomous rather than directed.

This performative freedom and the permutations that result suggest the centrifugal whirling of a dervish. From the original point of stillness and silence, Adams spins Miracle into sound and fury, we pass whirling rag balls and extension cables, we circle bullhorns and clogs until, in a final astonishing image, having exited Earth’s gravitational pull, Miracle hovers weightlessly in a moment of divine suspension.

This article originally appeared in print in RealTime 93, October – November, 2009, page 37, and is reproduced with permission.