Dance Massive: Amplification

In the performing arts, memory can be short. Fashions are forgotten, missteps are glossed over, wheels are reinvented. It is the blessing and curse of producing ephemera. So, when a choreographer upsets the usual cycle of memory lapse by returning to an old work, what is the result? How does an audience primed for immediacy respond to archival distance? What do we see and what do we miss?

Amplification is the work that launched BalletLab and Phillip Adams. Its premiere dates back to the far reaches of 1999. The same year, sanctions against Libya were dropped, something called Napster started and The Matrix opened. So, in some respects, Amplification is ancient history. Yet, here it is again, resurrected.

It is impossible to watch Amplification with eyes a decade younger—to see it now is to see it with the knowledge of what has come since. The problems this gives rise to are clear: the groundbreaking may now seem derivative, the accessible may now seem obscure and the noteworthy may now disappear into a fog of familiarity. However, the rewards are nevertheless there. Amplification holds its own if only because, while some of the style might seem dated, the expressive language remains distinct. Adams’ direction and choreography, in its metaphorical leaps and snowballing dramaturgy is unlike anything else at Dance Massive so far.

It is possible to draw a worthwhile comparison here with German choreographer Sasha Waltz. Premiering only a few months later than Amplification, Waltz’s seminal Körper (seen recently at the 2009 Melbourne International Arts Festival, RT94) has informed not only a decade of contemporary dance but also marked a fundamental moment of artistic expression for Waltz herself. In the subsequent years, Waltz has produced two other works—S and noBody—in response to Körper, making a trilogy of sorts that reflects her development as an artist as much as it does the development of the themes. Similarly, just over a year ago, Adams produced a response to Amplification called Miracle (RT 93). And this year he produced a third instalment, Above.

The most enticing conclusion to be drawn from this is that Amplification is an incomplete work. One that provokes questions rather than providing answers; one that leaves you wanting more; one that Adams has not finished exploring. This also suggests an excellent reason for a remount—for the audience to revisit a work with knowledge of its progeny.

Indeed, as someone who came to Miracle before Amplification, it is only possible to view the older work refracted through the lens of the newer. On the one hand, the distillation and evolution of Adams’ choreography in Miracle becomes evident—for instance, his increased trust in the dancers as embodiments rather than functionaries of his expression. On the other hand, cross-referenced understandings can be reached—for example, the common motif of the saffron cloth makes an overlong ritualistic swaddling of a corpse in Amplification ring with the memory of Miracle’s extraordinary final image of levitation.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a choreographer, the locus for Adams’ artistic interest tends to be the body itself. But rather than the encyclopaedic vein of Waltz’s investigation in Körper, Adams is particularly focused on the extremities that the body can conquer, endure or suffer, which leads inevitably to the final extremity—mortality (like live performance, the body too is ephemeral).

In Miracle, the body was a site for internal hysteria, a hindrance to be denied, a vessel to be exited. In Amplification, the violence enacted on the body comes from without. The partnering work is fast and violent, bodies flung with disregard, Lynton Carr’s soundtrack an oppressive ceiling edging downwards. The space is never fully devoid of menace—the silhouetted torture scene is reminiscent of the disturbingly sterile violence of Romeo Castellucci’s Tragedia Endogonidia: BR.#04 Brussels (RT 76), yet there are moments that almost break into the absurd—threatening toy cars roll towards the dancers, one scene mimics the tropes of horror films, another alludes to the symphorophilia of J.G. Ballard’s Crash.

In the end, the clearest point of contrast between Miracle and Amplification comes not in their exploration of the living body but in their vision of the afterlife. Miracle ended with a transcendent sleight of hand, a weightlessly impossible vision of the body in harmony with space. In Amplification, the body retains its mass. The afterlife here is one grounded in the body’s inescapability and so, one by one, the naked bodies of the dancers form a soft eternal landscape.

This article originally appeared in print in RealTime issue #102 April-May 2011 pg. 10, and is reproduced with permission.