And All Things Return To Nature Tomorrow

The eyes of BalletLab performers have a unique quality. There is a strange, distant, satisfied world behind them. Strange in its exoticism, distant in its mystery, satisfied in its method.

In a work like Amplification, this quality suggested the serious certainty of mortality—death being exotic, mysterious and inevitably methodical. In a work like Aviary, this quality infused the occasionally maddening ornithology with an equally maddeningly convincing internal logic—the kind of logic that is masked, impenetrable and yet undeniable. In a work like Miracle, this quality suited the transcendental mysticism to a tee—is there anyone as strange, distant and satisfied as someone on a higher plane of consciousness?

And All Things Return to Nature Tomorrow is a double bill of works by Brooke Stamp and Phillip Adams that both make full use of the BalletLab corps. Thematically, the works feel linked to Miracle. They are cosmological, ritualistic and transcendental.

Brooke Stamp’s And All Things Return to Nature kicks off the evening in full house lights. We are seated in an unevenly weighted square, where two sides are stacked with audients and two sides are made of only single rows. Above the stage are suspended 16 cymbals that form a golden circle of circles, a halo of musical vibration. The dancers are clad in high fashion sportswear by Susan Dimasi—part Nike the brand, part Nike the goddess. As visual signposts, the design elements point the way clearly enough: this will not be proscenium theatre, we will encounter the celestial, we will be party to mysticism dressed in high technology fibres.

Initially, the dancers move in isolation. They are transfixed by their own paths through space, uninterested in the other, wrapped in the self. Their gentle vocalisations suggest chants, incantations, mantras. Garth Paine’s intensely detailed composition picks these sounds up and layers them, forming a cascading aural blanket of indiscernibility.

As the dancers draw together, Stamp’s choreography echoes one of Phillip Adams’ stylistic touchstones with a prolonged sequence of action—in this case, a shuffling unison of steps. As the four performers stretch from a line to a diamond to a square, the squeak of their sneakers against the floor becomes a lulling certainty. Though their steps never break the unified rhythm, their faces betray some deeper meaning. At times, their eyes subtly shift focus and lose clarity. The strange, distant, satisfied world vacates them and one sees the struggle, the striving and the searching. Higher planes are hard work.

In Tomorrow by Phillip Adams, the eyes are back on full beam. Entering naked, the performers build a stage of swags, stones, fluorescent twine, reflectors and audience members. We are courting UFOs, constructing a landing pad and hoping for ascension in the form of abduction. The eyes, the nudity and the whispered intimacies with the front rows set up a peculiar dynamic of compelling coerciveness. What are you willing to do in the safe confines of a theatre with a hundred witnesses? When you look into a naked man’s eyes and see an exotic, mysterious and assured alternative world, will you follow him? It is to BalletLab’s credit that we do. They have created a cult with nothing more than their eyes.

This article originally appeared online in RealTime issue 114, April-May 2013, pg. 35, and is reproduced with permission. http://www.realtimearts.net/article/114/11064