Choreographic design

Erin Brannigan: BalletLab, Upholster

Upholster is, as Phillip Adams states, a choreographic upholstery. From the intricate warp and weft of the movement to the larger patchwork of dance genres, across multiple references to fabrics, coverings, home-decorating and domestic environments, Adams takes a lateral, comprehensive and humorous approach to his theme.

With the proximity afforded by The Studio venue, the choreographic inventiveness, speed and sophistication is thrilling. Duets, trios and quartets fill the space with single figures appearing peripherally only to disappear again before pulling focus. Moving from podiums at the back of the space onto futon-like mattresses on the floor, sexual partnering and playful tussling inspire a choreographic frenzy of inter-weaving limbs and bold positions—thighs wrap around hips and dance partners kiss in a refreshingly frank representation of sexual intimacy.

On their feet, the dancers eat up the space in more clever groupings, or strut across the stage to take up new formations. The inventiveness continues with our attention drawn to both the large movements through space and the articulations of limbs, hands, fingers. The flow of this style of choreography is interrupted by 2 episodes. Knitwear provides Adams with a finicky and intimate choreographic device as the dancers button themselves into their own and each other’s cardigans. The tone of this sequence is in perfect keeping with the ‘cardy’ as an object associated with domestic cosiness. The second episode features Michelle Heaven in a deft characterisation of a shy upholsterer drawn into a fantasy world of floating lounges and sensual awakening. This section is well-crafted and entertaining, and clearly fits in with the themes of upholstery and the sexual liberation associated with the 70s though the shift in performance style requires a leap of faith from the audience.

The score provided by ‘turntabulist’ Lynton Carr drives the performance with psychedelic rock & roll, searing guitar riffs and funky rhythms. References to 70s music, fashion and ideals add other aesthetic/thematic layers to the texture of the choreographic fabric, and at times threaten the subtlety of the broader theme. The costuming is an example of this; a blend of singlets, lairy loose pants, chunky Y-fronts and pleated Dervish-like skirts for the boys, cardigans, frilly knickers and 50s frocks. The schizophrenia suggested by this is not necessarily a bad thing, and the plethora of styles, fabrics and patterns is appropriate to the theme. But the second half in particular accelerates and fills with so many references that the ending left me feeling unsatisfied—a promise that had been registered in the first half left unfulfilled.

The dancers are a group of individualised performers, rare at a time when youth and physical facility seem to dominate our dance stage—not that these dancers lack either. A variety of body shapes and personalities carries Adams’ work off in style, with stand-out performances from Stephanie Lake, Brooke Leeder, Gerard Van Dyck and Michelle Heaven. The Studio also felt like the perfect venue for this ambitious and style-savvy work.

Phillip Adams’ BalletLab, Upholster, choreography Phillip Adams; performers Michelle Heaven, Gerard Van Dyck, Stephanie Lake, Brooke Stamp, Ryan Lowe, Kyle Kremerskothen, Brooke Leeder; turntable composition Lynton Carr; décor/costumes Dorotka Sapinska; lighting Ben Cobham & Andrew Livingston. The Studio, Sydney Opera House, June 26-July 6.

RealTime issue #50 Aug-Sept 2002 pg. 34

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2002