Continuing Phillip Adams’ balletic investigations into Protestant notions of God, transcendence and the sexualised and gendered body through a psychedelic historical eye, Ever takes us to the American South in a ‘60s vision of pastoral pleasures and fears, before entering the chapel for a mystic ritual involving paint, bodybags and a miniature catapult.
The work is set to music: John Adams’ driving and cinematic minimalist work Shaker Loops in the first half before descending into Richard Strauss’ depressing and disorienting wartime symphony Metamorphosen. The dance begins in full flight, sudden, fast, complex and exultant. Invisible patterns dominate, visual compositions flicker in and then out of life, cycling through the system with delicacy and precision. At times it recalls the dizzying geometric purities of Lucinda Childs’ scores, but with a deliberate element of chaos putting it off-kilter, a little more emotional or intimate. The dancers are stunning and work really hard. The first few minutes are intense enough to generate sweaty exasperation, but they push on, up and beyond. There is a kind of innocence to their movement, a sense of being on the very cusp of mastery and yet wavering with fear and concentration. The space is intimate and brightly lit. Mistakes are visible and the music doesn’t stop. This is brave work.
The dancers are penned in by a white picket fence, the space itself is also white with white light strips articulating the historical details in the proscenium wall, and suspending a geometric fluorescent beam at an awkward, deliberate angle from the roof. A kind of angelic light-shard. They wear half-constructed calico garments by Akira Isogawa, traditional patterns of shirts and dresses and skirts and coat-tails, meshed together and cut open with the threads bare. They are puritanical, yet subtly liberated, and slightly romantic.
There are roller skates and lassos, which appear and are gone, a limited set of images with an illustrative purpose, not quite indulging in all the possible circus tricks of dance on roller skates. Soon, Nash Hurley enters dressed all in black, a dark revelation against the white and carefree angel dances. He resembles a medieval plague doctor, broad hat, bird-like, ghostly. He enters the space with careful and articulate movements, and then suddenly bursts into bold and athletic movement, jumping high like a cricket. The piece at this point seems to tangibly lift in complexity, a refreshing burst of contrast and opposition. Stunning solo work by Lillian Steiner comes soon after. We then move into Strauss, and the piece becomes more durational.
The second half of the work is entirely unexpected, a theatrical non sequitur. I felt that somehow at every single moment, the thing I expected to happen did not happen. It asks you to surrender over the desire to make sense out of the complicated aesthetic meditation that happening front of you. It unexpectedly asks you to surrender over the desire for spectacle, for change, for magic. We enter a nonrational space of nonmortal bodies as forms suddenly and imperceptibly lose their form.
Adams’ guiding presence is well-felt in this journey. It’s hard not to feel that Adams almost panders to a ‘great man’ model of art history by marked and deliberate association with other ‘great men’, Strauss and (John) Adams, maybe ‘fashion icon’ Akira Isogawa and Matt Adey (House of Vnholy) as well, and then of course there’s also God, the greatest man of all. There is a certain appeal to this and the art is very good, but it was a little disheartening to see Adams and Isogawa come out for bows at the end, while the dancers remained onstage, who for certain reasons were unable to move or even see, as they were gestured towards. It is a deliberately ironic (or cheeky) moment but still a slightly uncomfortable relationship to see, especially after seeing such phenomenal agentive action from the dancers as they navigated such a complex and challenging work. Nonetheless, this doesn’t spoil the experience of the work altogether. Still I had a moving encounter with a spectacular and strange dance, performed with mastery and more importantly heart.