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BalletLab - 'Amplification'

Distorting Consciousness and Limbs

by Cecly Placenti

January 24, 2006 -- Performance Space 122, New York City

Using the car accident as a metaphor for mental and physical disassociation, "Amplification" deals with the human body's response to sound, light, and physical impact. Philip Adams, choreographer and Artistic Director of BalletLab, Australia's most experimental and challenging contemporary dance company, did extensive and impressive research on the effects of car accidents on their victims. Adams visited hospitals, morgues, and spoke to doctors and recovering patients. In this provocative, confronting, and challenging piece, he explores the themes of disassociation, pain, healing, reality and unreality within the form of an installation set in a stark minimalist environment, featuring live turntable composition by DJ, Lynton Carr.

We all have awareness of things we have experienced, either directly or second hand, that exist just beneath the surface of our consciousness. We either have been in a car accident ourselves, seen one happen, or know someone who has been in one. Suddenly one day, we lose control, our car is sliding, skidding, and coming closer and closer to another object. That awareness we've kept buried comes flooding into our minds, we distance ourselves, time stretches, and our senses become somewhat diffused--the moment of impact can seem to take several minutes rather than the split second that it actually is.

This seems a rather heady and difficult idea to portray in dance, but Adams succeeds brilliantly. What you are seeing when you watch “Amplification” is a total theatrical experience. The use of sound, light, movement and gesture exist together to convey deeply disturbing concepts. Andrew Livingston’s stark set of hanging white backdrops and horizontal florescent lights, reminiscent of hospital wards or sterile interrogation rooms, sometimes blinking, other times swinging, completely draws you into the cold environment Adams wanted to create. The sound score, dissonant and abrasive scratching and clicking noises, manipulated and stretched, become another layer of the piece, influencing the movements of the dancers and the comfort level of the audience. The way in which the music seems to both lead and partner the varying vignettes creates the feeling of a very smooth meditation and unique collaboration.

The dance segments were thrilling--super fast and highly technical. Adams’ choreography distorts classical technique, creating highly charged partnering with impeccable timing. The jerky movements--like robots on fast-forward--evoke the impact of bodies colliding.  It is violent and demanding choreography in which every limb becomes an instrument for manipulation: an ankle moves a neck, an elbow pushes a torso, until the manipulation becomes frenzied without ever going out of control. Herein lies the amazing thing about the skill of both Adams and his dancers--their ability to be dangerously close to hurting one another while still having enough control to evoke the violence of collision.

The non-dance segments were often disturbing, definitely in your face, thoughtful, and sensitive. Naked bodies are carried downstage in body bags, dumped unceremoniously onto sheets, and then wrapped gently and specifically, as is customary in Chinese and Japanese ritual burial.  At one point, a naked dancer is kicked, rolled, shoved and dragged across the stage, all without being touched by the other dancer’s hands, and manipulated into a box which is then covered.

“Amplification” is definitely not for the faint of heart, prudish, or anyone uncomfortable with very loud harsh sounds. But with its intelligent choreography, attention to the bizarre, highly committed and talented cast, “Amplification” breaks ground in dance and hopefully garners BalletLab international esteem.

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