Interview: Phillip Adams
“I like that edge. I may be getting closer to that edge with each work I create.”
- Phillip Adams
Phillip Adams is a complex man upon which to get a grasp. Not an understanding of his drive, per say. That particular characteristic resonates as clearly as his otherworldly choreography. Indeed, the acclaimed dancer and choreographer, founder and director of ground breaking dance and performance company, BalletLab, and visual and performance artist is dedicated to artistic expression in a way few allow themselves to be.
It is his intent that leads to questions as one struggles to place the two parts of the man: on the one hand is the gorgeously welcoming host and conversationalist pouring tea from a delicate pot to serve up alongside morning tea of scones; on the other, the artist who demands what can appear to be a Machiavellian sense of control over his audience.
Find the evidence in a summation of his provocative works:
And All Things Return To Nature Tomorrow, a work staged at the Melbourne Theatre Company following two years of research on cults, required the audience to remove their clothes in a recreated science lab and “be naked” with the artist for an hour as they shed themselves to become “abducted” by an environment and “transported” to another planet.
The rethinking of his childhood involving hypnotism of part of an audience for his theatre work, THUMB, reconnected participants to lost memories of their past while taking them through experiences of scale inspired by the mythology of stories like Tom Thumb, Jack and the Beanstalk and James and the Giant Peach.
In all of this he is very much presents as the puppeteer holding the strings.
Phillip: “I think there is a slight manipulator in me – a provocation. Allowing people to have this jolt of experience as opposed to the seated structural viewer. I love that engagement when you push through the fourth wall and, without that, the artwork cannot exist. It has to activate you and it has to activate it.”
The ‘it’ of which Phillip speaks is the central core of the creative embryo. At this time in his career – having already achieved so much as a dancer and choreographer on the international stage – Phillip’s deep dive in to the visual arts has essentially become a kind of self-conducted psychoanalysis.
The theory is not one that he disputes.
Phillip: “There is a sense of anxiety around all of my work… that feeling that something may go wrong. I like that edge. I may be getting closer to that edge with every work I create.
The “Hitchcock-ian” element – Phillip’s own term – is in the artist’s desire to drag his audience down in to the depths of self he is determined to explore.
It is a one-in, all-in approach that begins to make sense as one understands the method in the madness – that his drive to reimagine his past could fall in to the category of self-indulgent nostalgia without the presence of an audience invested enough to aid in igniting the work’s reimagination.
After all, the demanding tenant of true art is that it offer new insight. Without that, it is less a creative expression than an insipid repainting of moments in which life’s significance has already long passed.
Phillip: “There are so many layers to my work and sometimes it’s hard to find where it all fits. You just have to allow it and love it or hate it. There is no definition of queer culture, but this feels as decidedly queer behaviour patterning – meaning, ‘an odd set of rules and strange and other unorthodox practices’. If my audience can’t engage and experience it then the work doesn’t live in the present.”
The interview comes to a close and Phillip rises from his chair to move his still impressively beautiful dancer’s physique for our camera’s gaze. In his well-cut suit against the backdrop of his Dr Ernest Fooks-designed house, he is the perfect reimagining of the boy that grew up in the pre-fabricated, post-war architecture house in the wilds of Papua New Guinea.
He, the idea. And us, the witness to land the perception of his created reality.
Phillip: “Obviously there is a deep desire for the ritual in everything that I do. I’ve become not what I was and, at 50, this has become Act II. The works are an avenue to explore, to understand how I play the second part of my life out.