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BalletLab, Origami BalletLab, Origami
photo Jeff Busby
Melbourne-based contemporary dance company, BalletLab, recently received a prestigious Arts Innovations Grant from Arts Victoria for its new production Origami, the epitome of Artistic Director, Phillip Adams’ collaborative drive. I spoke to him as he prepared for his final creative development before the premiere in Melbourne and then a season at The Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre.

Why Origami?

The inspiration with anything pop up or moulded, such as modular plastic toys has always been there. These are the images I retain from being a small kid and which first fuelled me as an artist. Combine this with the Americanised bastardization of Japanese cartoons, such as Astroboy and Kimba, which excited me in the early 50s and you have a sort of oriental fantasia which still resonates with me as an adult.

Origami is perhaps the culmination of all the work I have made to date, as it takes my obsession with the fold to its logical conclusion. There is an approach to layering in the piece which moves from sea to land to mountain to sky, creating a landscape which is inspired by my Western perception of all things Japanese. Yet I am proud to say that there is actually no paper in this production, nor is there any ‘typical’ Japanese music. The most literal origami you will see is in our use of objects like tatami mats and the costumes that fold up around the body as the performance progresses.

I am striving for a relentless complexity in every aspect of Origami. The choreography becomes magnificent in the virtuosic vocabulary which interprets ballet technique loosely before taking it to extremes. Another influence is Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, in which I took a short course. We create an Ikebana arrangement through ballet technique.

So the ballet moniker remains important?

I still draw heavily from ballet technique, yes. I am very inspired by the baroque, the romantic, the classical form. I am just seeking to twist this into a contemporary aesthetic that allows me the range of diversity and queer elegance that is me.

But there is a lot more than just you in this piece? How did you find the many collaborators for Origami?

The architects, BURO, found us, having seen Fiction and been enthralled at the animation of toys in that piece. I like to educate myself before commencing any new work, so I plunged into architecture to learn about structure, form and space at an academic level.

I am delighted by the ‘piece de resistance’ set which we call ‘Mount Fuji.’ The mountain starts from a flat surface and folds ad infinitum into a valley, a plain and ultimately a flat wall.

I was introduced to Matt Gardiner, a conceptual origamist after seeing his Orobotics exhibition and we were soon collaborating. There is a folding of light in the work of Ben Cisterne, and Rhian Hinkley, the animator whose work I had seen in Soft by Back to Back Theatre, makes another important contribution.

Also, I am working with David Chisholm, the composer, with whom I have just finished a commission for The Australian Ballet’s bodytorque season and who will be my collaborator on the next production, Brindabella. David and I have a productive mutual appreciation which I find very inspiring. He is composing for a four string instrument ensemble which will play live over an electronic score.

Have you worked with live music previously?

No, in the past I have had a live DJ, but otherwise that has been it. In Brindabella I have the luxury of live music again and I feel like I have turned a corner and will dedicate the next set of productions to incorporating live music.

How do you bring all these collaborators to the same starting point?

I draw, we talk, watch movies, look at buildings, try things out in the open and take them back to the studio. It’s all about creating a new vocabulary together. I also bring a lot of stuff into the studio. I should really have a junk shop to store all the paraphernalia...

Collaboration is definitely the way forward. Either contemporary dance in its purest form has exhausted itself or I am just over it, but I have to work with artists from other disciplines. I feel that the visual arts, contemporary chamber music and architecture are really driving the arts in Australia and that dance has to merge with these forms to thrive.

I am not interested in the use of technology, nor multimedia and tend to stay clear of the synthetic domain. I am most defiantly a hands-on artist and need to touch tangible objects to coax the work out of me. It’s about crafting the human body within a visual arts aesthetic.

You are already well advanced in the creation of your next production, Brindabella. How do you keep such passionate productions running in parallel without interference?

I am an artist for life. Nothing else matters but the work. Each time I begin a new work, there are already 2 others forming in the background. That is never a hassle. I have an abundance of ideas which I very passionately and necessarily have to show to my public.

So things are looking good for BalletLab right now?

Yes, in light of our history, which has never been easy, now seems to be a very good time. Having met David (Chisholm) I feel more confident as an artist holding up a company. Plus international presentations such as the recent New York season at PS122 have locked us in as a significant company. Also Linda (Sastradipradja, producer and performer) has real vision for the company.

We have genuine interest for international touring of Origami and have almost confirmed the San Francisco International Arts Festival alongside dates in Slovenia, Bangkok and Hamburg. Plus this could be the work that enables me to fulfill my goal of taking BalletLab to the UK.


BalletLab, Origami, ArtsHouse, North Melbourne Town Hall; Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, July 31-Aug 5

RealTime issue #73 June-July 2006 pg. 41

© Sophie Travers; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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