What happens when you die? Ah, that old chestnut of a question. But at least, thanks to Hollywood, we know what happens right before you die – your whole life flashes before your eyes, right? Now imagine you’re in a car crash and your body flies forward the same way as the crash dummies on those TV ads do, and in that second, you think…
In the dance production Amplification, Phillip Adams (the choreographer) focuses on the 1.6 seconds of dissociation that occurs during the car crash, the physical limitations of the human body and psychological relationships in this dissociative phenomenon.
“Anxiety is the most notable form of dissociation for me,” he explains. “Fear and adrenalin can affect our thoughts about situations and places shifting our perspective about what is normal and not. Extreme dissociation can be terrifying. I am interested to confront and expose human vulnerabilities in my work.”
The imagery of anxiety, fear and dissociation is crafted into expressive dance in Amplification. “I began to imagine how the body could be portrayed in chaos through dance/choreography/performance, and set about creating partnering scenarios that resembled re-constructing car crashes where the human form is flipped, ejected and ricocheted.”
Pretty mortifying stuff. And not only so for the audience, but admittedly for the dancers, who have claimed to feel the exact same horror that they are portraying during their performance.
In order to capture the morbid essence and reflect it in his choreography, Adams went about some fascinating research. He visited crash labs where he watched, in slow motion, the “release of the dummies from the moment of impact with glass imploding and car crumbling.” He describes the crash test site as “a performance art installation in itself.”
But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of his search for inspiration and material were his visits to the morgue at the Alfred Hospital. “Having permission to observe bodies being pulled out of cases onto stainless steel tables with tagged feet, then zipped out of body bags, I found the experience surreal. When I left, I took two body bags with me for 30 dollars each and I still use the original ones in the show. I also interviewed patients that had survived serious car crashes.
Some of them remember the moment explicitly, taking their hands off the steering wheel with the dreaded thought of, ‘Oh my God, I am going to crash,’ being flipped upside down then coming to a rest. They described it like a film in slow motion - what seemed to take hours in time but in reality it was just a split second.”
However, the car crash is not the sole focus of the piece and used more as a metaphor. There are events of similarly horrifying intensities that can cause the mental panic induced by a car crash. Adams sketches the scenes, “Being thrown in the boot of the car and taken to an unknown destination and tortured; cataclysmic events of the 20th Century, such as the Holocaust the assassination of JFK.” Mostly scenes that have filled our TV screens, such as those of hooded victims at Abu Ghraib, for example.
Amplification is a collaboration together with DJ and composer Lynton Carr who plays the orchestral pieces live during the performance. The music they chose was “largely inspired by the rising romantic and even apocalyptic tones of Gustav Holst’s, The Planets. The selection of records came from Lynton’s ability to understand the strange sensibilities of my work, to capture the vision. The meaning of Amplification is the process of making louder. And we do. Amplification is in three acts: Sound – Body – Light. Each act is like watching some sort of glam 70s weird crash-test-lab of experiments under the microscope.”
If you hadn’t yet guessed, Adams is fascinated by death. He also fears it, but has not looked to a God for help. In fact, he’s not religious at all: “No. Not one ounce. But it’s worth listening to those that are religious. I learnt most of my religion through Hollywood.”
You may recall from earlier, that Hollywood has answered one question about death. Adams has answered yet another: “I think the meaning of life is in fact death, and the journey to get there can be positively glamorous and heartbreaking. I keep trying to make sense of the world in my art.”
The densely dark production of Amplification will be staged at the Merlyn Theatre from March 23 to March 26. Tickets are $21 to $49. You can find more info at malthousetheatre.com.au or by calling 9685 5111. You can win tickets at our free shit secion for the performance on Tuesday March 22.