‘Are you having a lend, Mr P?’ Shock and awe camp from an earlier age: First Nations Emerging Critic Jacob Boehme on Phillip Adams’ Glory
Phillip Adams, the artistic director of Phillip Adams BalletLab, is known for his exquisite contemporary re-mastering of balletic dance with a signature tongue-in-cheek irreverence, delivered with a healthy dose of shock and awe that leaves you feeling like you’ve been turkey slapped. PABL’s latest offering is Glory, presented in celebration of the company’s 20th anniversary. It delivers exactly what what we’ve come to expect from Phillip Adams.
High camp greets us at the entrance of Temperance Hall. A pair of mascot-sized shocking hot-pink poodles adorn the doorway. Neighbourhood kids and local cyclists have been stopped in their tracks by the spectacle and are now snapping pics and taking selfies on their phones. Inside is much the same. The theatre is drenched in hot pink: pink lighting (bluebottle, Ben Cobham and Andrew Livingston) and pink set design (Phillip Adams and bluebottle).
Five dancers, including Adams, line the wall to the left of the seating bank dressed in hot pink, looking strikingly similar to the pink poodles outside (sublimely camp costumes by The Huxleys). They gaze steadfastly toward the wall opposite as the audience files in. White plinths, also drowned in hot pink, stand between each dancer. Being saturated in a single colour seems overly decadent and is strangely exultant.
Four of the dancers – Ben Hurley, Oliver Savariego, Rachael Wisby, Samuel Harnett-Welk – walk onto the stage and await their cue. The soundtrack, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenberg Concertos, begins. The choreography is frenetic and delightful: the dancers weave in and out of intricate solo, duo and quartet compositions at an unrelenting speed.
We are given some respite with the introduction of giant video projections that encompass the entire back wall of the stage, although these too are a homage to hot pink. An image of an artist’s canvas swirls in slow motion across the wall. Crucified to the canvas with hot pink paint is an effigy of the poodles that greeted us earlier. The Grand Dandy himself (Adams) then treats us to an all-too-short solo: too short because it is through the older dancer’s body that we can truly see the integrity, story and song in the movement.
The sequence of quartet, solo and projected image sets up a convention which whisks us through the first half of the performance. The projections offer up new imagery: a hot pink dollar, perhaps referencing our economic worth as a queer community to the art world? And then a hot pink garden gnome, that initially looks bizarrely like a stunted mushroom cock with a venereal disease. On purpose? Surely not. But one never knows with Mr P…
Adams returns dressed in a black suit, looking a lot like a 1950s version of the iconic queer film director and writer John Waters. He approaches an old film camera set up on a dolly and wheels it around the stage, following the dancers’ movements. The dancers are now toned down in softer pink leisure wear, see-through and lacey. A young male dancer speaks to the camera in a tirade of inaudible text, under the intense volume of Bach.
The choreography becomes more gestural during this sequence. The body language, and the audible grabs of an American accent, conjure up images of Shangela or Alaska or any number of tv reality celebrities from Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Having filmed and consumed the images of his dancers, the director fades and falls to the floor
At this point we have reached an interlude with video projection, as we have come to expect from the conventions set up earlier in the piece.
The image this time, rising from the floor and spinning in slow motion to full height are two very pink and thick penises. They tower and twirl on the back wall. This image stays much longer than the previous projections. Long enough to wonder “whose cock is that?” So far, every other image we’ve seen has had a touch of DIY home craft depo to it. Who posed for this? And why are we looking at cocks for this long?
It is at this point that everything changes.
Adams chooses a plinth and drags it out onto the stage. He then places a painter’s drop cloth over the plinth and unfolds it. A dancer mounts the plinth and takes up a pose. Adams slips what I presume was a private schoolboy’s cap on the dancer (couldn’t quite make it out) and then proceeds to wrap the dancer in the drop cloth. He tops off the sculpture by placing another school boy’s cap on top of the drop cloth. He repeats this, three more times. Let’s say 20 to 30 minutes. If it wasn’t, it felt like it. The program copy states that through the presentation of an abundance of ideas, the work playfully validates and mocks the notion of the artist-creator. But it is here I find myself asking, “Are you having a lend of us, Mr P?”
When the last dancer is hoisted, posed and covered, Adams treats us to another solo by the Grand Dandy. He throws opens the exit doors of the theatre and walks into the remaining light of a setting sun. And with that, projected on the wall, comes the first image of ejaculation. And then a second. What appears to be white paint or a substance similar to cum, oozes and shoots over the back wall to Bach. Our gaze is held by this image for an extended length of time, much like the towers of cock shown previously. The other theatre doors are opened and we gradually get the hint the show has finished and, without applause, we are free to exit.
As a queer man of a certain generation who wonders where all the unadulterated and unapologetic camp has gone, I appreciate the ode to high velocity foppery, queerness and cis-male homosexuality. But then the conscientious and conscious citizen wonders why, in an age of #metoo and Royal Commissions into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, are we being subjected to this idolisation of cocks and cum?
Glory delivers on everything the program copy says it will. What this work also does is make one question the state of queer politics and queer performance, and the work’s relationship to generational shifts in ideologies and approaches to gender, sexuality and queerness. There is something at once revelatory and old-fashioned about this work.
As a queer man I, like some of my contemporaries, am less than satisfied with our entire identities being stereotyped by sexual proclivities or a perceived preoccupation with cock. There really are no (or limited) shared spaces for queer men to celebrate and honour the queer male body and healthy expressions of sexuality. Porn and online dating sites definitely don’t cut it. I’m fairly certain this work isn’t providing a solution to that. But, as a 20th anniversary celebration, this work retrospectively recalls a time when high camp ruled, when being femme was not an insult and, rightly or wrongly, cocks on stage were a dime a dozen.
Glory, choreography, concept and direction by Phillip Adams. Set design by Phillip Adams and bluebottle (Ben Cobham and Andrew Livingston), lighting design by bluebottle (Ben Cobham and Andrew Livingston), costumes by The Huxleys, film by James Wright (NON Studio). Performed by Phillip Adams, Ben Hurley, Oliver Savariego, Rachael Wisby and Samuel Harnett-Welk. Phillip Adams BalletLab and Temperance Hall until March 23. Bookings
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