Phillip Adams’ Paradise, a dance for young performers, is a fascinating exploration of growing up, says First Nations Emerging Critic Carissa Lee
Paradise is a short dance piece created by the artistic director of BalletLab, Phillip Adams, as part of the Melbourne Fringe XS program of experimental performance for young people. Working with dancers aged 15 to 24 from Yellow Wheel, Paradise incorporates Adams’ childhood memories of growing up in the South Pacific with improvisations from 1960/70s television and cinematic popular culture.
When I saw that Paradise was using South Pacific masking styles in its choreography, I was a little apprehensive. I’m always wary of cultural appropriation. If there were masking styles present in this dance they weren’t overt, so I had no real qualms. However, I hope that, if they were present, there were appropriate cultural consultations. Inviting some young dancers from South Pacific culture to be part of this production might have been a great opportunity.
Amanda Loschiavo’s costumes put every dancer in a brightly coloured jumpsuit in orange, yellow, blue, white, green. There were moments of adjusting outfits in unison, which seemed to highlight the awkwardness of uniformity for young ones. This felt further iterated by a large ball of clothes wrapped in chains that rolled over the performers.
The stage is all white, aside from a large background image of several large black and white photographs of each dancer, with colourful hand-drawn flowers on or around their faces. This feels like a celebration of the dancers taking part in the show, reminding us that although they’re forced into uniforms, they’re all individuals.
The movement is initially about creating shapes and delivering a narrative through the bodies on stage, rather than choreographing a synchronised dance. The young performers are placed in situations where it looks like they are expected to dance ballet, or do a tap solo, and although they comply at first, they eventually embrace the impulsive movements that their bodies crave. There are moments of stillness, intimate tableaux, or rough-house wrestling that illustrates their strength.
The dance is set to Richard Strauss’ Tod und Verklarung Op 24 (Death and Transfiguration). The music sweeps grandly behind the movement – its explorations of gender roles, tests of strength and wacky movements – reminding us that even in moments of play, something bigger is happening: we’re witnessing the emergence of identity.
The dance follows the dynamic of growing up, and finishes with what seems to be a representation of adulthood. The dancers are clothed in white like ballerinas and dance in a chorus, interweaving and linking arms as in traditional ballet. Although there are moments of unison, some performers lag behind the precise movements.
In this dance, everyone is perfectly imperfect: their abilities might differ, but we get to see their individual styles. The performance is joyous and at times aptly awkward, embracing the varying levels of energy in the young performers. There is no search for perfection in this piece, because why would there be? This is a story of adolescence, the most inconsistent and changeable time of anyone’s lives. There is an enormous joy in embracing the diversity of each performer in this production.
Finally the music ends abruptly. The lights go down, and for a few seconds we hear the performers’ feet dragging on the floor, their breaths. It allowed the audience a moment to appreciate the skill and stamina required for this dance of adulthood, and to reflect on the choreography that determines our lives, which we often follow without question. When the music, lights and costumes are taken away, only the body remains, the identity we give ourselves. When we have the time to play, to be silly, to be present, when all the imperatives of adulthood are taken away, who do we want to be?
Paradise, written and directed by Phillip Adams, artistic collaborator Gregory Lorenzutti and Mikala Dwyer. Music by Richard Strauss, set by Sapcecraft Studio, lighting design by Matthew Adey, Performed by Yellow Wheel: Abby Reynolds, Abi Benham-Bannon, Anna Tolotchkov, Bonnie Sampson, Claudia Willimann, Cora Hughes, Eiren Chamley, Elly Tew, Emily Laursen, Gorran Katinic, Luke Romero, Maddi Cushion, Natalie Kwan, Patrick O’Luanaigh, Pippa McEwen, Rachel Owens, Ruby Denittis, Shani Glenn-Ward, Siobhan Henderson and Walter Wolffs. Paradise at Temperance Hall. Until September 30. Bookings
Temperance Hall is Wheelchair Accessible