Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Miracle: Another Artist (And Atheist) Gets It

"IN 1978, in the jungles of Guyana, cult leader Jim Jones led more than 900 of his followers to commit mass suicide by drinking poisoned fruit punch. In a live audio recording of the Jonestown massacre, the preacher can be heard reassuring his flock that death is nothing more than 'stepping over into another plane'.

It's this shared belief in an afterlife, and its ability to move believers to powerful extremes, that sparked choreographer Phillip Adams' new collaborative dance show Miracle. 'I have no religious faith myself, but I'm utterly spellbound by this belief in an afterlife,' says Adams, artistic director of Melbourne-based dance company Balletlab. 'That belief is consistent across so many religions, yet we have no hard evidence. How do people get that? Where does it come from?'

Inspired by the evangelical cults of the 1960s and '70s, Adams picked a talented team of collaborators to create a multi-sensory show that explores the emotional gamut of cult-based faith — from rapture and ritual, devotion and surrender, to the darker territory of manipulation, hysteria and self-destruction. His collaborators include lighting design studio Bluebottle, composers and sound artists David Chisholm and Myles Mumford, and fashion design wunderkind Toni Maticevski. The group includes both atheists and believers.

A year and a half in the making, and the first dance work to be included in Victoria's State of Design Festival, Miracle also marks Balletlab's 10th anniversary.

Despite the subject matter, says Adams, 'it's not a "down" piece. The performers are striving toward a passage that connects this world to the next.' But it's not all rainbows and cherubs: 'I'm not looking to create controversy, but I find it fascinating that many cults end up destroying themselves, when their aim was to reach nirvana. What kind of mindframe are they in? It's horrifying, but also transfixing.'"


-- Meg Mundell, describing a show I want to see - which should have been called "Madness" - in The Age.