A naked man comes up to you and invites you to join in the action. Two other naked men and a woman have already appeared in the half-light across the room, standing expectantly.
He hands you a rolled up blanket and leads you toward the woman and one of the other men. You start thinking, how many people are watching them and me?
The nude pair stare firmly but encouragingly into your eyes. Close your eyes, he says. Now open. Two blue diamond reflectors appear on the blanket you’re holding. Close your eyes, she coos. Open. Seeds replace the diamond pieces. Close. You’ve forgotten the other people around you. Open. The woman has disappeared and four diamond reflectors rest on the blanket. A low bass throbs and hums in your ears.
“Will you lie down here?” asks the remaining naked man. Sure, I say. We spread out the blanket and I lay down, facing the brightly lit ceiling of the Lawler black box theatre within the Southbank Theatre complex. He arranges things near me and then pours blue crystals into my open left hand.
Yes, it’s a contemporary dance work. Or rather, not so much a dance piece, as a piece of performance art. And this one attempts to draw the audience into a meditative environment with the aim, it seems, of moving us from our mundane awareness of the physical world to awareness, perhaps, of a higher plane. Inspired by certain extraterrestrial and spiritual explorations in the Mojave Desert, this work by Phillip Adams certainly gets your attention.
As for awareness, it’s interesting how your awareness of the nude people changes from awkwardness to a gradual acceptance of how, well, natural it is. We had already seen these dancers’ lightly clothed athletic bodies dancing in positional themes and variations during the much more powerful first work of the evening by choreographer and dancer Brooke Stamp. But not, of course, their private bits.
Once these dancers strip and glide before you, you feel some moments of discomfort, amusement, voyeuristic pleasure. Soon, as the dancers treat the situation so lightly themselves, you find yourself just getting accustomed to the openness. You just start seeing them as people, not as naked bodies; their openness encourages our openness to the experience.
Back on the blanket, still clothed and recumbent, I watch as the naked dancers similarly recruit other audience members to join me and lie down. Eventually perhaps a dozen in all are positioned on the floor in a mandala of blankets and bodies, each of us facing a small open center. The naked woman asks one audience member, himself a dancer I discover later, to take his clothes off, and after a thoughtful pause he complies before lying down. Two days from now, as patrons have been warned, all participants will be asked to remove their clothes, though it’s not clear whether you qualify for a discounted ticket in that event.
Audience in place, the lights dim dramatically as the naked man who recruited me lies down beside me, squeezing my available hand. The blue crystals start to spill from my other hand.
The naked woman then enters the inner circle defined by the blankets and, to a raucous assaulting clash of notes and instruments, contorts violently in St. Vitus ecstasy or agony. The three naked men join her in similar gyrations. One naked man and a robed woman replace them, then he eases himself down upon her like an otherworldly force descending. The music amps up in its own contortions.
Finally, he departs and the robed woman stands alone. A structure like a spacecraft formed of small cement mixers descends to her as if to possess her or raise her to…the heavens. All is still, cue the lights. The naked performers stand for their bows and depart, as we audience members pick ourselves up from the floor.
It’s a bit hard to imagine attending a performance such as this in most cities of the U.S., except perhaps for NYC or San Francisco. That’s not just because of the nudity. This production was but one in this year’s annual festival of contemporary dance in Melbourne, appropriately called Dance Massive and consisting of “13 days, 18 shows, 91 performances, 6 world premieres.” Though the country’s dancers and companies may often struggle to thrive, according to one company manager, the naked truth is that Australia boldly delivers on contemporary dance.