Over the years the Potter has proudly invited a diverse range of cross-disciplinary curatorial practice into the museum space. As an extension of this spirit of creative exploration, this week we’re launching a new dance series at the Potter, curated by Phillip Adams – founder and artistic director of dance company, Phillip Adams BalletLab.
A highly respected dancer, choreographer and artistic director with a wealth of international experience, Phillip has been a vital contributor to the richness of Australian performing arts for three decades. His process draws on collaboration through hybrid mediums of music, design, fashion, architecture, cinema, visual arts and photography, where he seeks to engage with the unorthodox, queer and popular culture.
Ahead of the series launch this weekend – which will see Jo Lloyd, Deanne Butterworth, Evelyn Ida Morris and Tina Havelock Stevens present their experimental new sonic work, Double Double – we sat down with Phillip Adams to discuss the challenges and opportunities of translating performance into a museum space and the evolution of Melbourne’s creative arts scene.
Thank you for joining us, Phillip. This is your first time curating a dance series at the Potter. What does this opportunity represent for you?
I see this programme as having a unique purpose of bringing audiences into a congregation and into a conversation in a space where they’ve not yet had that experience: at the Ian Potter Museum. Melbourne has always been an exciting composition of staircases and laneways, art centres and performance houses and venues. In a way, the Potter is now coming into that broader conversation through Inside Out.
I’ve looked at, studied and spent time with some of the choreographers and their work and know them quite well. The framing of their practise usually sits within a performing arts condition, so placing it in the gallery brings a broader conversation to their work and also allows the museum to adapt to that position.
I also like that when we are in a disruptive space, bodies tend to do really well. As the Potter goes under renovation, it just seems appropriate [that we stage a dance-based program here]. It’s appropriate that bodies are arriving in the space to move, to practise, to have a conversation with the building in that way. To be part of the rubble.
What insights can you share with us about your curation process?
When I was curating this program, in the first instance I looked for a go-to choreographer. I’ve been a major fan of Jo Lloyd for many years and we’re also colleagues. I felt Jo would be really great for the museum to kick-off the series with Double Double and to share Jo’s talent and her brave and rigorous body that experiments with every pore. I really liked the flexibility of Jo’s ideas and their ability to sit within this particular framing of curation.
I was keen to include a broad range of artists – broad both in terms of their age and where they are in their careers – so that we’re looking at super-young and emerging and then to more mature artists who have established careers. Even if you are a senior practitioner, I believe that you can still emerge.
I thought having a resident artist opportunity would be paramount to the success of this curated programme and I wanted to include a relationship with an artist that I’m currently working with – Ryan New. Ryan has autism and has had since birth, which has a very interesting influence on the way that he approaches his art.
When we started working together, Ryan expressed an interest in moving his practise from speech to movement, and he regards this project as another mechanism for his autism to have an outlet. He tends to use the distinctiveness of his speech patterns as an advantage, not as a disability, and he will be taking the same approach to movement.
My role has been to mentor Ryan and facilitate this process with him. I thought that this opportunity presenting Sick at the Potter would bring up some really great questions about us working together on a new project and supporting each other through the development of new work.
Please tell us about some of the challenges and opportunities that present themselves when you shift dance performance into a museum context.
Coming into the format of a museum usually has restrictions from a performance perspective. It’s not a performance house; but that’s actually wonderful. The Potter has given me an open invitation to shape that feeling in any way that I want; to shape the museum as a performance space as opposed to just having access to a white gallery.
I like that the museum places you in a concentrated white container and invites you to hone your idea and see if it can sporadically merge across the three floors of the museum. The museum and the spaces are dictating what the artists can achieve in their usual practise as opposed to the comparatively straight-forward act of putting it on at a studio, for example. That’s been a really interesting part of this particular curated programme.
The museum context sets up a series of questions and problems by which artists and movement practitioners have been challenged, and by which audiences, too, can be challenged.
Is there a particular unifying theme that you have explored in this programme?
One thing that unites each of the artists included in this programme is that they aren’t afraid of failure. They are willing to put their bodies at the peering edge of the practise and the invitation to come to the Potter. This opportunity amplifies their bodies in the way that they’re already shaking already outside in the art spaces in Melbourne, and now they can vibrate in here.
Each of the artists that I have chosen work directly with sound and find [aural] expression in their practise as much as the visual aesthetic and the composition side of their work.
This series is obviously a great opportunity for emerging Melbourne dance talent, and for you to showcase new talent that you’ve identified. Can you tell us more about this?
This project has morphed into a kind of incubator that allows the performers to come in and out. To practise, to refine, and to take their work out into the world.
Some of the artists included in the program I saw perform at last year’s Melbourne Fringe. I was so taken by their energy. I thought: “These are young and emerging dancers; they’re completely bright and putting themselves on the line.” They are all graduates from the Victorian College of the Arts – some in theatre, some in dance – and I just loved their work.
When it came to curating this series, I thought: “Here’s an opportunity. These practitioners would not usually associate their work with a fine institution such as the Potter and then go out and perform it at the Fringe Festival.” I like that they have that experience of already working within the paradox of this building and with the exterior. That’s really important.
Where do you see this project sitting within the broader Melbourne arts milieu and what does the future look like from where you’re sitting?
I see this project is arriving at a time where [practitioners from across various creative disciplines] are all joining forces and being very open-minded about presentation formats, and I see the Potter playing a major role in this evolution of Melbourne’s creative arts world.
When I look at the cross-disciplinary programming that the Potter has introduced it takes me back to the energy of my time in New York City in the 1980s and ‘90s, which was a very rich time creatively; it was really a time of “anything goes”… I see this as a really exciting time for the Potter.