Australian Phillip Adams created his signature piece Amplification after visiting a morgue in Melbourne. Two body bags from that morgue were onstage again last night in Portland, for the opening night of a three-night run presented by White Bird.

The piece, created in 1998, is a great example of how inspiration for art doesn’t necessarily define the finished work. Adams imaged the choreography by thinking of car crashes. His partnerings resemble them—one dancer, sitting, pushes another’s back with her feet, making that dancer flop forward and back like a crash dummy. Overall, though, with the exception of some model cars pulled with string, the car crash inspiration is hardly apparent (at least for me and the handful of people I talked to after the show).

Instead, Amplification is a ghastly, unsettling mix of horror and sci-fi. With a mechanical soundtrack by DJ Lynton Carr that at times transports you to the halls of Discovery One in A Space Odyssey, the show creates a heavy sense of anticipation. Each piece builds steadily, sometimes with flurries of sharp, snappy movement, and other times with slow, clinical procedure. Then, all of a sudden, the lights go black.

Jeff Busby

What the piece says is not as relevant as how it feels. It’s a feeling similar to what I experienced after watching Rosemary’s Baby when I was 10: a heavy, ominous dread. While Adams imagined the aforementioned back kicking as a car crash, I saw it as puppeteering. The dancers’ erratic magnetism to each other, and their sudden collapses, I saw as effects of some pernicious drug cocktail, or maybe possession.

Jeff Busby


And I haven’t even gotten to the nudity yet. There’s a lot of nudity in this show—yes, that alone doesn’t have to be a big deal, but there’s a lot. The first glimpse of penis makes sense: The body is one of two unzipped from the body bags. The clothed performers, in gray tracksuits, walk briskly around the body bags, hands behind their backs, their mood cold and clinical. They’re just as soulless later, when three clothed women move a naked guy (he’s either dead or comatose) into a trunk using only their feet, without so much as looking at him. By the end, all of the dancers are naked and in a disturbing pile, like bodies in a mass grave, except they’re still lethargically moving. The applause for this show was some of the most hesitant I’ve experienced in Portland. That’s partly because we had to wait for the dancers to put their clothes on. It’s definitely not because the show was bad. I think we just needed some time to recover.

GO: Phillip Adams BalletLab is at Lincoln Hall, Portland State University, 1620 SW Park Ave., 245-1600. 8 pm Friday-Saturday, Jan. 24-25. $20-$30. Tickets here.