Barry Adamson & Russell Maliphant Company: Barbican, London

Featuring Barry Adamson Band and the BBC Concert Orchestra
Russell Maliphant Company – Anna Williams, Marie Goudot, Flora Bourderon, Michael Pomero and Miquel de Jong.

WE ARE OFTEN told that Barry Adamson makes “soundtracks to imaginary films”. He has long expressed his love of Ennio Morricone, John Barry and Bernard Herrmann, and has explored this since his first album, 1989’s Moss Side Story. He has actually made music for many real films – including Derek Jarman’s The Last Of England, David Lynch’s Lost Highway, Allison Anders’s Gas Food Lodging, Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers and Danny Boyle’s The Beach, even attempting a live score for Teinosuke Kinugasa’s 1926 silent film A Page Of Madness at the Royal Festival Hall. He’s also written themes for assorted advertisements (Cadbury’s Flake, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Ericsson) and even acted in a few short films.

But, at its best, Adamson’s work resists being turned into mere background music. It is powerful, pugilistic, savage, sexy, stylish, ridiculous, funky and often very funny. It explores class, race, gender and sexuality; it examines Adamson’s mixed-race background, his upbringing on the bleak estates of Manchester’s Moss Side, the death of friends of family, the agonising operations that he has endured since birth. It draws from his work as bassist with Howard Devoto’s post-punk mavericks Magazine and with Nick Cave’s spooky gothabilly backing band the Bad Seeds; it is nourished by his love of jazz, ska and modern composition.

In fact, Adamson’s tracks are virtual films, complete with a cast of characters, a definable narrative arc and a darkly comic vein running through each noir-ish scene. They have narrators in the form of Adamson’s alter egos (known variously as “Oscar de la Soundtrack”, “Mr Moss Side Gory”, “The Jazz Devil”, “Harry Pendulum: The Last Of The Big Time Swingers”, “Dirty Barry”, “The King Of Nothing Hill”, or “Satisfaction Jackson”) and they utillise a shifting cast of ‘actors’ (Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker, Billy Mackenzie, Diamanda Galas, even Adamson himself, who started singing on his 1998 album As Above, So Below).

Like a great film director, one of Adamson’s many talents is as a collaborator with artists from other genres, where he displays enough confidence in his art to combine his vision with others. This Only Connect collaboration sees Adamson once more teaming up with the king of the indie dance scene, Russell Maliphant. The two worked together on Broken Fall (commissioned by George Piper Dances and premiered at the Royal Opera House last December with Parisian dancer Sylvie Guillem, and Royal Ballet renegades Michael Nunn and William Trevitt), but tonight’s show is a completely original production using Maliphant’s expanded five-piece company.

Maliphant is a quiet, poetic, intimate performer whose own supple, subtle, mesmeric dancing has been compared to watching a waterfall. There’s an effortless grace about his work which comes from his training at Royal Ballet School and, although he has left ballet behind, traces of it remain evident in his work, along with elements of contact improvisation, yoga, Tai Chi, acrobatics, Indian sculpture, Ukrainian folk dances, and the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. He has also studied anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and Rolfing (in which he maintains a private practice), all of which have helped him build on his ballet foundation to expand the grammar of contemporary dance.

After work with DV8 Physical Theatre, Michael Clark, Laurie Booth and Rosemary Butcher, Maliphant started his own company in 1996. He usually works with small groups of two or three dancers, but this Adamson collaboration sees him expand his troupe to five. Many of his previous works have been accompanied by low-key, almost ambient music, but Adamson’s more emphatic scores push Maliphant in a more aggressive direction, employing his acrobatic vocabulary of balances, backbends, crouches, squads, one-handed flips and highly kinetic improvised group-play.

Like Adamson, Maliphant’s work has a peculiarly cinematic quality, something that is brilliantly exploited by his regular collaborator, the lighting director Michael Hulls. Hulls works like a psychedelic dub producer – he blurs images, multiplies them, sculpts new figures, creates fantastic optical illusions and then divides routines up into discrete passages by fading to black.

Maliphant has been garlanded with critical acclaim – he was awarded an Arts Council Fellowship in April 2000, a Time Out Live Award in 2002 for “raising improvisational dance to new heights” and a South Bank Show award in 2004. His last collaboration with Adamson, December 2003’s Broken Fall, won him an Olivier Award for best new dance production.

This collaboration sees Maliphant choreograph new work to music from Adamson’s solo back catalogue, including tracks from Moss Side Story, As Above, So Below, The Taming Of The Shrewd, Oedipus Schmoedipus and The King Of Nothing Hill. Much of this music has never been played live before, and this also sees Adamson’s band complemented by a full string section in the form of the BBC Concert Orchestra. Adamson said that he “wept like a baby” when he watched Ennio Morricone conduct a full orchestra at the Barbican in 2002. “It touched my very soul,” he said. Don’t be surprised if this concert has a similar effect on you.

© John LewisBarbican show programme, 8 April 2004

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