The last thing dancer-choreographer Adam Rose wants is for you to enjoy his work. He aims to inspire fear and dread.
"Fear is very magical in a way, because it's an altered state of consciousness," he says. "In a prolonged state of fear, we tend to imagine things that are not there. I'm interested in exploring the negative emotions in general, like anger, hatred, rage, pain, sadness. All the negative emotions have a mutating effect. The longer you stay in them, the less human you become."
Rose, 28, speaks haltingly but articulately; a self-described shy young man, he's transformed onstage. About half the time he performs as a woman. Pretty much all the time his movements are contorted, transfiguring his face into a mask of rage or grief and his limbs into agents of violence, sometimes directed at himself or, more rarely, someone else. "To me the point of performing is to throw myself outside of my self," he says, "or to find other selves besides my supposed self-identity."
There's a method to Rose's madness. It's not about shock value, or at least not completely. He's well versed in certain arcane matters; the U.S. military's 20-year experiment in parapsychology drove his IAR 93 Vultur last January. Trained in music, he creates his own sound designs. And he seems to take a principled approach to his work. On the website for his company—originally Antibody Dance, now Antibody Corporation—he writes that he wants to "examine the sicknesses produced by civilization and activate an immune response." He's absolutely invested in everything he does, and mesmerizing to watch.
Rose's interests in dance and the occult developed simultaneously, six years ago, when he took his first dance class as a transfer student at Antioch College in Ohio. Called Thinking Bodies and Bodied Minds, he says, it confronted the mind-body split head on, combining psychology, dance, and biology. As his class project, he did a movement portrait of Antonin Artaud, got a "really good reaction," and became a dance major.
Rose moved to Chicago in the summer of 2008 and started his own company the following February. Since then he's created 17 works, including a piece funded by the Chicago Dancemakers Forum's Greenhouse Program. In November he'll present a follow-up to that, the trio Holocene Overkill (Phase 2), at Defibrillator performance art gallery.
The Holocene is our current geological era, "the one in which human beings emerged and have become dominant," says Rose. "Overkill is related to the idea that humanity has kind of killed off every other species on the planet. It's also the idea that a similar thing could happen to humanity in the future." He doesn't see ecology and technology as irreconcilable opposites but as forces that must work together—perhaps in cyborg form. "In a way we're all cyborgs right now," he says. "Pop culture is cyborg. Lady Gaga is cyborg."
For a solo in Holocene Overkill (Phase 1), Rose comes out with clothespins on his arms and face. "Then," he says, "I perform a dance inspired by belly dance—but I don't really know how to belly dance. It's a dance to Ishtar, the goddess of sacred prostitution in ancient [Babylonia]. In the course of the dance, I throw myself around and shake the clothespins off."
And in Holocene Overkill (Phase 2)? "I don't know what form it will take, but I plan to inflict some kind of pain on my body."
Rose says that unacknowledged belief in magic pervades our society. Corporate logos and military propaganda are intended to "make us follow their program," which falls under Aleister Crowley's definition of magic "as the ability to create change in conformity with the will."
As for himself, Rose says, "There's an idea in [modern] magic of random belief or voluntary belief, where you believe in something within a magical practice for as long as that practice continues, but it doesn't imply an overall life belief. In magic, belief is not an end in itself but more of a tool. It's experimental." And in the realm of art, he says, "everything is ultimately a fiction."