by William Alderwick
At once ridiculous, sublime, visceral, heartbreaking, hilarious, joyful, naive, brutal and shambolic, Theo Adams' performances aren't quite like anything else. A vulnerable young slip of a boy stands near naked before you, mouth still a tangle of braces, showered in glitter and white paint or black sand. Tears streak down his mime's face, contorted into an agonizing silent howl one moment only to be transformed into beatific wonderment the next. Un-choreographed and un-rehearsed, Theo's spontaneous improvisations and extreme emotional expression combines the influences of high art and popular culture as one, of classic Hollywood musicals by the likes of Bob Fosse or Busby Berkley together the modern expressive dance of Pina Bausch, all within a soundtrack of show-tunes and classic pop kitsch. Already a global phenomenon, having performed in galleries across Europe and in New York, Theo curated and headlined a night of performance at London's prestigious Tate Britain in conjunction with the !WOWOW! art collective and has even appeared in a reality TV show, called 'Singing with the Enemy'.
William: You’re half Cypriot. Could you tell us about your family’s roots in Cyprus, have you ever visited?
Theo: I haven’t been there for ages. I’m going in a few weeks for the first time in ten years, which will be quite good. Both my grandfather and my grandmother come from the north side, which is now obviously the Turkish side but this was before the invasion. It will be quite nice as it’ll be the first time I’ll actually go to their villages. I don’t know the exact Greek names but apparently they all look like potatoes in my Grandfather’s village. Greek culture has been a big part of my life; especially growing up, music especially has been quite a big influence on me.
W: Your great grandfather was a priest and you’re descended from a line of priests. Do you see a connection between that and what you are doing?
T: Well, I don’t know. My family are not really performers. My mum and my dad are from quite an academic background; they’ve both got PhDs. So it was like, ‘where have you got this from?’ They’ve always thought that it’s from this long line of priests. Because it is performance. If I was around back then, 200 years ago in some small village in Cyprus, I’d have probably wanted to be a priest, to have a little performance every Sunday. The outfits are great as well. It is quite dramatic, especially the Greek Orthodox, far more dramatic than being a vicar in some small village here.
W: Do you think that there is a link between art and religion?
T: For me I find religion in itself to be quite a weird concept, I can’t really understand it. I’m not religious at all, but I’m still spiritual. I find art a spiritual process in a lot of ways, especially performance. When I perform I almost go out of my body. It’s a different experience, quite cleansing on the mind and I guess it’s almost a religious experience. That’s why I’m so obsessed with religion. I spend hours looking at gospel churches, sermons and healers. It’s quite similar to a lot of my performances. These people being ‘healed’, going out of their body, and spasming. I find that quite fascinating. So I guess I’m quite influenced by religion but I don’t think art necessarily has to be religious. I like all of that but I find organized religion quite bizarre and scary.
W: What do you see as the relation between the high arts, the avant-garde like Pina Bausch in your performances, and the more trashy popular culture mimed Bistroteque show element to what you’re doing with the music soundtracks?
T: Well for me I don’t believe in high art and low art. I don’t believe in good culture and trash culture. To me it’s the same, it’s just the way people look at things. People easily dismiss things because they’re sparkly, and I think that’s completely ridiculous. I mean there’s a lot of things that are supposedly high culture that is a load of shit and I’d much rather go and watch the Eurovision song contest. I think a lot of people think my influences are ironic, but I don’t really believe in the irony in it. I see things are ridiculous but I also think going and seeing Pina Bausch, the whole stage covered in mud, everyone’s smothering in it and having spasms, is just as ridiculous as someone in the Eurovision song contest singing about their high heels. To me it’s exactly the same and I see things that are extreme, the extreme high culture and the extreme low culture, as a circle that meets at the top. The things I’m not interested in are the mediocrity and rubbish in the middle, I never have been. I’m interested in the extremes of both but I don’t really see them as being different.
W: You’ve performed across the world, New York, Paris, Istanbul, Athens. Could you tell us about the Athens performance, and how that came about?
T: The Athens performance was for a party to launch a magazine called Free, held somewhere in downtown Athens with 2000 people there. It was one of the most amazing things I ever did because it was the first time I used a lot of the Greek music I had. I played around with it. The introduction was an Anna Vissi track, the Greek Madonna, everyone in Greece would know this song. I played that at the beginning and everyone went mental. Then it suddenly cut to this other song and they were like, ‘What the hell!’ It was really exciting to me to play all this music that I really love and for people to respond to it and sing along. But also the Greek people just got it a lot more than a lot of people in London, because they’re not afraid of showing extreme emotion, fiery Mediterranean people. I am like that as well and I think a lot of that comes out in my performances. The reactions I got afterwards, the way they were speaking about it, wasn’t like a lot of people in London who just think its this crazy kid who runs round and screams. That’s not what its really about, its deeper than that. It’s more about the passion and the fire, and the Greek audience really got it. It was really amazing, one of my favourite performances.
W: What upcoming shows do you have?
T: Yeah, I’m doing Glastonbury and the Off-Set festival. But at the moment I’m not accepting many offers because I’m planning this big one night only show, which hopefully is going to be in the autumn, it's going to be called ‘Tonight is Forever’. I’ve got a composer called Jordo who I’ve worked with quite a few times and he’s putting together an orchestra with me. It’s not going to be a full orchestra but I’m also having about 30 dancers, a choir. It’s basically my most ambitious project. I want to take everything I do and times it by a thousand. I don’t think there’s any point just sticking to one thing. If I want to do something I might as well think big.
W: How does that work, having all of those other people involved, other dancers and musicians as well, in terms of not rehearsing and not really choreographing what you’re doing?
T: Well I had my first chance of doing that when I did a performance at the Tate at the beginning of the year. I had 12 dancers with me, and that was quite difficult at first. We were having all these meetings and they were like, ‘Oh, what do we do? We need steps, we need this, we need that’, and I was like, ‘No, no, no, no!’ I had to explain to them. In the end they kinda got it. It was a different way for them to work because for dancers everything is about the steps and its rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal. The last part of the song was choreographed because it turned into a Busby Berkley musical, but the first ten minutes were all spontaneous. They got it by the end, they said that it was liberating for them. Because they’re dancers they know how to dance and improvised it looked really beautiful. What they can do with their bodies is amazing.
W: It makes me think of something you said in your manifesto, about wanting heart and soul above logic; that the free improvised stuff, especially for these trained dancers, is getting rid of the logic or the structure of the steps to find something more emotional.
T: Yeah, exactly, that’s exactly what I was trying to do. And I guess it worked for most of them. That’s why I want to go into this next stage. It’s a lot more people and it’s a lot more ambitious but I think it’s going to be good. I mean I don’t really know even if it will work, but I don’t care. I’m not really worried about that kind of thing. I’m just going to go in and do it. I think its weird for me because there are a lot of people who are interested in what I do. So if I do something a lot of people will see it. I don’t have the kind of thing where most people my age go to art school and they have the luxury of experimenting with all these things. I’m experimenting but I’m experimenting with an audience. I want the audience, I have this need for the audience but I just don’t think it can fail. I just don’t think its possible. It may not be exactly how I want it but in my head it looks amazing. I think I don’t need to worry about that kind of thing until like the day before. So at the moment I’m fine. [laughs]