Words by Jodie Nunn
“I was at a complete dead end and being a follower of ancient mythologies I saw that there was power in having a vendetta and allowing that energy to transform you and let you start again.” Gareth Chambers speaks nonchalantly about his choreographer-induced mental and physical breakdown. A Horizon 2023 Artist and former Jerwood Fellow and Associate Director for the Welsh National Opera, Chambers addresses his arrival at the intersection of dance, class, queer masculinity, and libertarianism; his latest creation, THE REVENGE OF POPPERFACE, the first instalment of the POPPERFACE trilogy; and from where to siphon the fuel for catalysing new movement material.
Jodie: Tell us about yourself; how did you arrive at the intersection at which dance performance and choreographic methodologies interweave with class, queer masculinity, and libertarianism?
Gareth: REVENGE came from being angry and yearning for some kind of retribution. I worked with a choreographer a few years ago and had an awful time which culminated in a mental and physical breakdown. I was at a complete dead end and being a follower of ancient mythologies I saw that there was power in having a vendetta and allowing that energy to transform you and let you start again. I started training in boxing and MMA three years ago and it feels good being able to do a roundhouse kick if the time calls for it. In Revenge I wanted to channel this fighting energy.
Here in the UK I feel we don’t talk enough about class and we don’t see enough work made for and by working class artists. We are often demonised by mainstream media for just living our lives and trying to make the best of a very complex situation. A lot of working class people are feeling very attacked right now and this anger unfortunately causes tension. My practice allows me to channel this anger and I think a theatre is the perfect place for it.
Libertarianism has been warped by those who don’t fully understand it’s core values, personally I want the right to be a creative individual. We are living in very conservative times and this worries me, I often can’t sleep because of it.
Jodie: Your latest creation, THE REVENGE OF POPPERFACE (which runs at The Place and Chapter Arts Theatre this month), vehemently interweaves dance, martial arts, and boxing, utilising the excessive consumption of amyl nitrate (poppers) as a vehicle through which to traverse a complex, experimental exploration of masculinity. Could you tell us a little more about this performance; what might audiences encounter through Popperface as protagonist?
Gareth: Popperface is dead, blue lipped and cold, it’s through the rites of his suited and booted acolytes that he is reborn, unleashed to do the bidding of those who summon him. A demon of dark masculine sexual energy who values money and power. Through his teaching he can reveal all things hidden and unattainable. He is the embodiment of chthonic masc queerness, a queerness which lurks in the dark woods of Hampstead heath, the sex dungeons of Berlin and the twisted mind of Jeffery Dahmer.
REVENGE is the first instalment to a POPPERFACE trilogy and it’s sequel CULT will hopefully be premiered next Summer.
Jodie: THE REVENGE OF POPPERFACE revels in the dissonances of French disco pioneer, Amanda Lear; could you elaborate on your choice of accompaniment? How did this discographic decision lend itself to the creative process?
Gareth: For me the disco era seemed to be the last movement where sexuality was totally free, it was a period of excess and decadence.
Of course I have been to Berghain which if I’m honest feels kinda boring after a few hours. Everyone seems so serious. Disco music is more fun. If you look at the history of disco it was a very dangerous time for the powers at be and the establishment , so it was killed it off.
Amanda Lear has been a cult phenomenon since the 1970s, a muse to Salvador Dali, a disco star and now more recently a French television personality who isn’t afraid to flaunt her much younger lovers on Instagram. She’s a mystery. No one knows her backstory and in interviews she would often lie about her origins. Self-mythologising is very relatable.
In 2020 I discovered Follow me, a song with lyrics that pertain to making a deal with the devil. It sounds like something Popperface would say to all his followers.
When creating the soundtrack for REVENGE I worked closely with Manchester based artist Cathedral Hygiene to create a sound bath which kept the ethereal quality to Amanda’s song however we both wanted it to be darker and more chthonic, like it was an ancient chant.
As the associate director for Welsh National Opera last year I spent a lot time listening to Wagner’s Tannhäuser especially the overture, so there is an element of the operatic too to the sound bath.
Jodie: In approaching a new choreographic work, from where do you siphon most inspiration? Do you have a particular methodology or framework for creating new material?
Gareth: When starting a new work I have to do a lot of research. For REVENGE I watched a lot of horror films in particular those by directors such as Carpenter, Argento and Robert Eggers. I like my creations to be cinematic and visually engaging. It’s through the visual that I lure the audience in. I read a lot of Angela Carter, Bret Easton Ellis, Alister Crowley and the Marquis de Sade. I create a narrative before I start adding the meatiness of dance. Crowley was a massive inspiration for me and I really relate to his esoteric methodologies of doing ‘What thou wilt’. For me dance is a physical manifestation of desire and impulse, a tool to create and distribute energy.
Choreography is explored through a movement score that allows the dancers to investigate specific character intentions. I always return to Bauschian movement techniques, constantly questioning what would this ‘character’ do in the universe I have created, how would they move within a space when there’s a job to do etc.
Jodie: For a final remark, do you have any advice for aspiring or active dance/movement makers, particularly those who may also wish to peregrinate beyond the confines of heteronormativity or the gender binary?
Gareth: Everyone has different experiences and needs so it’s difficult to give concrete advice, however I would say don’t be afraid to change the paradigm. For me that involved taking my anger and making it a positive force.
THE REVENGE OF POPPERFACE ran from 14-16 September 2023 at the Chapter Arts Theatre, Wales. You can find out more about Gareth Cambers and POPPERFACE here. Header image by Mei Lewis.