Photo – Catherine McElhone
It's a brilliant premise. Interpret an 'invisible' woman's everyday chores in a series of dances, loosely choreographed to tunes she might know and love.
In Carriageworks' Track 8 (just one of its capacious spaces), the massive timber doors are flung open. A small car careens around somewhat carelessly outside, music blaring. A woman emerges, carrying load after load of colourful Aldi shopping bags. We patiently watch, as she systematically transports the bags around the perimeter of the room, which is largely occupied by a large pink rug. In the far corner is a semblance of a kitchen, exceptionally well-stocked with cereal boxes. This is her destination.
But before this (and the apparent commencement of the show), a woman has fallen on her back and is distressed. She seems, potentially, to be an audience member, but our suspicions to the contrary are all the more aroused when Jeff Khan, co-director of Performance Space, goes undercover to assist, but is abused by the woman, who then stomps out. Khan stays in character, looking perplexed and murmuring to his companion. But why this? I don't know. It seems for all the world like an entertaining furphy, if not a naughty social experiment to see if anyone would assist, or how long it would take. Only Khan did. Sad, eh?
Something In The Way She Moves (subtitled Everyday Dances For An Invisible Woman) is part-and-parcel of PS's Sexes festival, which kicked off as early as October 25 and runs all the way through to summer. It's mission? To deploy both visual and performing arts in order to explore 'sexuality and gendered identities in contemporary Australia'. It contains coarse language, nudity, sexual references and adult themes. Yes, all your favourites! For example, this show was preceded by a mohawked transgenderite corrupting popular songs, such as Tammy Wynette's Stand By Your Man ('sometimes it's hard to be a woman, sometimes it's hard to be a man'), with stark, chameleon-like vocal transformations to match. Then there was John Denver's Country Roads. Use your imagination. Well, alright, a clue: 'almost heaven, my vagina'. But I digress.
Created and performed by Julie-Anne Long, SITWSM elevates middle-aged mums to the deserved status of celebrities and heroines. Long poses as a woman of the world in the truest sense, going about all the mundane facets of her day with uncomplaining dignity and diligence and affording herself some tiny, invisible respite by way of sensual movement to the soundtrack of her life.
Emerging fully-laden from Aldi with nary a helpmeet (other than mini-mum sidekick Narelle Benjamin) doesn't necessarily sound like an inspirational moment in which one might succumb to spontaneous motion, but try resisting, even under those circumstances, when Whitney's I Wanna Dance With Somebody is cranking. But, upbeat as it is, it points to the undertow of loneliness and isolation of the full-time mum, who may or may not be making some extra cash as a phone sex operator. She's liable to really feel it, 'when the clock strikes upon the hour and the sun begins to fade'. Amidst the comical, Long finds the tragical, but merely hints at it. The affection, empathy and compassion we thereby reach for is the triumph of this work (which, admittedly, seems to take precariously prolonged pauses at times, the wisdom and effect of which isn't fully apparent until well after leaving the theatre).
Mumsy (it's emblazoned on her tracky dax) gets into the rhythm while systematically preparing an Aussie culinary classic: short stacks of white bread sandwiches, with lashings of home brand spread (mm-mmm!), dextrously wrapping each in greaseproof paper. Here is an homage to the time-honoured traditions and rituals of working class suburbia, imbued with good-natured humour. (But where was the Vegemite?) Food preparation means washing-up, which becomes a lot more fun when you upturn two large pots to become veritable steel drums, played with brushes.
There's the laundry to be done, so a line is diagonally outstretched across the stage and Mumsy proceeds to peg out. A white sheet becomes a screen, onto which is projected a subverted remake of The Graduate, with Mumsy standing-in, in her rather bigger underwear and fuller figure, for Anne Bancroft's Mrs Robinson. A partially mimed rendition of Rod Stewart's Maggie May becomes the new stripe. Other inevitable, ubiquitous songs include Cyndi Lauper's True Colours. There's a couple from Cat Stevens also. At a couple of points, Mumsy dips more than her toes into this secret, invisible fantasy world: she dives headlong, surrendering herself to her inner sex kitten.
But, for mine, the stark, drawn-out vignette in which she ceases her dance, stands quite still and just looks around was the most surprising and potent; a suspended moment in which all her loneliness leaks out, spilling onto the floor and leaving us ankle-deep.
Something In The Way She Moves paints a portrait that's just for laughs, if you wish, but there's a few tears tucked up its sleeve, too. Happily, it's just where Mumsy would most likely place her hanky.
The last word must go to Dr Julie-Anne Long, Invisibility Consultant.
Tonight, I present a mere figment of my findings, a glimpse into the rich pickings of my undercover research, which falls into the category of 'Ladies: The Inner Life Of.' My territory is the sensorium and, in particular, those urges that lurk at the edges of invisibility, that strange and distant land inhabited by women of a certain age, women who sometimes bellow and howl and dance wildly till they dampen their underwear and who, when their work is done, come together to plot the overthrow of the patriarchy, an end to conspicuous consumption, uninhibited growth, alienated labour and other misguided obsessions of western civilisation. There have been times in the course of my experiments when I thought I might be on the verge of discovering either vestiges of the matriarchy or a hole in the roof where the rain gets in. See for yourself.
Something In The Way She Moves
devised by Julie-Anne Long
Venue: Carriageworks 245 Wilson St, Eveleigh
Dates: 14 – 17 November 2012
Tickets: $30 – $20