Judith Wright Centre & Lisa Wilson
Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Art
11th – 14th July 2012
In 2010 at The Powerhouse, after 3 years of work on the piece, Lisa Wilson’s widely acclaimed Elbow Room premiered. In February of this year, her original work Crush was shown. For this week only at the Judith Wright Centre, we have been able to dive into Wilson’s exploratory work about human relationships, Lake.
The final performance of Lake is tonight at 7:30pm. It’s a 60 minute show. You’ve got time to go. Book online.
Don’t think you need to be a dancer to appreciate this work. You just need to be human.
Exploring the depths of our darkest emotions, Lake is comparatively accessible contemporary dance. Of course the novelty is “the lake” itself, which works wonderfully, informing the execution of the movement and obviously, earlier, its development. The first ten minutes draw us in with some delightful comedy (Timothy Ohl’s easy entrance is superb, giving us an immediate sense of the freedom and simple joys of young love) and we enjoy the gradual realisation of intimacy and clever interplay between the couple, as well as a gorgeous sequence performed by Ohl, from Singing in the Rain (sans umbrella). Oh, and we’re skimming phones now, not stones. Who knew?! It’s nothing less than an extraordinary, surprising opening series of seemingly inconsequential events, containing some of the most upbeat moments of the show. Savour these. You’ll need them, like the memories you hold onto, of the last sunny, happy days spent with the one you love most, for when the going gets tough and the rain seems never-ending.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before things go bad, there is love. There is always love…in the beginning.
An unlikely couple (Lisa Wilson and Timothy Ohl) rock up to a favourite spot (a stunning design by Bruce McKinvin, perfectly combining the tangible set and the projected images); a body of water surrounded by trees and the sounds of local birdsong by day and insects by night. Prefacing this, unbeknownst to them, we the audience, already mesmerised by the expanse of water on the stage, have witnessed the frenzied dance of a water spirit or some such other-worldly creature (how long had she been lurking there in the dark?), in either an ecstatic or exorcised state, before she retreats to the shallows to hide and watch the couple from underneath the hanging branches of the trees overhead (Hsin-Ju Chiu). There is immediately a sense of mystery and foreboding, like in Jindabyne (or more accurately, within the short story by Raymond Carver, which inspired the film), because we know what will happen. We know what has always happened.
Or do we? There is an element of the original Japanese horror films and, more specifically, perhaps the best known contemporary interpretation of the genre, The Ring, rather than anything more distinctly Australian. (Warning: Just in case, like me, you can never watch any version of The Ring again, resist clicking on those links!). But the dread I feel is misleading and no one dies an actual death.
We see the early phase of the relationship; the play-fights, the frequent fun sex, the fine line between pleasure and pain that only leads to later confusion… this relationship is so familiar! We see, one day, the beginning of the end. You know that day. We’ve all been there, to that very still, very dark body of water, where something (or someone) is waiting. Neither is getting what they need so there is anger, resentment and blame, where once there was love. We continue to hurt and be hurt and to forgive and be forgiven because there is still, despite everything that is being destroyed along the way, some degree of love. Or obsession. Or something.
But the slight disagreements turn into heated arguments, which turn into violent fights and finally, someone is hurt beyond measure. Each destroys everything the other creates or cares about.
Her fun, her play, is captured for a moment for us, within a dreamy world of glistening, floating, falling rainbow-infused bubbles, which he bursts for fun. It’s not a vindictive action; it’s just his fun. She doesn’t understand why he would do such a thing. It’s a small, irritating thing. It’s just one thing. Does it matter? Can she put up with it? For how long? How many times? Next, he crafts a perfectly folded paper boat and pushes it across the water towards her. I think of the one-legged Tin Soldier, from the fairy tale, standing in his little paper boat as he travels down the gutter and out to sea, far away from his one true love, the paper Ballerina, with whom he’ll eventually perish. But I digress. She leaves the boat for a moment, looking at it and letting it become waterlogged before she picks it up and crushes it, later tearing it into tiny pieces that litter the lake’s surface for the remainder of the performance. (“He loves me, he loves me not.” Or should that be, “I love him, I love him not…”). It’s just not fun for her. They seem to be killing each other softly. Perhaps she will die!
The dancers, all three, are performance (fighting) fit and their movement is strong, fluid and balanced. At times it’s repetitive, just as the patterns of a long-term relationship are. In fact, a number of motifs and sequences are repeated. We witness increasingly aggressive acts of blame, hate, resentment, jealousy, anxiety and despair, at first in front of us on stage and then played out on the screen above the dancers. It builds the tension beautifully. In this video, produced by Chris Golsby, there are no words uttered, just white, glowing and slightly distorted silhouettes gesturing furiously and shouting where, in reality, the couple stand at opposite sides of the lake, not speaking to each other. Not knowing what to say.
The choreography and the impact of the AV element leave us with no doubt about how the relationship is going, with neither one nor the other entirely at fault for the breakdown in communication. In the way their bodies fit into each other, wrap around each other and rely upon each other in balances and counter-balances that then teeter and tip, the gradual dissolve of the partnership is demonstrated.
The spirit in the water has had a major part to play, coming between them, foiling their efforts to kiss and make up. She has always been there; an ominous presence, at one stage almost seducing the man, at another almost killing him. Is it all a dream? Is she actually the spirit belonging to that place or is she the deep longing or foreboding – the distrust – in every one of us? She is everything that makes us question why we are with a person.
The final motif, of the couple reaching for each other across the water, belies any of the previous antagonism (but doesn’t let us forget it) and serves to close the work with hope and finally, a sense of real forgiveness. This is our semi-happy ending after the dramatic climax, during which the man, with all of his great strength and determination, throws the dangerous spirit out of the water. It’s symbolic and shocking, just for an instant. Well, she was evil, always coming between them like that! Landing heavily outside of the designated performance space, in the gutter, she is discarded, once and for all.
The three dancers moved in and out and rested between beautiful, evocative lighting, in a design by Jason Glenwright; a study in light and shade, leading me to wonder about a conversation we had once had, outside The Roundhouse, as I recall, about creating work collaboratively with dancers that begins not with the choreography but with the light. This lighting design is a step closer to that vision.
We hear the haunting, challenging soundscape and original composition of Matt Cornell. Sometimes it’s subtle, barely there and we hear only the birdsong, insects and water. At other times it’s as if we’re in the basement of a nightclub, below six floors of the latest trance tracks, with the bass so loud that I remembered for a moment, dancing in the Grand Canyon during the wettest Woodford Folk Festival ever (2010-2011), far too close to the speakers and almost going deaf as Katzenjammer took to the stage.
This will likely be Wilson’s final performance. There is just 1 show remaining. See it tonight, before she leaves it, re-casts her role in it and takes this stunning piece around the world to challenge humans everywhere.