Piece for the wicked

Tony Osborne seduced by the intimacy of Sue Peacock and Bill Handley’s Watershed at Artrage

Sue Peacock enters the space. A fantastic journey begins with the daylight seemingly fading behind the Gasworks deco factory windows. It’s confusing, I cannot remember what time it was when I came in. From the first moment of Watershed Jeremy Nottle’s lighting design transports me to an otherworld. Illusion, beauty, a red floor, yes, a space I haven’t been to before yet so familiar, erotic, sexy even, how could it not be? A man, a woman and a bed! A piece “for anyone who has ever shared a bed.”

A sleeping man and a silence laden with potential. She sits on the bed, tenuously, looking, “will this be the same as last night”, she seems to wonder. Her presence stirs him. There’s magic here. Just as I wonder about the grainy bed the man’s image rolls away from his visceral body—the illusion is so effective it takes my breath away—his phantom moves and returns and his body appears upright. Now she is sleeping. I know this scenario. Then the dissolve (from the phantom dancers to a kind of psychedelic patterning) which is arrestingly close to what I see when I close my eyes.

The woman is intense. When she dances her eyes penetrate the space and I feel sympathy for her stage-partner (Bill Handley). This woman is demanding. She demands an intimacy and is not amused by his comic attempts at seduction, belly-dancing in the middle of the night? You disturbed my beautiful dream! Please give me access to my slumber. Je suis fatigué. Yet they leap like a ‘flying’ nightmare, nowhere to land, nowhere to lay their heads. They exit ‘real’ space to enter filmic dream-space—content at last to escape the discomfort of the corporeal—we witness illusion, perfect dramatic irony, the poetics of the unspoken, the drift of the sleeping soul. Insomnia; beds and companions; dreams and lovers—I just want to sleep, to dream, to die etc etc. Give me a break, give me an inch so you can take a yard, just whose bed is this? Nocturnal violence erupts, the horror of a bed dismantled by an angry lover falling off the edge of rationality (“there’s only room in this bed for one of us”) and the dawn still hours away.

The silence in Watershed makes the moments of sound all the sweeter, life’s like that. At other times Watershed explodes into frenetic choreography, the lovers leaping over and across the re/de/constructed bed in a full-bodied musical chairs. Graeme McLeod’s video realisations suggest insights into these restless protagonists and make Watershed a delicious conjunction of dancing, video-images and comedy, a mix bound by the intimacy of the action. There’s a lot of beauty in Watershed and a lot of fun too. I have shared a bed with lovers; with young kicking offspring; the occasional friend. I’ve been here before and I literally return—I had to see this piece a second time. It’s enthralling being around this sort of maturity in a dance-work—so many dancers devastate my interest through the lack of exchange in the earnest pursuit of pure aesthetic. What a pleasure! Dance-theatre that resonates with the everyday but which is fantastic in its presence, a presence constantly foregrounding the unconscious, the id, the tired.

Watershed, devised and performed by Sue Peacock and Bill Handley in collaboration with Graeme Macleod and Jeremy Nottle, video, lighting and sound, Artrage Festival, Gasworks, Perth, October 6 – 17; bodyworks ‘98: festival of moving arts, Dancehouse, Melbourne, December 3 – 6

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 36

© Tony Osborne; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 1998