Reflect – Sue Peacock, Performing Lines and memories endless narrative. (Theatre review)
Imagine a giant screen presenting you, the individual, as a contributor to a relationship, as a functioning member of society through your gestures – no assisting commentary for interpretation – then against that is your shadow, performing the same and different gestures, larger than life, but smaller than the recorded image, and out in front of it all is you illuminated, small almost naked, mute but for your movement. This is a modern and an ancient layering of the individual, the recording a kind of enormous reflection of the way others see us that plays in a loop as someone elses vision, the shadow a larger connected and yet strangely uncontrolled version of ourselves that seems to start with our feet but sometimes not and then there is us, performing the gestures, imagining we choose them but conforming to unacknowledged forms of communication decided for us, outside of us, a long time ago. Movement, the gesture, the hands, the body the face, the way we shroud conversation in the physical evocation of image, the way that image is essential to our capturing of thought, the way that movement and its associated message are as randomly pieced together as the relating of histories.
Reflect choreographed by Sue Peacock begins with five young people coming onto the stage and starting to dance. The movements are laden with the gestures we use to enhance language everyday, such as thumbs up and flirtatiousness and shoulder shrugging. Laid out on the floor are five outfits in muted greys, whites, dusty blues and black. Soon each dancer strips down to their underwear, using dance moves that indicate an embrace of freedom, and gingerly they work toward the clothing on the ground. When they take on the new offered clothing, the movement embraces all the gestures of the everyday, yesterday as well as historical gestures all formatted into and around various dance styles. Soon the screen behind comes alive with images of the five in their original clothes as if this is the self they arrived with, prior to whatever transformation this freedom indicates.
They dance robustly, energetically, sometimes engaged with each other, sometimes in a secret solo world. They are together and they are apart. Sometimes the show is very funny, sometimes it is deeply moving. Everything is used freely including the gestures Sartre would label Bad Faith, such as the catwalk strut, or the full immersion in love in order to escape identity, as every gesture carries the same importance when it is removed of its motivator or its accompanying language. This piece is about the movement as abstract, and yet concrete in that it comes from the physical, but cleverly, Peacock show us, that when the gesture is separated from its signifier, it becomes abstract deriving its meaning from witness. It is up to the audience to decide what each gesture means and this is its own exercise in authenticity and the forging of a relationship with our bodies well-trained and yet regularly subconscious responses. It is beautiful and exciting to see this represented through dance, as if each human is dancing through their life, their sadness, their joy and their display. When given the chance to witness such a performance, true to the name of the work, we see ourselves, standing separate and making judgments upon our own gestures that rarely mean what we think.
The choreography of Reflect is fascinating and exciting to witness, but it stands alongside Ben Taafe’s thrilling and eclectic music and comes to sensory life, as the pieces chosen often point to a relationship between sound and gesture, as diffused via the unconsciousness of our using. When we claim sound, music, a song as signifier we remove ourselves from it in a way and Taafe’s music brings that very relationship to Peacocks movements, our consciousness, or as Peacock so eloquently describes it in the director notes, our memory creates the sound or movement at the point it attached these signs to action or sound or both; a strange relationship occurs via the meandering pathways of our own reflection on the work. The gesture is forged in the remembering, not in the action.
As well as all of this exciting brain food, Reflect is beautiful to watch, the five dancers very experienced and in command of their performance. They relate tenderly, their individual personalities rising through the action, adding another dimension to the very human layering of the sound and movement. We watch them in their ‘new clothes’ and we see their shadow projected onto their former selves who move larger and freer, almost like an advertisement against the back screen. This individuation ads to the layers of memory, rather than drawing into the singularity of each individual performer. In this way, Reflect becomes an intimate experience between each artist, the audience and sound.