I am looking up a YouTube video of Ivor Cutler’s single “Women of the World” from 1983, recorded with Linda Hirst through Rough Trade Records. Google’s Ad Rank Algorithm complements the experience, while revealing my search history, and now a physiotherapy advertisement appears poetic.
Floating in a ‘click-me’ image box, a photo of an extended leg, shown from the knee down, rests on what appears to be a couch or some form of bedding. In the background of this modern day chiaroscuro composition, an open cat carrier sits. Its small blue door is ajar, but no cat to be seen. The mood: everyday dismal. The illuminated leg occupies most of the frame: barefoot, yellowed big toenail. Around the ankle, a red ring from where a tight sock has cut into the flesh. Not breaking the skin, just too tight. Uncomfortably tight. Beneath this image, the poem, “4 Signs Your Heart is Quietly Failing You.” I have also been searching/finding/reading Anne Carson’s woe and odds and phosphorescent-by-lamplight chalk foxes,[note]Anne Carson, “1=1,” The New Yorker, January 11, 2015, accessed March 21, 2019 [/note] which Alice Dixon, William McBride, and Caroline Meaden feel convey what it is to be alive in this “heartbroken little era.” I have been swimming in the words that pool together photographs of refugees “pressed flat against one another” and mushroom collecting with John Cage by way of an ordinary lakeside dip. And it is all in there, the poetry and Google searches, the typing in caps lock, bold. The tragic and the everyday. The signs your heart is quietly failing you. All of this and more poured into “Lady Example,” presented by Arts House as part of Dance Massive 2019.
Frequent collaborators Dixon, McBride, Meaden, together with Fleur Conlon, Patrick Durnan-Silva, Scott Elstermann, Hannah Monson, Emma Riches, Jo White, and a cast of ornamental swans, have created a work that “undertakes a deranged and exquisite stocktake of our histories and mythologies to propose a litany of new, glorious, shuddering worlds.”[note]Alice Dixon, Caroline Meaden and William McBride, “Lady Example,” Artists’ Statement, Dance Massive 2019, accessed March 17, 2019[/note] Created during a residency at Boyd Studio 1, their “practice is an enquiry at the intersection of contemporary dance and theatre that foregrounds rigorous and unusual physicality, inventive writing and spoken delivery, and choreographic performance structures and dramaturgical logics. [Their] performance works are layer-cakes of form,”[note] “Alice Dixon, Caroline Meaden and William McBride: Dance & Theatre Makers,” Creative Spaces Boyd Studio 1 Residency 2, July 1 2017 – December 15, 2017, accessed March 21, 2019 [/note] which in the case of “Lady Example” in particular “considers the historical and contemporary feminine—on our stages, on our screens and in the performance of everyday life—and explores with poignancy and wit the lady examples that made us, and the lady examples we are making still.”[note]“Lady Example,” Artists’ Statement, Dance Massive 2019[/note] Wit wears a lilac blend of exquisite and fabulous. Wit addresses the audience directly, instructing us to smile, and at the end of the performance to consider coming up and politely saying thank-you. “Lady Example” is, at times, not unlike a curious message on a sticker handed out by Cutler: ‘never knowingly understood,’ ‘to remove this label take it off,’ ‘kindly disregard.’[note]Ivor Cutler randomly handed out “stickers bearing cryptic messages like ‘Funny smell,’ ‘Let me out’ and ‘To remove this label take it off.’” Colin Irwin, Ivor Cutler Obituary, The Independent, March 9, 2006, accessed March 21, 2019 [/note]
Wit dances nose to swan beak with suitable earnestness in surreal juxtaposition. With brass swans the colour of Harlow gold, “Lady Example” is the lyrics to Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes.” Dixon, McBride, and Meaden’s dance invites the audience into their glorious, shuddering world.
And she'll tease you, she'll unease you
All the better just to please you
She's precocious, and she knows just what it
Takes to make a pro blush
She got Greta Garbo's standoff sighs, she's got Bette Davis eyes
If all of these references seem like a jumble, they are. Like a collage, they are. Words are missed, and others are caught. The tide comes in and the tide goes out. A private dance sequence occurs in one area of the space, and in watching it, I realise I am missing another. This is the joy of it, everything is happening all at once. Anna Pavlova lives on and performs “The Dying Swan,” elsewhere a Monday morning email is drafted. Unlike Carson’s swimmer in “1=1,” all of the performers in “Lady Example” convey “momentum in sharing,” each interaction with another person bringing about “a bolt of pure aliveness.” Just as history is at once “concrete and indecipherable,” so to the shimmering “Swan Lake” dip of “Lady Example” with Dixon, McBride, and Meaden as adjectives bumping against each other as a “a solid unlit white sky.”[note]Meghan O’Rourke, “The Unfolding: Anne Carson’s ‘Nox,’” The New Yorker, July 12, 2010, accessed March 21, 2019[/note]