Review: The Voyeur

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Clare Dyson
photography by�Rachael Parsons

Company Clare Dyson
DiverseWorks Arts Space
January 23, 2010

It feels a little odd to be reviewing The Voyeur, performed by Company Clare Dyson because I had a hand in choosing how I watched the piece. I fully disclose that subjectivity turns in on itself here, and this is as much a review of my own ability to watch as it is their concept.

Let me set the scene. When the audience arrived at DiverseWorks last weekend, they found the seats covered with plastic and a gigantic cardboard box with various size peepholes on stage. Inside the box sit Dyson and Jonathan Sinatra, along with a record player, some records, and other items you might find in a room. Usually the audience is in captivity; here, the performers are the ones in the cage. Headphones labeled “Clare’s text” or “Jonathan’s text,” which consisted of an hour-long recording of various personal and somewhat confessional secrets supplied by Dyson and Sinatra, hang on the wall. Monoculars are also available for closer inspection. The audience selects how and where they watch and listen. They can also see others watching from across the box. So, as you watch the dance unfold, it’s framed against a sea of face fragments and eyeballs. Many were faces and sets of eyes I recognized which added to the feeling of audience as an instant community. Dyson speaks to the history of this piece in her Dance Source Houston interview.

Not only do you choose the size of the peep hole, but how you wish to frame what you see. So by moving your body, you re-position what you see. I found myself drawn to the tiniest of square holes, just big enough for one eye. Sometimes I remained still and let things move in and out of my vision. The light changes often, giving more possibilities for framing. I made dark and moody Johan Vermeer-like paintings with Sinatra sitting motionless in the dark with his back at the edge of the frame.

Dyson and Sinatra carry out a mix of dancing and ritual-like tasks inside the box, from writing on their own skin, to a tender scene where she washes his hair. There’s a juicy passion fruit eating scene performed with a kind sexy glee by Dyson. They put on records and rock out here and there too. At times they do very little, in a way, asking us to do more.

With a full house, I often had to wait for a pair of headphones. Sometimes I just found myself watching another person listening, carefully watching facial expressions change depending on what they were seeing and hearing. Here, I assumed the role of the voyeur of another voyeur. Easedropping is yet another job of the voyeur.

If you get close enough to the box’s walls, you can hear the secrets as a kind of whispered blanket of sound. It’s like a box with a past.

When I grew fatigued from peeping, I just walked around the perimeter of the box, Once, I stopped to gaze at the box with all these people stuck to it like barnacles. It’s weird and a bit lovely too, as light comes through the areas not blocked by bodies. There could have very well been a person behind me, watching me watch the group watch, and we could end up in a little M. C. Escher loop. It occurred to me that the Dysons consider that very scenario part of the piece.

Mark Dyson’s lighting makes a strong presence throughout, changing the environment enough to keep refreshing our vision. Light changes abruptly at times, and we have to reconfigure our viewing. There’s a marvelous section near the end, where Sinatra seems to pause to acknowledge the lookers, as if to say, “Oh, you are here, and I see you too.” It’s a poignant moment. Just about then, the lighting shifts to glimmering little boxes of light, as if to throw a nod to all of us watchers. Regardless of what we believe, we are always just looking through the peephole of our minds’ constructs. I wrote more about this in my Culturemap piece. With portals as passage, audience as active and seeing as an art in of itself the Dysons point towards an included watcher. And why not, we bring something to everything we see, The Voyeur gives the audience a seat at the table.

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