Dancers, especially, like to talk about body memory. Let me rephrase that. They don't like to talk about it. They just refer to it. You either get it, and nod sagely, or you don't.
It's like getting on a bike, right? Mmmm, sorta. It's more like picking up a guitar -- which I used to do -- and bangin' out the opening riff of 'Over the Hills and Far Away' as proof.
Or, nowadays, typing in a computer password I've used on and off for about 30 years. I swear, I couldn't spell it out to you. It's gibberish. But my fingers can bang it out scarily/blurily quickly.
I suspect that body memory is the purest -- by that I mean least corruptible -- kind of memory. The least susceptible to falsification. The most anchored.
In the Boyd family, I'm the scribe. The one who documents. Who remembers. My brother Martin used to diss me for having a crap memory. He now concedes that I just remember stuff that he doesn't. But head memories become detached from the whole. They lose certain details. So, I can remember a line from an opera I saw once, a decade and a half ago, sing it to you confident that I've got the key and note right, but... I can't remember if it was sung by a mezzo or a bass baritone. I know the note, just can't remember the octave. Bummer, hey?
I saw the STC production of Julius Caesar at the Wharf a couple of years ago, maybe four but I haven't checked. Paula Arundell played Portia. (Pretty certain it was her, not so certain about the 'll' in her surname but determined not to check!) Benedict Andrews directed it. So... it was unconscionably long and slow, but memorable! Especially JC's epileptic fits! Anyway, one of Paula/Portia's speeches was absurdly and disconcertingly familiar to me. It felt like I had played the role. (I haven't!) It felt... like running into an ex and not being able to remember her name. (I haven't!)
I'm sure actors will know this feeling well: a period of intense concentration on a text that is hermetically sealed in the days/weeks/months they worked on it. Especially if that role has never been revisited.
Another example. The day I moved to Korweinguboora (still, mercifully, up-wind of the fires) was the day I got From the Choirgirl Hotel by Tori Amos. May 1998. It's absolutely anchored in time and place. Dark. Cold. Late at night. Maximum volume. (The house is 1.4 km from the letterbox... it's not as inconsiderate as it might look!)
Smell is just as evocative, but fuzzier. Like throwing open the door and sniffing the plump summer air.
So, why the hell am I bangin' on about memory? Er... I forget.
I think I was mulling over these ideas for a week or so before seeing Sandra Parker's outstanding new work, Out of Light, which opened last Thursday at the Gasworks -- so why the bloody hell was I at the State Theatre seeing Complexions... a company I can't wait to forget -- and runs through to March 7. (Tuesday to Saturday, 8 pm.)
The piece is about performance: the magic of theatre and the experience of performing on stage. It's also, apparently, about body memory. Now, it's unlikely to teach you anything about body memory or even to make the concept more solid. But, in harnessing the body memory of three experienced, brilliant and utterly unique dancers, Parker (ironically?) makes a piece that is remarkable and -- dare I say it -- unforgettable.
A scene from Sandra Parker's Out of Light
It's about to be swamped by (the excellent, unexpected and comprehensive) Dance Massive, but for godsake don't miss it. It's one of those rare creations that works as a piece of pure dance yet still speaks to a theatre or visual arts audience. Its craft is so sure, so deeply rooted, that it can risk being entirely organic.
It's also a piece that demands to be reviewed -- not just acknowledged or praised -- but defies words. Neutralises words. Nullifies them. Help me out here? It denies their currency. It takes you to a place where words are of no use whatsoever. They're not legal tender here.
Welcome to the realm of the body.
Watch Carlee Mellow flick her foot with vocab-denying grace. The movement isn't liquid so much as airy. Watch her, Clair Peters and Mia Hollingworth make flesh the idea that light is both particle and wave. Both and neither.
Marvel at the skilled use of lighting and projection. It's one thing for a scrim/screen to be made opaque, it's quite another to make it a solid entity... but that's what Parker's collaborators Rhian Hinkley (projection design) and Jenny Hector (lighting design) do.
But the real success of the show is the way it took me from a distant onlooker -- even in the front row I felt detached and oh-so-far-away from the action -- to an engrossed witness and then to a selfless participant in some magical, alchemical, transubstantial manifestation of the power of the mute body in space. In space, yet out of time. Simultaneously "in body" and "out of body".
Eternity in an hour.
Out of Light directed and choreographed by Sandra Parker. Designed by Rhian Hinkley (projections), Jenny Hector (lighting) and Zohie Castellano (costumes). Music by Steven Heather. Performed by Mia Hollingworth, Carlee Mellow and Clair Peters. Gasworks Theatre, Albert Park, until March 7.
UPDATE: See also Stephanie Glickman's review, here.