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Melanie Jame Walsh, audience member, J Dark
Melanie Jame Walsh, audience member, J Dark

photo Ponch Hawkes
“WHAT IS A REVELATION?” J DARK ASKS ME. “A DOOR OPENS IN FRONT OF YOU AND YOU HAVE TO GO THROUGH IT, THERE IS NO OTHER WAY TO MOVE FORWARD.” “WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE?” “A WEIGHT BEING TAKEN OFF YOUR SHOULDERS.” “WHAT IS THE TEMPERATURE AT YOUR SHOULDERS?” “THEY ARE COOL.” “AND COLOUR?” “BLUE.”

I was anxious about attending this show. In high-stress, intimate situations, we tend to rely on our social masks. This is one-on-one, site-specific participatory performance aimed at de-activating these masks. With carefully worded, probing questions J Dark asks us to reveal the warmth under our facades. Like a matryoshka doll, layer after layer is yielded.

After scheduling an appointment with J Dark you receive a calling card and an SMS giving you directions to a venue. It begins to feel like something between a spy drop-off and a clinical appointment; a dark laneway leads to a waiting room with a yellow envelope with a form to fill out. J Dark arrives and you travel by lift to another floor.

Performer Melanie Jame Walsh is a confident and reassuring conductor; this is her second turn as J Dark, having performed at Sydney’s Underbelly Festival last year. There’s nobody better to lead you down the rabbit hole, because the night becomes surreal and unflinchingly personal. Wearing a dark pantsuit, J Dark’s voice is thoughtful and affected as she asks you questions like, “Do you have something to hold you up? Is it a system or a structure?” She steers conversation along this almost psychoanalytic line of questioning.

This is art as therapy and it’s intimate and risky, almost like a first date. We kneel at a mirror and she asks me to talk about my face while she takes off her ‘sexy librarian’ glasses and bobbed wig. Losing her earlier affected tone, she asks me whether she has changed. The clothing is symbolic of our own layers and personas. A table of hats offers a chance for me to find a costume for a newly discovered persona. Similarly, J Dark’s gradual disrobing down to a slip reflects the inner world we are heading into.

Walking through corridors, doors and up staircases we go both deeper into the strange Victorian fun-house depths of Arts House, as well as into the crucial question—what makes us unique? Everything is up for analysis; beliefs and desires are turned over and need to be backed up. I choose a matryoshka doll from an array of displayed objects on a hallway table. It seems an apt metaphor, as does my earlier admission that a revelation is like walking through a door. Just how much of this performance did I direct?

By the end of 50 minutes, unguarded, I lie down on a makeshift bed in an attic and sing an 18th century Russian lullaby to a stranger. J Dark returns the favour and croons more adeptly. Resisting her enigmatic charisma and kindness is almost impossible; we relish the chance to reveal ourselves.


An appointment with J Dark, performer, writer, creator Melanie Jame Walsh, director, writer, dramaturg Katerina Kokkinos-Kennedy, Triage live art collective in association with Savage Amusement, Arts House, Melbourne, April 18-May 6

RealTime issue #109 June-July 2012 pg. 28

© Varia Karipoff; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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