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a tear in the fabric of invisibility

cleo mees: julie-anne long, something in the way she moves


Narelle Benjamin, Julie-Anne Long, Something in the Way She Moves Narelle Benjamin, Julie-Anne Long, Something in the Way She Moves
photo Heidrun Löhr
I HAVEN’T SEEN JULIE-ANNE LONG’S INVISIBILITY PROJECT IN ACTION UNTIL NOW. PERHAPS THAT’S WHY THE SIGHT OF HER TAKES ME BY SUCH SURPRISE. WATCHING A PRE-SHOW EVENT IN THE CARRIAGEWORKS FOYER, MY GAZE DRIFTS AND I SEE LONG STANDING SOLEMNLY IN ORANGE HAT, LONGISH SKIRT AND HI-VIS VEST, CLEANING FLUFF OFF THE FLOOR AND COLLECTING IT IN A BUCKET. SOME ONLOOKERS NOTICE HER, OTHERS DON’T. IT OCCURS TO ME THAT, IF I DIDN’T KNOW WHO I WAS HERE TO SEE, I MIGHT NOT HAVE NOTICED HER EITHER.

Later, seated in Track 8 with the huge doors flung open, we hear a car blasting Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” screech to a halt outside. Car doors slam and a tired but determined looking Long strides into the room. She hauls recyclable shopping bags full of groceries around the perimeter of an expansive pink square of carpet and places them next to a neatly stacked pantry. Not far behind her is her sidekick, Narelle Benjamin, also hauling shopping bags and sporting a crocheted onesie. Car emptied and doors closed, Long moves to a table in the middle of the carpet and makes packed lunches, buttering bread to the music.

There is something about the Whitney Houston song that makes it impossible for me to sit still—or stop wriggling in my seat. It is the sort of music I just have to dance to. It seems that Long can’t resist the music either. As it grows louder and fills the space her buttering movements elongate, warp and are eventually abandoned for lively, hip-swinging dance breaks.

Julie-Anne Long, Narelle Benjamin, Something in the Way She Moves Julie-Anne Long, Narelle Benjamin, Something in the Way She Moves
photo Heidrun Löhr
As she moves from buttering to other household tasks, her dances become increasingly radical transformations. Taking on a sort of sexual ferocity, in the midst of washing dishes, she wraps a tea towel around her head like a mask (I think of Ned Kelly) and charges about the space, beating her arms behind her like fins. Repeatedly she takes a wide stance and wipes her hands from her groin up over her hips in an emphatic V-shape.

In a later interlude she pulls a sheer nylon stocking over her head, followed by a red net—the sort you buy oranges in. She thrusts her pelvis to the music and rolls luxuriously around on the floor; repeats the V-shape, rubbing her hands across her belly and circling her breasts.
The phone rings. It’s a smartphone. Long holds it at arm’s length and squints at it for a moment before finding her way into the call. We laugh, delighted at the recognisable grimace. I gather that she is speaking to a partner who is promising to come home from work… soon. This first of three calls seems to conclude with phone sex, an exchange that feels more like a light-hearted, charitable gesture than any lustful experience on Long’s part, and elicits hoots of laughter from the audience.

Throughout this trajectory Benjamin remains quietly, if sometimes comically, present in the space, stepping in for support when needed. She helps hang out a bedsheet, for example, upon which a video projection will depict Long frolicking naughtily in bed with a young stud, interspersed with the seduction scene from the Mike Nichols’ film The Graduate (1967).

Eventually the stage is quiet. Standing under a single spotlight in nothing but a white slip, Long presents herself in stillness to the audience. Time expands. I am able to look over her flesh, to let my eyes linger. Gradually it dawns on me that I am seeing more than just the bright and bubbly side of this woman tonight. I am seeing something serious, too. I feel that I am being let into something that is real, and quite private.

Julie-Anne Long, Something in the Way She Moves Julie-Anne Long, Something in the Way She Moves
photo Heidrun Löhr
As she moves on to don an elegant black dress and dance under dimmed, star-shaped lights—a sort of closing dance—I am flooded with a mix of emotions. I find myself close to tears as I watch her pendulum-like movement, limbs and upper body swinging with such ease.

Something In The Way She Moves works from the idea that sometimes women become invisible, be it because of visions of ‘successful womanhood’ that persist in our cultural consciousness, rendering certain women more visible than others, or because of the everyday realities of adult life that cause a woman to prioritise the needs of parents, partner or children over other pursuits.

Yet this performance doesn’t so much mourn invisibility as simply acknowledge that it happens. It playfully illuminates both difficult and ecstatic moments within invisible experience, paying special attention to the possibilities and dignities that persist in that context. Yes, we can know ourselves to be wildcats, bombshells, oracles…even when the wider world doesn’t see it so clearly.


Performance Space, Sexes: Julie-Anne Long, Something In The Way She Moves: everyday dances for an invisible woman, created and performed by Julie-Anne Long, co-performer Narelle Benjamin, lighting Karen Norris, production management Clytie Smith, sound mix Gail Priest, Mrs Robinson video projection Sam James, video co-performer Matt Prest, other collaborators Deborah Kelly, Caroline Downs; Carriageworks, Sydney, Nov 14-17, 2012

This article originally appeared as part of RealTime's online e-dition Jan 30, 2013

RealTime issue #113 Feb-March 2013 pg. 28

© Cleo Mees; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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