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At the beginning of The Antwatchers rehearsal process, I asked Graeme Watson about both the issues he wanted to deal with and the way he chose to treat them (RT11). The notions of surveillance he addressed then touched on a fundamental debate in a very personal way: Why are we, as individuals living in society, the way we are? Evidently the starting premise in the work is an image of humanity, caged, isolated and distorted, the boundaries we live within only marginally compatible with personal integrity. This distortion shapes the very basis of our interaction, inevitably requiring our sensual selves to compromise on an intensely intimate level: confined, stared at, smelled, watched, touched, held, not held, laughed at, listened to, criticised, bullied and humiliated into becoming beings whose integrity depends on learning to perpetrate these horrors for ourselves.

From birth we are held captive by dual expressions of love and power. A mother is bound to her child in ways she is compelled to acknowledge, whether it’s loving attentiveness or critical scrutiny. A child is likewise bound in confinement or security. How these bonds are lived out shapes self-esteem, aspiration and achievement, from notions of what to wear, what to look like, what to see, hear and feel, to what we take to be the very nature of reality. We are all moulded to the marrow by the seismic strength of both private and public scrutiny.

It’s a big project which Watson has chosen to approach in quite literal, physical terms. The set consists of a series of cages, either babies’ playpens for the dancers or a huge central three storey tower caging the musicians and their electronic equipment. We see the dancers through bars, curled up, embryonic. Crucially, the musicians also see us, as we watch them. An intense wash of sound exerts its impact tangibly, through vibrating floor and seats. A central character sits at the bottom of the tower, spider-like, turning ominously, observing the proceedings. Searchlights and floods pick up selected areas of the cavernous space.

There’s measured success in the story being told. Six women dancers portray horror and confused confinement, reconstruct attitudes of naivete and sophistication in true classical tradition. The movement that unfolds begins tentatively; caged animals discovering their plight. It develops from a gestural basis, an abstracted mimicry, a non-human scale. Their acts of fear and self protection literally become behavioural norms. We see a ballet doll character with huge pink bow and whalebone petticoat, learning her repertoire via imitation and bullying, and we see an ensemble of mothers with prams, bound to their life task with a compliance generated by anxiety. All wear black harnesses suggesting slavery, spiders-web, S & M, sky-diving, or corsets.

As central features of the work, these ideas are not as compelling as some smaller glimpses of subtle insight. At one point we see several dancers lying on the floor, rocking their babies gently on their bellies, an attitude articulating more about maternal bonds than histrionic anxiety ever could. After a fast sequence in which the dancers deliberately use as much effort as they can, the audience is invited to take their pulses. Either they need urgent tangible proof of life, or just another test of their own physical bounds. The closing image is a tortured silhouette lashed with camera flashlight, more like gunshots than snapshots.

Inventive talent and imagination in developing movement vocabulary was evident, but subtlety seemed buried in the huge space, selective lighting and enveloping sound. I wanted to be closer, to see people not “dancers”, meaningful movement not dim, narrowly articulate tableaux. There was a disquieting conflict between the grandness of the sound and visual designs and the intimacy of the human body. Although you could say that’s what it was about, aesthetic intentions seemed sometimes at cross purposes. Perhaps Watson’s vision might have been for something smaller, closer than the other designers had in mind.

The One Extra Company, The Antwatchers; choreography, Graeme Watson; design, Eamon D’Arcy; lighting, Rory Dempster; musical director, Antony Partos; costumes, Jacques Tchong; dancers, Felice Burns, Alison Dredge, Taryn Drummond, Lisa Ffrench, Charlotte Moar, Rachel Roberts

RealTime issue #12 April-May 1996 pg. 43

© Eleanor Brickhill; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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