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Where to look?

Leah Mercer

Wendy McPhee, Private Dancer Wendy McPhee, Private Dancer
Q: How do you subvert a strip show?
A: Start nude.

Performed on a traverse stage, with a lucky wheel at one end and a changing room at the other, Wendy McPhee’s Private Dancer exists somewhere between an RSL and a sex club. Through a series of episodes and costume changes that highlight the ways we dress flesh, Private Dancer explores the commerce and social construction of female sexuality.

One of the first acts McPhee performs is a faux-lucky number spin-the-wheel sequence designed to split the audience according to gender. By the end McPhee is situated in the middle of a literal divide between the women and the men. From where I sat Private Dancer became a performance about women looking at men looking at the dancer. Men of all types, the beaming man, the gum-chewing guy, the old bloke who had to retrieve his glasses in order to read the instructions McPhee gave him and the young guy who, after slow dancing with McPhee, gave his female partner an apologetic shrug from across the room. Not that McPhee neglected her female audience: in one of the few moments of vulnerability performed to a cyclical voiceover she engaged them literally as her hand trailed across the front row of women.

The performance created a tangible complicity among the audience—both women and men wisecracked across the divide. In one sequence McPhee remained off-stage while each audience watched separate TV monitors. While our side laughed loudly at bad jokes like: “How do you know when your wife’s dead? The sex is the same but the dishes pile up”, the men stayed surprisingly silent. When one of the women snuck over to the men’s side and reported back that they were watching porn, the incongruous silence resonated.

Private Dancer is particularly successful as a demonstration of how the female body is packaged. With the nude sequences performed under full houselights, McPhee’s deathly pale flesh became a costume of its own. In a performance that employs masks of all kinds her commedia dell’arte-like dildo seemed highly appropriate. McPhee’s work may not be particularly radical (compared to someone like Annie Sprinkle it seems relatively tame), but there are moments where her particular blend of cabaret, dance, burlesque and striptease generates a unique experience for the audience.

Private Dancer (episode 2), softcore inc. in association with the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts & QUT Creative Industries, creator & performer Wendy McPhee, director Mary Sitarenos, designer Ina Shanahan, sound Myles Mumford, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane, September 10-11

RealTime issue #57 Oct-Nov 2003 pg. 47

© Leah Mercer; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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