ABOUT US is a remarkable embodiment of ordinary human experience that reveals the universal through the personal, and places dance firmly in the political sphere. Jacky Lansley is a dancer and choreographer, who uses sound, music, lighting, film and narrative to convey layers of meaning collaboratively, and she began working of this piece in the aftermath of the Referendum on membership of the European Union.

As we entered the gallery, and sat on the chairs arranged around three walls (the fourth was used for projection), we realised that the performers were already among us, intent and focussed, drawing us into their world, which is also ours.

To be present at this performance was like opening a carefully structured scrapbook of ideas, with a separate scene on every page that was linked by a common thread of thought to all the others. In an extraordinary deconstruction of the colonial subtext to a game of cricket, Fergus Early played with a bat and ball and practised his bowling on screen, while the soundscape transitioned from the tapping of leather on wood to the racket of gunfire; Esther Huss sunbathed, while her film image contorted and wound her body through the hole in the back of her folding chair, and we heard the splashing water in her head as she thought about taking a shower; we saw Ingrid Mackinnon on screen, talking about how her baby had transformed her world, while pairs of performers lovingly cradled each other in their arms. Each performer had his or own way of moving, and all the scenes seemed to spring from personal experience, whether it was Jreena Green’s memory of how her mother would simply stand, or Tim Taylor’s delight in a romantic encounter expressed in song. Placing the life-changing and the ordinary side-by-side underlined our common humanity, although our individual situations are determined by political circumstance.

When Lansley very courteously invited us to change places, so that we could experience a different view point, we all moved around. I found that sitting on the other side of the room, with the film screened to my right instead of to my left, felt completely different, and that I was drawn even more to watch the live performers. There was much to take in, visually, aurally and emotionally, but once I accepted that I could not absorb everything, I found a calm inevitability in the transitions from one scene to another. It felt entirely natural when the performers taught us three gestures to perform whenever we saw them on the ‘stage’ or the screen, and the need to think with my body stimulated a different quality of attention.

The final images were of a game of tennis, but unlike the cricket earlier on, these players all ended up on the same side of the net. The entire event was one of friendship and generosity: the unexpected glass of wine offered on arrival, the welcoming smiles of the performers as they sat among the audience and the way in which they stayed and talked to us afterwards, along with the staff of Modern Art Oxford. The occasion was literally an opportunity to cross boundaries and share space (this was performance in an art gallery), and a reminder in a time of heightened political turmoil that we all ‘have far more in common than that which divides us’.[1] After the performance I left feeling that I had changed.

Maggie Watson

21st February 2019

Penny Woolcock’s related exhibition Fantastic Cities will be at Modern Art Oxford until 3 March 2019 https://www.modernartoxford.org.uk/event/fantastic-cities/

[1] Jo Cox: maiden speech in the House of Commons https://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2016/june/jo-cox-maiden-speech-in-the-house-of-commons/

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