How much of your knowledge is real? How much of it is constructed of unverified assumptions? Humans assume. We assume so that we can process thoughts. We assume so that we can make sense of our world, because living in a subjective reality filled with unverified assumptions feels safer than being surrounded by mysterious voids.
While assumptions give us comfort, they build invisible barriers to genuine human connections. In a feature article by Limelight magazine, Michelle Ryan, the Artistic Director of Restless Dance Theatre, which champions for self-expression and accessibility, said: ‘When I work with people with disability, people make assumptions and I wanted to throw that image back into the audience’s realm, to reinterpret it.’
Commissioned for Illuminate Adelaide, Shifting Perspectives – Restless Dance Theatre’s latest part dance performance, part art installation – invited the audience into a reality-warping realm that challenged our subjective and objective perceptions, urging the audience to look beneath and beyond the appearance of themselves and the dancers.
In the foyer, the audience was greeted by an eerie projection of a performer, still and indifferent. The translucent screen hung above the entrance of the waiting area. As we entered the waiting area, we could see the reflected version of the projection on the other side of the screen, as if we had stepped into a mirror.
The audience was guided by the dancers into the performance space, onto a platform with 25 revolving mirror plinths. Although it was a misty mirror forest packed with reflections, somehow it was hard to find our own. The sound design was elegant and effective to create ethereal ambience. The powerful sound system forced every particle in the body to vibrate as one. Utilising the medium of immersion that is light, the architecture, the installation and the bodies of the audience were united as one piece of art.
The audience was then instructed to get off the platform for the dance performance to commence, though still bound to the stage by their reflection – there was no escape. The dancers began by scanning the audience, then, looked at them through the mirror. It was a confronting thought that although you may not have been able to see your reflection, someone else could at all times. This concept echoed the idea that we cannot control or see the version of ourselves others have constructed in their mind based on assumptions. Everyone in the space was equally an observer and observee.
The precise and simple choreography was powerfully executed by dancers of all strengths. The most iconic motif was when dancers moved in unison, shifting their formation 90 degrees at a time, as they travelled between the mirror plinths. Together they achieved perfect balance.
There was an equal amount of tension between each dancer and the audience as their direct eye contact left a lingering impression – a feeling that they were always watching us even if the dancers themselves were out of sight.
In the voiceover, the performers mentioned: ‘In the mirror, I see every version of me’. There are endless possibilities of who we could be, whether that is a judgement on ourselves, or an assumption set by another person. Perhaps the way to be truly free is not to eliminate assumptions, but rather accept that those versions of us exist. All versions of us exist somewhere along the spectrum of subjective and objective reality. By accepting an unfamiliar version of ourselves as someone else’s subjective perception of us, we can stop worrying about how others see us, we can become fearless and unbothered by prejudices.
Restless Dance Theatre has a long history of working with artists both with and without disability. Its care for accessibility shone through in this production. All dialogue was given in both voice recording and Auslan. The platform was wheelchair accessible. The dancers were also observant and patient to care for pregnant and elderly patrons.
Shifting Perspectives was a beautiful mind-bending experience. The production achieved more than shifting perspectives. It expanded and stretched our reality.
Shifting Perspectives was performed at Queen’s Theatre, Adelaide from 27-30 July 2023; tickets $20-$25.