photograph of Rebecca Youdell lying in the foreground by on rocks by a river, by Glen O'Malley 1998

Listening to Skin

site-specific collaboration in tropical Australia

Skin lines - Julie Goodall at the boundaries, Listening to Skin
Realtime RT28 1998

Skin—where the body touches air, earth, water. And where the body touches other bodies. Is skin the boundary between oneself and the rest of the world?

Dancer Rebecca Youdell’s collaborative project, Listening to Skin, went touching, caressing, shaking and rattling boundaries in many senses… the boundaries of dance, of performance, and of each of the artforms involved: movement, music, film, photography. It also explored boundaries in the sense of our relationship with landscape: the film and photographs featured the wide open spaces around Croydon in the Gulf of Carpentaria; a claustrophobic Spanish villa, Paronella Park, in the rainforest outside Innisfail; and the boundary formed by the sea near Cairns, where Youdell seemed to be drowning, not so much overwhelmed by the water as by the incongruity of skin, sun and shipwreck.

A word to describe the quality of the performer’s movement might be “nervous”— twitchy, unsettled, excitable. On film she staggered up the stone steps of Paronella Park as if unable to control her stilettos. On stage her performance was interrupted by a silent thought, as if she wondered if she’d left milk for the cat. This gave me pause to consider my relationship to this performance, to being in a theatre, lights dimmed, watching. (Did I leave out milk for the cat?)

The other performer, Russell Milledge, traversed the stage, taking a seeming eternity, first to examine little dead things, insect carcasses, a bird. The second time, he trailed behind him a strangely beautiful heap of bones, including a human skull. I experienced revulsion and fear. Why, I wondered. Death is experienced daily. Little insects. Birds. Human loved ones. Interestingly, there was a dignity about the performer’s consideration of these timeless things. Unsettling, twitchy, saddening.

Despite the collaborative nature of the project, there was a sense of aloneness in the work. Youdell was always photographed alone. The performers on stage were alone. One “came into this world alone”, as Youdell was ‘born’ out of a tutu. And one “left this world alone”, as Milledge departed with his human remains. Where is the joining? Is all of life about pushing up against boundaries? Or is this it, the pushing is the joining, our boundaries so intricately illuminated for us in art?

Listening to Skin, choreographic photography, Glen O’Malley, Rebecca Youdell; film, Eden Flesh Against Earth, Leah Grycewicz, Rebecca Youdell and Randall Einhorn: dance performance Russell Milledge and Rebecca Youdell; original sound composition Michael Whiticker and Paul Lawrence of Silent Beat; performance, Rondo Theatre, Cairns, December 2 - 4, Umbrella Studio, Townsville, Dec 18; exhibition, Kick Arts Gallery, Cairns, Dec 7 - 14, Perc Tucker Gallery, Townsville, December18 - Jan 3.

Video documentation to come:

photograph of Rebecca Youdell lying in the foreground by on rocks by a river, by Glen O'Malley 1998