A Peek at Company Clare Dyson’s Voyeur

Dance on the proscenium stage, movies on the big screen, and television have something in common. Individuals watching peer through one window, a single view upon which their perceptions are based. In contrast, the latest work by choreographer Clare Dyson and collaborators, invites the audience onstage to choose the vantage point (or points) from which they’ll watch as Voyeur explores “notions of intimacy, desire and the performative act of revealing.”

In contrast, the latest work by choreographer Clare Dyson and collaborators, invites the audience onstage to choose the vantage point from which they’ll watch as Voyeur explores “notions of intimacy, desire and the performative act of revealing.”

Clare Dyson has been creating innovative performance works in Australia since the early 1990’s. She has collaborated with brother and lighting designer Mark Dyson for over 10 years, forming their production company Dyson Industries in 1998. They blend dance, visual installation, light and visual metaphor, occupying spaces rather than theaters and often involving the audience.

In Voyeur two performers, Dyson herself and Jonathan Sinatra, are within a large box. Its many holes offer viewing points, each one different and each revealing different aspects of the performers. Some have binoculars, others headphones through which the audience member will hear personal revelations from the dancers. Members of the audience may move in the space at will, allowing one to vary his/her proximity, to listen to things that are individually relevant, to choose how and to what degree he/she wants to engage with the work or the environment. Dyson and her team are about to present the U.S. premiere of Voyeur at DiverseWorks, and so I caught up with her to talk about the performance and her unique approach to dance and choreography.

Dance Source Houston: Is this your first time touring in the States?

Clare Dyson: Yes it is. I’ve been to the states a few times, and created two works at the American Dance Festival where I was an international choreographer in the early 1990s, but I’ve not toured any work since then.

DSH: What has the response been at home and do you feel an American audience will receive Voyeur differently?

CD: The response has been fantastic. Audiences seem to engage really differently to dance and installation works when they are allowed to choose where to look and stand and how they can interact with the work. This choice, I think, makes it more possible to overcome cultural differences. So, I don’t think there will be too many differences in Houston, but it will be lovely to see if there are! One of our performers is American and so his text is spoken with an American accent. That will be nice for Houston audiences I think.

DSH:  Your PhD looks at how artists can engage audiences of dance more deeply and your writing describes authenticity as a means for doing so. Is it the construct of the work itself that enables you to tap into this authenticity as a performer or must you find additional ways to stay “present” throughout multiple performances of a work?

CD: Both actually. The box is a strange little world to be in once you enter into it. While we have to work to remain ‘in the moment’ or ‘authentic’ because we’re in a constructed performative environment, the box itself really helps that, as does our performer relationship.

What we’ve tried to create is an environment where any two people would be interesting to meet and watch voyeuristically, provided those two people were ‘in the moment.’ For us though, we are really clear that it’s our being present, being honest and being truthful to the situation that helps those connections with the audience. It’s the same with the texts: the secrets are all real and we’ve just recorded them in a very simple way for you to hear.

We spend a lot of time in the box and we’re there for a while before the audience comes into the space. We don’t leave between shows if we perform twice. So that helps us treat the box and this performative environment in a ‘normal’ way – as if you are stumbling up us in our lounge room. We know you’re there, we acknowledge you’re there, but we just get on with what we’re doing.

DSH: Have you noticed trends in how audiences move about?

CD: It’s all about laying your own material.  What tends to happen is people start exploring early on and make the decision to keep moving or stop about ten minutes into it. We’ve kept the audiences small so that there is space to move if you want. People tend to move more when there are less people but it’s very clear that the choice is individual and for some people that means staying in one position. As long as each audience member feels they are able to make a choice, then we’re happy.

DSH: Do you find there is a lot of conversation afterward as audience members share their personal experiences?

CD: This piece seems to evoke so many memories from individuals. The secrets in the text can provoke connections or memories from audience members that are specific to that person. This type of community that is formed afterwards is really important – the re-telling of different viewings and hearings of this work creates another entire layer. For us, it’s important that there is space for that (perhaps a bar or lounge open afterwards) so that the engagement with other stories becomes something that is re-layered back onto the work, becoming part of it.

DSH: What have been the advantages of collaborating with a sibling?

CD: Mark and I work together well because we’re such great friends but we can disagree and it not be a problem because we’re siblings. I can’t imagine ever having such a great collaborator! We’ve just started working with Bruce McKinven for the last three shows and he’s a fantastic addition to this partnership. He’s now a bit like family too.

While Mark and I have dramatically different skills, we share the same vision and work to create the piece together. His ideas on movement are as vital as mine are on lighting. So our roles blend, which makes a more seamless work in terms of how all the elements interact.

DSH: I discovered an interesting article on your website. Written in 2001, Holding my Breath mentions a climate of safe or low-risk dance-making in the mid to late ’90s and beyond. Yet, in the article you relay that there is hope and perhaps even evidence that the pendulum was, even then, swinging back toward social realism, “making people rather than structures the focus of policy and art.” So here we are, over a decade later. Are we any closer?

CD: I don’t think so actually. It’s hard to ever suggest world wide trends, but I think that audiences want social realism (the popularity of ‘reality TV’ suggests that) but often proscenium arch presentations can be a bit distancing. That’s really why we’ve made a work like this because the structure of the work allows audiences to engage with whatever level of reality they want.

On the other hand, there are some amazing choreographers around the world who are wanting their dancers to be real, wanting to present situations that resonate because of the focus on the individuality of the dancers. I’m not really sure. But I know that audiences seem to be craving intimate connections and we as artists need to find ways of creating those kinds of profound connections.

DSH: Is choice the only difference between Voyeur and the voyeurism of reality television?

CD: On TV it’s the editors who make choices about what is seen and heard so you are quite passive when you watch those shows. For us, it’s the active nature of the audience that changes the way they engage. Their physicality (walking, moving etc.) is another point of difference. Voyeur is live, intimate and visceral, and while it’s a constructed performance, the liveness of it cannot be edited out: we make a mistake and you see it. We laugh, smile, cry, move, fall. All of these things are real and you see them all.


Experience Voyeur January 21 -23 at 8pm in the DiverseWorks Theater, 1117 East Freeway Houston, TX. New for this season, DiverseWorks is offering a “PAY WHAT YOU WANT” pricing structure. Tickets can be purchased online at www.diverseworks.org, at DiverseWorks Art Space, or by calling 713.335.3445. “Seating” is limited!

Reprinted from Dance Source Houston


Known for its groundbreaking artistic and education programs, DiverseWorks is one of the premiere contemporary arts centers in the United States. DiverseWorks has been a hub for the presentation of daring and innovative work, a commissioner of major artistic projects in all disciplines, and an advocate for artists worldwide. Founded by artists for artists, DiverseWorks continues its commitment to bold artistic exploration, creative risk-taking, and building audiences for contemporary art.

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Nichelle

Nichelle balances careers as a dancer, instructor, writer, and mother. She is a seasoned performer whose strength lies in bringing dramatic

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