The noise of the day drops away as I make my way to the upstairs studio of Dancehouse. I am one part of an increasingly hushed procession assembled on opening night to experience Sarah-Jane Norman’s The River’s Children (2013), and Take This, For It Is My Body (2010) paired with Heirloom (2013), and Nacera Belaza’s The Shout (2008), presented as part of Melbourne Festival.
Reaching the small landing, I peel away from the line. I remove from my bag a small pair of folded sports socks and hand them to the usher. With an air of quiet solemnity, she pins my socks together with a clear tag. My socks are marked laundry item number two, and I log the particulars of my white laundry on a form pegged to a clipboard. In this context, my washing looks limp and exposed. Beside me, a man hands over an equally unassuming, soft t-shirt. These items, my socks, and his t-shirt, are two of a handful that will be washed in water drawn from the Murray River on Wiradjuri country at Albury with permission of the Albury Aboriginal Lands Council. The usher gently informs me to hand my washing to Norman when I feel comfortable.
And so I enter the darkened landscape of The River’s Children with a pair of socks in my hands; a pair of socks that I can, if I choose, hand over for someone else to wash. In the short distance from the landing to the studio, my limp and humble socks have transformed in status; I am master and Norman my servant, and this is as uncomfortable, possessive and confronting as it sounds.