‘Angel-Monster’ was demanding.
Billed as a full-bodied, visceral confessional contemporary dance, ‘Angel-Monster’ did not disappoint. Audience members walked through the door to the Underground Theatre at Brisbane Powerhouse and were immediately pulled on stage and into conversation by performers who were beaming, vivacious and clad in beige lingerie. But the easy smiles didn’t last long.
Presented by Phluxus2 Dance Collective and Cluster Arts in association with Brisbane Festival and Brisbane Powerhouse, the performance was highly immersive and fully utilised its staging in the round to bring the crowd into the den of the five “angel-monsters”.
The set featured seven sacs hanging from the ceiling, which soon released piles of women’s clothing onto the stage floor. This “field of laundry” was used imaginatively throughout: to show the many ways women are forced to squeeze into certain roles; to blind and suffocate them; to dress them up and strip them down. Use of this costuming was particularly powerful in the final image: a monstrous multi-headed dragon writhing and flailing about. Kudos to choreographer Nerida Matthaei and Rozina Suliman, in collaboration with Tiffany Beckwith-Skinner and Vilma Matilla for set design and construction, along with Donald Mackenzie for rigging design.
Lighting by Keith Clark worked seamlessly with Andrew Mills’ sound design to set and change the mood: pink and purple hues and dulcet tones evoked a celestial feeling in the beginning; bright white floor lights and horrible machine-grinding noises portrayed an electrocution that went on to the point of discomfort.
A standout aspect was the way the performers added their own sound to the production. Jade Brider, Hsin-Ju Ely, Makira Horner, Nadia Milford and Lauren Sherlock inhaled and exhaled together, moaned and groaned, laughed maniacally and whimpered in pain. The effect was one of ramping up the intimacy between the audience and performers: we could see and hear their panic and rage.
These powerhouse dancers were committed and switched their performed emotional states expertly. To call it full-bodied contemporary dance is an understatement with the waving, writhing, rolling, lifting and convulsing involved in Matthaei’s choreography. The sickled toes and strangulation movements were impressively grotesque and the shapes were inimitable; you’ll never see a five-person vagina better presented than in ‘Angel-Monster.’
The show powerfully used a young female voiceover to emphasise a dismal statistic: 1 in 6 Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner. The pacing felt slow at times, perhaps due to some movement and script repetition of particularly disturbing scenes. However, that may have been intentional: we keep hearing stories of violence against women time and time again and perhaps the message is we shouldn’t turn away just so we don’t have to see it.
There was no looking away from ‘Angel-Monster’ and the five women who were “constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed again.” An unsettling, powerful work by Matthaei and incredible performances from five captivating dancers who demanded audience attention from start to finish.
‘Angel-Monster’ performed until Saturday, 17 September 2022 at Underground Theatre at Brisbane Powerhouse. For more information visit the Brisbane Festival website here.