Saturday 17 February 2024

ANGEL MONSTER: Dance Review

WHAT: Angel Monster
WHERE: Theatre Works
WHEN: 14 - 24 Feb 2024
CHOREOGRAPHY BY: Nerida Matthaei
LIGHTING BY: Keith Clark
SOUND BY: Andrew Mills
PERFORMED BY: Asher Bowen-Saunders, Jade Brider, Hsin-Ju Ely, Makira Horner and Nadia Milford
SET BY: Nerida Matthaei and Rozina Suliman

Hsin-Ju Ely - photo supplied

There is nothing I like more than a strong and dangerous outpouring of female angst, defiance and despair. Angel Monster, currently playing at Theatre Works, gives plenty of that along with beauty, fire and a whole of lot of fast fashion floordrobe.

Choreographed by Nerida Matthaei and presented by Phluxus 2 Dance Collective, Angel Monster is a non-linear narrative about the slavery of women in modern times. It ties us up in the domestic chores of endless laundry, girdles reaching up past our waists, a fashion industry systematically crippling our bodies and our financial wellbeing, and our physical inferiority to the male sex drive.

The show begins with us being ushered into the theatre by the ensemble (Asher Bowen-Saunders, Jade Brider, Hsin-Ju Ely, Makira Horner and Nadia Milford) dressed in retro-sexy flesh toned boy cut girdles and bras, bringing a bucket load of Manic Pixie Dream Girl energy and drawing people onto the stage to ask questions like 'What do you like most about being a woman?' before letting us sit in our seats. It is all very friendly and disarming in that charming way girls are supposed to behave. My space is your space, my body is your body, my smile is my consent. 

Something is not quite right though because at least one of the women seems to be semi-comatose and perhaps even ill. She is there. She is dressed like all the others. She is trying to be present but is she ill? Drunk? On drugs? The ensemble continue on, some ignoring, some trying to help. Other oddities begin to emerge but in the end everyone is welcomed and seated and prepared for the show to begin. As we sit we notice 'pregnant' sacs hanging from the ceiling which tell us this space, this world, is not quite right and whatever emerges is potentially the stuff of nightmares. 

The dance begins and the tone quickly shifts between sweetness and anger, the mood see-sawing across the hour or so as these women explore beauty, fashion, desire, and expectation. Pre-recorded stories and words pepper the show and talk through female experiences and ideas. One of the most powerful is the story of teenage date rape. Is it rape if you stop fighting? (Yes!) 

The words 'constructed, deconstructed, reconstructed' echo across the evening as the ensemble smell their pits and one of them begins to shave and pluck every hair from her body. Clothes are strewn across the stage and bodies reminding us of the tyranny of fast fashion, reflected in the manic way the dancers clothe themselves and each other, desperate to get as many items on as possible whilst at the same time fighting for their freedom - freedom to move, and choose, and reject. They play with each other's boobs as if they are just toys yet reference Barbie and her lack of genitals and heart. They dance around a washing line Maypole, tangling each other up until the monster constantly hinted at and exposed in spurts of fury is finally revealed in her full glory. The wonderful coincidence of this happening right after the Lunar New Year just adds to the power of that final tableau. Are you scared yet? You should be.

Matthaei and the ensemble have brought together a lot of powerful ideas and speak to them with honesty, vulnerability, and truth. Traditionally, in Western culture at least, men have always joked about how crazy women are. They give their cars female names because we are so unreliable. Perhaps if those men came to see Angel Monster they might understand what they are seeing in the women around them and realise it is not insanity, it is survival.

Andrew Mill's sound design is powerful and fully supports the shifts and changes in the choreography and walks the line between ferocity and gentility as finely as do the dancers. I admit to being less in love with Keith Clark's lighting. To begin with, there is just way too much of it and so much is overhead fresnels giving little more than a multi-coloured wash. This is a show about dreams and nightmares, but nobody is sleeping in all that light! There is haze, which in this instance is totally appropriate, and would be hella effective if the lighting design was more architectural. The choreography has a peek-a-boo construct and the lighting should as well. 

Angel Monster is choreographed with a very lyrical version of contemporary dance which is a pleasant change from the more anatomically questioning style explored across Melbourne. It perhaps dulls some of the outrage in the work, but also makes it more appealing to a broader audience. Angel Monster titillates and castigates moment to moment. It entices with a subtle BDSM edge. It will make you look. Hopefully you will see.

4.5 Stars


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