Phluxus2 Dance Collective
QL2 Theatre, Gorman House
Reviewed by Samara Purnell
Do you see her lilies and lotuses…or is she the dragon?
She is part angelic beauty, part monstrous seductress.
Although these were the taglines for “Angel Monster”, the production was described as a dance installation that included sexual violence, which may be triggering.
Assuming this might also include the audience moving around or participating at various points, it was not sounding like a particularly light-hearted, relaxing night at the theatre.
Upon entering the performance space, the audience observed seven bulb-like, white pods, filled with something to be revealed. The five dancers led audience members around the room, introducing them to imaginary friends and offering (unfortunately) imaginary drinks. This appeared to portray women as the homemakers and social butterflies. Or a tactic to spread people around the space, implying it was acceptable to stand anywhere around the edge of the floor.
Each dancer moved underneath a pod and slowly opened it, dumping a mess of clothes on themselves. The clothes were subsequently spread across the entire floor and constantly utilised and worn throughout the performance. The significant risk of a trip or slip made watching a little unnerving but the dancers skilfully avoided any falls.
Many of the sequences donning clothes or peeling them off, were laborious for the dancers, some segments with diffuse meaning, including where two girls pull multiple pairs of denim shorts on a third, with their teeth. At other times, clever costume changes left little leeway for error.
Conceptualised and created by Nerida Matthaei and Phluxus2 Dance Collective, “Angel Monster” used dancers with very different individual styles, each compelling in their unique way. The proximity of audience to dancers meant that intense eye contact was possible, which in turn allows both performer and observer to play with dynamics and interact in a subtly sympathetic or confronting manner, if this is desired. Unless seating had been arranged, everyone was to stand or sit on the floor.
Audience members were asked to aid the performers in removing various articles of clothing and then to help line up the clothes strewn around the floor. Several of the articles being picked up were soaked with sweat, which didn’t make for the most pleasant experience. The final purpose of the resulting crossed lines of clothes remained relatively unclear.
“Angel Monster” was refreshingly “non-preachy” or opinionated. It stuck to the description of a social commentary, without lapsing into judgement or moralising. It didn’t take an obvious “stand” against sexual predators. The performance was more enjoyable and subjective being presented this way, allowing individualised observation and experience of the morphing scenes, movements and meanings being portrayed.
A powerful and varied soundscape, with exceptional editing, blended and revisited oceanic sounds, clubbing music, soft beats and spoken word by a girl describing and digesting a rough, unwanted sexual encounter at a house party.
The choreography was nicely nuanced, using tableaux, poses, repetition and manipulation to move between concepts and portrayals including the birth of Venus, sex, objects of desire and desiring, pain, exhaustion, manipulation, expectation, submission, insecurity and power.
The dancers used breath very cleverly and powerfully throughout the performance, utilising the life-force as organic to sex, childbirth, fear and as an animalistic response.
“Angel Monster” was at once messy and mesmerising to watch, gradually building the emotional intensity until toward the end, when the reason for the two previously “unopened” pods was poignantly revealed, in an unexpectedly emotional scene that moved some to tears.
By the end of “Angel Monster”, the dancers were a sweaty, ugly, beautiful, exhausted mess, before each pulling a stocking out of wherever they had been smoothly and cleverly hidden, pulling it over their heads and being dragged offstage by their Goddess.
While the obvious symbolism of flowers relating to females and their parts was reiterated through the soundtrack and the show’s taglines, the concluding sentiment is that whatever else “she” may have lived through, “She is a dragon and she will eat you whole”.