Produced by Cluster Arts and Phluxus2 Dance Collective, and choreographed by Nerida Matthaei, angel-monster is an intense exploration of the multifaceted experience of women, who, trapped in the gaze of the patriarchal panopticon, become paradoxical chimera: both ‘angel’ and ‘monster’.
The dancers are cleverly dressed in nude underwear, desexualised blank screens onto which any image can be projected. The choreography is very physical, the performers morphing between manifold societal expectations of womanhood—to be pleasing, to be sexy, to be demure, to keep quiet, to remain unheard—and the negative psychological effects of being othered—violence, terror, anger, rage, breakdown.
The careful (but respectful) use of audience participation makes it hard to be a bystander. Our participation makes it very clear that we are all involved. It becomes genuinely difficult to gaze upon and do nothing about a woman with terror in her eyes as she appears to be drawn slowly into what sounds like a giant meat grinder. We, so cordially invited into the show by the performers at the beginning, now become voyeurs to their suffering: we feel helpless.
Andrew Mills’ sound design, with its pertinent use of narrative, is generally highly powerful. There are, however, moments of hiatus in the choreography where the sound may have been used more effectively to keep things flowing. This is particularly noticeable during the ending of the piece, where the momentum does not build as it really needs to, in order to prepare us properly for the spectacular, climatic tableau at the work’s finish.
This is a demanding work for both the dancers, who have to dig deep to create such an authentic and emotional performance, and the audience, who are not allowed to remain passive. It is a rich, emotive and often unsettling experience, both engaging and enraging in equal measure.