Dance review: Monsters

An uncomfortable, thrilling glimpse into the darkness with which we are all learning to live.

Writer Emme Hoy, Director Matthew Lutton and Choreographer Stephanie Lake team up to present an adrenaline-packed descent into the underworld. Created in the throes of COVID, Monsters brings movement and dialogue together to answer a modern day question with stories of the past: will you face the horrors of the world or run?

In what could be taken for casual pre-curtain remarks, Alison Whyte starts to tell a story, mug of tea in hand. She asks the audience to close their eyes, to sit in the discomfort and uncertainty of darkness. This casual start does little to prepare the audience for the horrors to come.

In a reworked tale of Orpheus, Whyte searches for her sister, who went into a sinkhole to find the root of the world’s darkness and disappeared. With a hired caver, Whyte ventures deeper and deeper into the underworld. In the Stygian darkness she exists between dream and truth, unable to distinguish between the two without the usual markers of reality. It is a sensation all too familiar for an audience in a 2022 world of extremism, climate change and the pandemic.

Whyte is joined by three dancers in this dance-theatre horror: Samantha Hines, Josie Weise and Kimball Wong. Movement distorts natural lines, but ultimately unifies the three as they peel back the layers of their constructed selves until all they are left with is a raw violence.

Their journeys are uncovered through fractured lighting and set design from Paul Jackson. We get only snatches of transformation and movement, unsettling the audience in sharp bursts or lingering soft glows, as dancers disappear and reappear through gaps in the cave’s edges. Rosalind Hall’s score is equally unnerving, creating a rich tapestry for dancers to play with as they flit in and out of light or set.

Dialogue and movement are designed to fill out parts of the story that neither dance nor theatrics can entirely cover. In the program notes, Lutton explains, ‘They are the conscious and unconscious, sitting back-to-back, that when brought together, are greater than the sum of their parts.’

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Certainly, Monsters has the potential to become a true partnership between theatre and dance, yet Whyte’s role lacks complexity next to Lake’s dancers, who seem to claw out the deepest parts of themselves, as Whyte describes the journey down the cave.

While the story’s narration may lack the grit of Lake’s choreography, Monsters remains an uncomfortable, thrilling glimpse into the darkness with which we are all learning to live.

Monsters by Emme Hoy
Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne

Director: Matthew Lutton
Choreographer: Stephanie Lake
Set and lighting design: Paul Jackson
Costume designer: Kat Chan
Sound designer: Marco Cher-Gibard
Composer: Rosalind Hall

Cast: Alison Whyte, Samantha HinesJosie Weise, and Kimball Wong 

Monsters will be performed until 11 December 2022.

Savannah Indigo is a researcher and copywriter, trained in publishing, dance, literature and law. Passionate about gender issues and promoting equity through tech design, she has researched Indigenous Data Sovereignty for the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector and is developing a paper about harassment in the Metaverse. She has written for Brow Books, Books+Publishing magazine, The Journal of Supernatural Literature (Deakin University) and the Science and Technology Law Association, and is a 2022 Hot Desk Fellow at The Wheeler Centre.