Before entering the theatre at Dancehouse for Monster Body, the Next Wave audience is given a caution: this show contains nudity and is not suitable for people under eighteen years.
Walking in, we are immediately confronted by choreographer and performer Atlanta Eke, hula-hooping naked on a mirrored platform. Looking out from behind a hard-moulded monster mask, Eke silently watches as the audience walks past her, measuring up how much they should look up at the performer and how much they should avert her eyes.
In the seats, the audience has no reprieve from Eke’s gaze. House lights harshly light the audience through most of the production: there is nowhere to hide.
Monster Body is an often violent, ferocious piece sitting somewhere between contemporary dance and performance art. Largely a solo performance, the non-narrative work moves through scenes forcing the audience to question and actually see the representation of women — and women’s bodies — in our world and in performance.
There is a sense of discomfort amongst the audience; sitting slightly on edge, the lights force us to constantly check our response to the work, all the while knowing Eke is watching us watch her.
Monster Body moves from incongruous pairings to the simply incongruous. Eke moves across the stage performing grand battements: refusing the mantra to make dance seem effortless, she yells and grunts on every kick and movement; indeed, her imposed soundtrack gives her every move a humorous gravity. She consumes a bright red drink, liquid falls down her torso; a man encased in a biohazard suit cleans her, before they tenderly kiss.
The sound of car horns blaring in the background, Eke puts on a nude bodysuit and fills her new skin with pink water balloons, appearing to disfigure her body as she rolls across the stage. Britney Spears’ ‘I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman’ plays while Eke, standing naked centre stage, looks softly and vulnerably at the audience. Her body on display, Eke urinates, before dropping to the floor and rolling around in sexualised configurations you might expect to see in a music video.
On the mirrored platform, Eke uses scissors to trim her head and pubic hair. Fully-dressed women caress her body with plastic hands on the ends of long sticks.
Standing somewhat apart from the rest of the work, a ‘five-minute interval’ sees Eke joined by four women, naked except for their heads shrouded in black bags. They perform a repetitive and simple dance, choreographed to Beyoncé’s ‘Run The World (Girls)’; the women are reduced to their state of nakedness. While still behind the monster mask, Eke seemed to carry some sort of autonomy; here, without faces and only their bodies on show, autonomy is uncomfortably stripped away.
Monster Body throws a lot at its audience. Through the performance, many of the situations leave Eke vulnerable. Yet Eke takes absolute ownership of these situations through her use and claim of the stage space. The use of her body in the performance creates a work invigoratingly invested in feminist principles.
Eke holds her audience on edge: paradoxically uncomfortable, disassociated, but completely implicated in her actions. The work is fast in pace, often shocking, and not easy to digest or define. Monster Body is not a show fully appreciated, or even fully understood, on curtain call. The lack of distance given to the audience during the production itself demands space to be analysed and absorbed, with the force of the work not visible until days after leaving the theatre.
Jane Howard is a freelance performing arts writer, critic and researcher based in Adelaide. She attended Next Wave through their emerging writers’ program, Text Camp.