Monster by choreographer Yen-Cheng Liu is almost as much a visual art installation as it is a work of dance. Into a completely black space a series of white objects are slowly added: a telephone, a large ball wrapped in white paper, a set of loud hailers on elongated white poles and, suspended on the back wall, an illuminated strip of screen onto which a series of sentences pass quickly across at various points during the performance. In the centre of it all is a figure entirely concealed in a white boiler suit and black mask, a little like a fencing outfit.
The space is like the archetype of a white cube gallery space, the selection of items looking like they could be borrowed from an Elmgreen and Dragset installation critiquing gentrification or the commuter lifestyle. The illuminated board, however, is pure Jenny Holzer, the American artist whose most famous works include a series of lit-up, moving boards onto which aphorisms or ‘truisms’ speed across. The words that fill the screen in Monster wouldn’t be all that out of place in a Holzer exhibition, the sentences are a similar mixture of everything and nothing, comments on the weather that could be apocalyptic warnings or could be chitter-chatter at the bus stop. Or reflections like ‘most of us move too fast.’
After a break, a pause, a Gloria Gaynor interlude and a brief broadcast over the loud speakers, a new performer joins the hooded figure on stage. Dressed like an average Uniqlo obsessive (i.e. the contemporary urban everyman), he starts to move. The place fills with white smoke, like the vapour of dried emulsion as you prize the lid off a can of very old paint. He starts to move and he starts to dance a being born dance, then a drawing backwards dance, then a spinning in circles dance, then a sucked around by an invisible magnet dance.
The space is lit like a cowboy movie, bright rectangles of yellow breaking through the smoky air. It’s beautiful and off-putting and calm-inducing all at once, an instantaneous blend of the familiar and the uncanny. There’s that feeling of going and going and going long after you’ve remembered what you’re going for. The walk down the stairs at the tube station on autopilot, the rise from bed in the morning with the same aches as the night before, the focus on whatever it is you focus on simply because that’s what you focus on. And throughout it all these recurrent reminders of what the natural elements are up to.
There is too much about Monster to take in all at once. The cleverness of Yen-Cheng Liu’s creation hits immediately then drip-feeds into your head throughout the next few days. For a work that’s essentially about existential doom, it’s dynamic and fluid, inducing waves of non-verbal meanings akin to the instinctual non-thoughts people have letting them know within two seconds of walking into a building: this is the wrong place for me to be in life.
The performer stops. He wiggles out of his clothes, slides onto his front and slithers out of the performance space like a primordial creature coming out the mud.
‘Not to worry, the weather is normal’ reads the screen.
Monster is on at Dance Base until 25th August. More info and tickets here.