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Gore, confrontation and guileful acrobatics combine in 'Underworld'

★★★★

With the classic Australian horror flick Long Weekend as inspiration, the immersive performance of Underworld is set amidst plastic trash, kangaroo and koala bones found in the Grampians, camping gear, tree branches and tanning lotion.
 
Throughout, the conceptual choreography is sometimes masculine, feminine or animal and imbued with references to YouTube clips, rituals, workout culture, drug-propelled dance floor moves, and even the robotically flawed gestures of AI avatars. Intense bursts of virtuosic movement make the 70-minute performance an incredible physical feat for the four performers.
 
Mystifying non-linear scenes build off of and collide with one another, creating an absurd universe within the eerie walls of the Northcote Town Hall. Two performers ceremoniously place aluminum cans in a triangular formation and then smash them one by one in towering pink high heels. One performer emerges from backstage with cooking equipment and proceeds to chop up raw chicken with a butchers knife and fry it on a grill, the smells wafting into the audience. All four performers come out into the darkened space, wielding tree branches and bright headlamps. They whip and whirl for minutes on end and suddenly stop and all turn and look at the audience, blinding us.
 
A final scene finds the four dancers throwing around huge pieces of plastic and posing in between each throw. Suddenly, the curtain to the main stage opens and behind it is a video projection screen. The entire scene had been recorded and is played back, but in reverse. Seen in reverse, their movements look like actual magic, as if they had the power to lift objects into the air with their minds. This constructed clairvoyance hints at how we experience everyday illusions in the form of image-based interactions online.
 
In its overwhelming deluge of references and thought provoking scenes, Underworld asks how unlimited access to information has altered our relationship to our bodies and the bodies of others, our muscle memory and our collective subconscious. It powerfully employs the corporeality of contemporary dance to discuss what the body is to us now and what it might become in a way that is hard to express in words, channeling the unspeakable anxieties that live just below our skin.