There are a few steps to take before you enter the world of Hollow Mountain, by Rock Bottom Movement, now playing at Collective Space. First, you have to find the theatre, located in the warrenlike maze of the 221 Sterling Road complex. Luckily, a volunteer with a giant pink sign is there to guide you. Next, you must don equally pink booties over your shoes to enter the cramped and cozy space.
Once you’re inside, there’s still more pink: a suggestively-ridged, translucent tarp stretches mountainously from the ceiling, blasted with heavy fog. A troubadour (Nick Dolan) sings a mix of entertaining, abstractly-connected, “rejected” songs in French and English, with lyrics like “Never have I ever eaten pee-filled snow/Never have I ever been on time for the show.” In this vaguely womb-like space, bizarre wonders of dance (choreographed and directed by Alyssa Martin) and song (music by Sydney Herauf) unfold.
Five friends, portrayed by Drew Berry, Brayden Cairns, Samantha Grist, Sydney Herauf, and Natasha Poon Woo, become trapped in the troll-guarded hollow mountain of the self, plunged directly into their own tortured psyches. Clad in sparkly grey hoodies and white briefs, they accompany themselves on a motley crew of instruments, including a toy piano, clarinet, accordion, and harmonica.
What follows is a surrealist waking nightmare of demonic possession – via a demon named Lulu – forced birth, organ removal, and space pigs. It’s delivered in a high-octane stream of consciousness, as if you’re watching the musical-comedy version of a Luis Buñuel film.
The dancers are all extremely talented, and are reasonable to excellent singers as well. They come together to form machines of flesh, performing contortions and lifts with ease, and devolving into maniacal twitchiness. The catchy songs, with unsettling lyrics about topics like nudity and immolation, spread through the company like a virus.
In previous shows, such as SummerWorks’ fantasylover, this company has shown itself to be unafraid to perform balletic movements in ways that seem both polished and raw, precise and ugly. They up this ante here, screaming themselves hoarse, banging on metal bowls, and letting their entrails hang out. If body horror makes you squeamish, it occurs constantly here, and feels graphic despite merely being mimed. The dancers give the impression of being completely in control of this lack of control, suffering from phantom limb syndrome while having all of their limbs.
This is, however, all done with tongue planted firmly in cheek, inviting the audience to chuckle in ways that aren’t just nervous. In particular, a synchronized duet routine where the dancers’ anguished, twisted faces contrast sharply with their fleet and fluid soft-shoe routine was oddly delightful.
Hollow Mountain won’t be for everyone. Not entirely Theatre of Cruelty, but certainly influenced by it, it’s often crude for shock effect, loud, and defiantly strange. But those are also its charms. By the time the stage blood and bare breasts come out, it’s clear this is a specialized aesthetic designed for an audience unafraid to embrace the odd and uncomfortable.
You can watch it as a metaphor for that wonderfully human ability to pull ourselves apart at the seams with anxiety and doubt, or you can just marvel at the wonderful weirdness of it all.
- Hollow Mountain plays at Collective Space until November 10, 2019.
- Shows run Thursday-Saturday at 8:30PM and Sunday at 7:30PM.
- Tickets are $20-25 and can be purchased online.
- The show contains nudity, mature themes and language, and stage fog.
Photo of Natasha Poon Woo by Francesca Chudnoff