Review: In The Zone

In conversation with Libby Montilla, the performer of Seymour Centre's most recent production.

Shaun Parker & Company’s In The Zone is a hypnotic piece of solo dance theatre that marks a triumphant return of live performance to the Seymour Centre. Sydney’s first live major dance performance since pre-lockdown, In The Zone paves the way for the revival of the performing arts industry in New South Wales.

In The Zone merges hip hop with gaming technology, inviting  the audience into a virtual world of electro soundscapes, popping and locking. The piece – designed specifically for young people – captures an all too relatable sense of escapism through technology.

With temperatures checked, masks adorned and a strict 1.5 metre social distancing in place, the lights went up on the York Theatre for the first time since March. Yet In The Zone had already had its debut that morning – via live stream. This debut, attended by over 7000 people, speaks to the growing popularity of the digitisation of the performing arts. Although the essence of being an audience member is arguably lacking on a live stream, the format opens a door to increased accessibility and inclusivity within the arts industry.

In The Zone is constructed around the use of “Airsticks,” innovative sound technology designed by Dr Alon Ilsar. The Airsticks are the centrepiece of In The Zone, immersing the audience in ‘sound worlds’ where every single movement is translated into a sound effect. 

“There are over 20 scenes, and each scene could take up to a week to create – you’re not just dancing, you’re pressing buttons and making music cues,” says the show’s sole performer, Libby Montilla. “During rehearsals there were times when I couldn’t sleep – my brain was just going over sounds and buttons.” 

Montilla – who affectionately described the show as a “vibe” – brought a contagious energy to the stage, performing with a level of precision that was captivating to watch. Montilla’s ability to effortlessly transition between moods was enhanced by Shaun Parkers’ strong direction.

“I’m a self-taught hip hop dancer, my family couldn’t afford dance classes when I was younger so I would wake up early to watch music videos, Usher and Backstreet Boys – once I got introduced to YouTube I realised how big the dance community actually was,” Montilla tells Honi.

At points, the production did seem one-note. The heavy reliance on sound to drive the storyline brought with it a lack of visual variation on stage. The narrative was easily lost as a result of this repetition.

Regardless of the production’s shortcomings, the broad intention of In The Zone is poignant. “We need more people to be aware of what is happening around the world. One small action can be enough to create a wave of great effect,” says Montilla.

And that is exactly what In The Zone did. Interdisciplinary, experimental work is symbolic of the fact that the arts must collaborate to survive. Australian artists have spent six months in lockdown – and finally, the curtains have reopened.