Come downstairs — if you dare

Philly Fringe 2019: Gunnar Montana’s Basement’

2 minute read
Shh—what’s hiding in the basement? (Image courtesy of Gunnar Montana.)
Shh—what’s hiding in the basement? (Image courtesy of Gunnar Montana.)

Basements are usually dark, dank places underground where the unsightly or unpleasant parts of a home—or a life—are hidden away. They’re the perfect location, and metaphor, for the extremely dark narrative Gunnar Montana unveils in his latest dance/performance art piece, BASEMENT.

Gunnar Montana is a true multi-threat talent. He is a dancer, choreographer, designer, and visual artist, all talents he put to use in BASEMENT.

Sadistic games

This performance tells the story of a man who uses his basement to act out his hidden life as a torturous, murderous psychopath. He assumes the persona of a leatherface-type character who kidnaps women and men, holding them captive below ground so he can play his sadistic games with them. It’s a bleak, nightmarish scenario, made worse by the awareness that, somewhere in this country, this scenario is being played out in real life.

The narrative, told entirely by Montana’s forceful and athletic choreography, is severely brutal and often seriously disturbing. There are sequences that are painful to watch. Montana has created an impressively kinetic choreographic vocabulary, which also brilliantly evokes the desperation and panic inherent in the situation.

Nightmarish art

Credit for the effectiveness of the storytelling must be shared by Montana’s fantastic ensemble of dancers. They’re not only amazingly athletic dancers, they prove themselves to be damn fine actors, particularly in the torture sequences. In one passage, the captor forces three women to play a macabre version of musical chairs, with each loser in turn being terrorized, tortured, and nearly killed in front of the others. The emotions portrayed here by these women are intense enough to tear your guts out.

Every aspect of this production is meant to enhance the nightmarish quality of the experience. The lights are shadowy, with flashes of frightening strobe effects. The songs comprising the disturbing score range from Rob Zombie to Frank Sinatra, at a volume that vibrates your ribs.

Evil genius?

Even the venue contributes to the immersive experience. The audience must traverse basement-like passages in shadow, and sometimes complete darkness. You must tread carefully, lest you risk actually hurting yourself.

Montana has plumbed the extremity of human evil. He carries us through one man’s literal and metaphorical basement, showing us what sick secrets can be hidden in the darkness with the exposed pipes. Yes, the vision is dark and disturbing—even sickening at times. But it could also be genius.

What, When, Where

BASEMENT. Choreographed by Gunnar Montana. Through September 22 at the Latvian Society, 531 N. 7th Street. (215) 413-1318 or

Sign up for our newsletter

All of the week's new articles, all in one place. Sign up for the free weekly BSR newsletters, and don't miss a conversation.

Join the Conversation