Directors: Sam Butler and David Harradine
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
In our paranoid times any adult interaction with children is always up for misinterpretation with the result that adults and children often remain within separate spheres. Fevered Sleep, the company behind Men & Girls Dance, believes that this intergenerational division is particularly damaging to men. Because men are more likely to commit awful crimes they are viewed with suspicion especially when they are near young girls, and so it’s rare that men and girls are seen together. The creators of this dance piece argue that men and children miss out on a relationship, based on play and mentorship, which is enriching and enlightening for both sides. Men & Girls Dance, Fevered Sleep admits, is a risk.
But it’s a risk worth taking, and this hour-long show has moments of beauty and joy. Five male professional dancers are joined on stage by nine girls who dance for fun, and as we walk into The Place’s auditorium 13 of these performers are busy laying a newspaper floor. As they chat and joke one man, Akshay Sharma, begins dancing, sweeping his arms into horizontal circles and for a while no one takes any notice, neither the performers nor the audience. It’s a striking image, but soon the lights have gone down and the men become paper monsters chasing the girls around the stage.
However, once the clowning is done there seems little more that the men can do, and the girls and the men retreat to different ends of the stage, a symbolic gulf between them. Slowly, they come together, moving to a soundtrack that features a voice announcing that there needs to be a ‘fresh look at empathy.’ And the creators of the show, Sam Butler and David Harradine, have encouraged their performers to look closely at each other too, registering how each other’s body feels. Despite Fevered Sleep’s aims these examinations make for uncomfortable viewing, but that is the point, illuminating the mistrust in Western society.
These examinations are undertaken with the help of microphones as the girls narrate how the men’s bodies feel and look. This style is reminiscent of Forced Entertainment, but perhaps in Men & Girls Dance there are too many of these sequences. The show is best when the performers are dancing, and for a piece that involves children, the choreography is extremely complex with repetitions and variations of moves that feature spiderman presses and headbanger spins. Some of these moves are mirrored by other pairs or trios, in time or a few beats later. As the sounds of the shipping forecast fade into the rhythms of bubble-gum pop, the show moves to an exciting finale.
There is good work from all the performers and each male dancer brings his own style with Nathan Goodman, from the Richard Alston Dance Company, providing some bounce towards the end. Kip Johnson, with his messy hair and extraordinarily open face, is gentle and funny. Two more men, Mikel Aristegui and Robert Clark, add their own touches to the proceedings. The nine girls keep perfect timing and it’s hard to believe that they have only rehearsed this in two weeks.
Men & Girls Dance, for all its fun, is challenging and important work. But there is delight here too, especially when the 14 performers dance to The Velvet Underground’s I’ll be Your Mirror. Nico sings ‘Please put down your hands ‘cause I see you.’ And the men and girls do see each other, and it’s stirring stuff.
Runs until 30 April 2019 | Image: Contributed