Men & Girls Dance at The Place
The project Men & Girls Dance was born out of a desire to dispel the anxiety and suspicion that usually surrounds the idea of physical contact between adults and children, and more specifically men and girls. When directors Sam Butler and David Harradine first imagined a project bringing these two groups together on a stage, to explore the contrasts of their dancing bodies, they were met mostly with negative reactions. Surprised to find such resistance to the idea, they set out to explore the issue further.
The result is a one-hour production that sees five men and nine girls communicate through movement. The piece is recreated with a different group of girls in each place as the show tours, thus changing the dynamics of the exchanges. The show is partly choreographed, partly improvised and characterised by recurring motifs which define its structure. It sees performers play, run, dance and connect through touch, eye contact and spoken word as they take turns to describe the adult/child in front of them, fully and openly acknowledging their physical presence.
The performance begins with the cast piecing together a blanket of newspapers with sellotape. There are also scrunched up newspapers in the background, which are at one point wrapped around the faces of the men. The implication is that stories about male strangers in the media often mask reality, and lead to blanket assumptions about men interacting with children. At another point, a male dancer completely covered in newspapers advances like a zombie. He impersonates the media monster to be feared, but the girls remove the papers to find another smiling dancer to join the group.
Playful and light-hearted, the show is an ode to the potential tenderness waiting to bloom between humans at the first opportunity when contact is made. It’s impossible not to smile at the girls’ candid reactions and cute facial expressions, and to think that both parties are enriched by the meeting. The message, namely that establishing contact between people of all ages and genders is vital for the wellbeing of a community, is undoubtedly worthy of being communicated.
The piece itself, however, is not powerful in its own right, without the concept at its heart justifying its existence. The artistic directors have said that the simplicity is deliberate, as it serves to say that this is all there is to it – it’s just men and girls dancing. However, the performance would have been stronger if it had gone beyond the idea of merely putting a point across. Sparking a conversation ought to be a bonus and not the sole aspiration of a production.
Perhaps a show that gradually developed to include more substantial content would have served the discourse at hand just as well, but would have provided a more enriching experience for the audience as they watched, not just in retrospect.
Photo: David Thibel
Men & Girls Dance is at The Place from 25th April until 30th April 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.