Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

Men Dancing Well and Behaving Badly

Anna Marie Taylor reviews some recent dance works

The very narrow divide between an obsession with moral rectitude and an unnatural interest in vice and sin has provided literary ammuni tion for writers as diverse as Ben lonson, Hem rich Mann and Patricia Highsmith. These authors would have enjoyed the recent out break of righteous indignation in Swansea over the Royal Court's tour of Mark Raven- hill's Shopping and Fucking which, even with a bowdlerised title (the improving Thomas Bowdler him self an erstwhile inhabitant of Wales's second city), brought out a vociferous moral minority, who brandished their pitchforks and pe titions at this dissection of contem porary sexual behaviour.

It is a pity that the local council lors did not bother to watch the pro duction itself, for, despite some explicit enactments of seedy and cheerless gay sex, this play is, like the equally lambasted dramas of Bond and Wedekind, a deeply moral piece which speaks forcefully for a less mercenary and warmer attitude to human relationships. If there were any complaints to be lodged, they would have better been directed at the standards of acting which produced at times shrill, underdeveloped perform ances, surely not a feature of the original Sloane Square production.

There must be some contradictorary current in the Swansea air, blowing hot and cold between rampant hedonism and tight-hearted puritanism. For, here the younger generation consumes large amounts of stimulants and bares as much flesh as possible on the Kings-way of a Saturday night; whilst their sterner elders are driven to protest about depravity and nudity in plays and films which, in the case of the Ravenhill drama, have scarcely raised an eyebrow in blue-rinsed strongholds such as Westcliff on Sea and Woking.
The local Dynion Dance Company in Testosterone, premiered at Swansea's Taliesin in January, displayed a much more sanguine and wiser attitude towards sexuality. This all-male dance group was founded eleven years ago by Carol Brown of Dawns Tan (formerly West Clamorgan Dance Project), and has alerted a good number of young men to the possibility that dancing can be as powerfully energetic and enjoyable as sports-based activities, encouraging several of its participants to go on to study dance at college.

Loyalty to the project is demonstrated by the return of previous embers of Dynion to choreograph the work of a new generation of south Walian youngsters. Douglas Comley, for example, the overall director of this year's impressive programme of ten new dance pieces was in the original company. Testosterone one examined the fears, passions and anxieties found in young men's lives today. The embarrassment of wet dreams and burgeoning sexuality, an over-passionate involvement with sport and mates, and the ability to drink your self stupid, were all danced out with consider able wit and great tenderness. The sheer awfulness of male adolescence which can have female contemporaries longing that members of the opposite sex could be sent off like pubescent African tribesmen for years into the British equivalent of the bush - was conveyed with great accomplishment in Dynion's characteristic style featuring strenuous, athletic ensemble work which can emphasise gifted individual performances as well as support less confident and inexperienced mem bers of the project.

Vulgar Freudians would no doubt detect a strong homoeroticism in the boozy blokish ness of today's teenagers, a sublimation of sexual urges. For painter Egon Schiele living in Freud's Vienna, such libidinous impulses were seen as an integral part of his artistic expres sion. The haunted, distorted figures of Schiele's sketchbooks were brought to life, in a series of remarkable and sepulchral tableaux ajoants by another long established, male dance company, the London-based Featherstonehaughs.

In The Featherstonehaughs Draw on tile Sketch Books of Egon Schiele, choreographer Lea Anderson has developed a twitchily precise, almost neurotic, patterning to the dance movements to convey the restless, sexually charged energy of Schiele's original drawings. Helped by Sandy Powell's and David Hoyle's skilfully conceived costume and make-up designs, she recreated the mood, lines and texture of the originals with eerie verisimilitude.

In particular, she has caught some of the agonized spirit of fin-de-siecle and early twentieth century Vienna, with its emphasis on doom, decay and Untergang, and its pursuit of the darker impulses that lie within human kind. Schiele (who died at the age of 28 in the influenza epidemic) may have thought himself doomed, part of an early Generation X, condemned to agonized self-scrutiny and lacking the security of his complacent, bourgeois elders. The Ravenhill play and Dynion's dance pieces also chart the uneasy self-examination of a later generation of displaced young men.

It might be more appropriate for Swansea city councillors to be seen lobbying for improved social and employment conditions for such young people, rather than be publicised picketing the Grand Theatre. But, of course I would not dream of seizing the moral high ground here!

author:Anna-Marie Taylor

original source: Planet # 128, April/May 1998
01 April 1998


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