MAN MADE INTERVIEW
9 June 2017 - Co-Artistic Directors Tim Newth and David McMicken with General Manager Agnès Michelet.
A: It is your 22nd season for the Darwin Festival- You’ve chosen to work on the theme of maleness, is it the first time? Why do you feel speaking about maleness for you, for the people of Darwin and beyond, is important here and now?
T: This is the first time we have worked exclusively with men. We have focused on men in parts of shows before, worked in formats with men on the one hand, and women on the other, such as in Lajamanu, we have put men amongst a wider community context, but never before so exclusively as in this show.
D: Cultural influences are quite different here, people come from different cultural backgrounds (as opposed to places where Western culture is prevalent and everyone, men and women, can do everything). Sometimes you feel a bit afraid to focus on men, you may be seen as reinforcing an existing dominance, but that’s not the case in dance and the only way to bypass gender politics is to bring the full focus onto men. As soon as you put a woman in the mix, you deal with gender imbalance.
T: Our work is always strongly connected to time and relationship, the moment we think “that person is ready for this”.
In this instance, there were two people: One is Darryl (Butler), first man to join the Grey Panthers; starts making his own choreography; works with David.
The other is Aaron (Lim), finished his engineering degree; made the decision to step away from his parents shop; is being mentored by the company and starts making work and taking risks.
These two men, one young and one senior, are both closely associated with the company. They are coming out and taking risks as makers almost at the same time and have been influential in choosing this year’s festival show theme.
D: As a young male dancer, gender imbalance used to be strong, most of what was created did not suit me, as a male dancer, there were lots of stereotypes circulating. Now in the old age bracket, I am comfortable as a dancer. When you are younger, you have to sort it out. In Man Made we separate these phases of … might be not quite the right word, but they are phases of psychological development.
A: You are both in your fifties. The work speaks of four life stages of maleness. Can you elaborate more on the narrative structure of the work and the angles you’ll choose to take?
T: Our age gives us a wider view of the world of maleness, but more importantly lets us consider how you feel at home within yourself as a man, particularly when you don’t fit in the stereotypical view of maleness.
D: Our narrative sits within the bed of maleness in Darwin. It is a higher population here, maleness fits with the local economy, building, mining, cattle breeding, the military. The NT is also viewed through the stereotype of the outback Ozie male. We are looking into the actual structure of maleness in the city with people who are ready to explore this with us.
We’ve brought in:
breakdancers who express themselves through their strong physicality, how does that define them, their relationship with each other as brothers, warriors,
the more contemporary dancers who look at larger social issues and question their place in the world,
the older dancers, who are settled with who they are, explore what it is to be ageing, what do they have to offer, leave behind. As Darren (McCallum) says “ I want my kids to see that I can keep going”.
All together, they are telling a human story.
T: I feel much more comfortable now than as a teenager. It is important to bring the full age gamut together in order to bring forward the full life extent of the male experience. The answer is going to shift as we go through stages of life. I am now able to look back over the years.
D: In this piece, there is an opportunity for timeframes to collide. The narrative is not about one following the other. We aim at showing the diversity of maleness, we present a whole gallery of men, the trader, the landscaper, the baker, the gardener… sitting next to those who have also made the choice of living their life as a professional dancer. The narrative is a juxtaposition of differences. It’s about diversity, not progression.
A: 26 men in the cast, is it a record for the company? The cast includes a group of senior men, very few of them with previous performance, not to mention dance, experience, who are they, where do they come from, what do you think drew them to being in the show?
D: This is the largest male cast we’ve ever had in a Darwin Festival Show. The big difference with other “men only” live performances is brought through the cast of older men. The older man have come through some form of relationship, they were not picked haphazardly. They’ve come along with their mate or because they had a connection with the company. They know it’s going to be challenging but accept the challenge. These men want to demonstrate that they can keep shaking it up, they can keep learning. It’s actually one of the groups we had the least to work hard to get them.
T: It is about making life decisions. Darryl again is a great example, has been a scientist all his life, and decides in his later years whether he is going to dance or play music. He chooses dance and dance is now a whole part of his life.
A: Inviting Josh Mu to be one of the core dancers in the work marks the return of what we could call, a splendid son. How meaningful it this for you as creators, mentors, to work with him after how many years? Ten? More? Endurance (2009) was the last time Josh was in a Tracks show. First would be Ignite (2002), and then Rivers of the Underground (2002)?
D: Having Josh back is really important. We have joy and pride in following people who work with Tracks. Josh has always kept a connection with Tracks. This year, the stars have aligned for him to come back. What we like in him is that he understands this environment. He illustrates the common desire of learning, going away to get better but also knowing that there is a place to go back to and we are very proud that he feels he wants to come back to Tracks and puts the company amongst other Australian dance companies as prominent as Chunky Move, Dancenorth or Shaun Parker company.
T: What we’ve always loved about Josh is the generosity he has as a person, his willingness to bring people along with him, for us, he is not just a great dancer.
D: I do see him passing through the company as “his coming home”.
A: Frog Hollow is a familiar site to the company, what drew you back to it? What experience of the space do you wish to give the audience this time that you would not have created before?
T: Our motivation to be at Frog Hollow this time is different. Our work always has to do with infusing sites with the memories of Tracks performances. We create a “sacred site” which one can visit after the performance. As on the waterfront where buildings now mask where we have performed before, still the memories persist. It is that memory of site which has motivated us to choose to be at Frog Hollow Park since there is going to be a road. We want to take this opportunity to invest in the site, to make it something else before it goes, so that people may remember. It also suits obviously the Man Made theme, since it’s going to be a major work site.
D: Tracks imbues its spaces with significance, sometimes it grows out of the space, sometimes it’s added to the space, whichever way we do it, we want every person to be able to say I saw this performance and you can’t take away what’s been there. We give people the opportunity to look at a space in a different way that they won’t forget.
T: Man Made is set in a park, which makes you feel being in the bigger world.
In Man Made we contrast a world view of maleness as compared to the feeling of home.
There are six fridges on the set. As the piece closes in on itself, the question becomes less about “what are we in the bigger world?” than “what are we in the kitchen, at home?”.
A: There will be objects in the work? What is their significance? What kind of look are you seeking?
D: Every cast member is going to make something they are proud of. We play with the question “what makes a man” by reversing it “what do men make?” We are looking into what men are perceived to make or surround themselves with, bar fridges, lawnmowers but at the same time we want to make people think of the “lost art of making”. We tend to just buy nowadays.
T: The making of an object is a metaphor for the creative art. We want to show people that we can still create something, that age is no barrier to have the capacity in one’s life to make, to create.
D: Like the magnets, objects that mum puts on the fridge and later throws away, we have often gotten rid of the objects we made in our younger age. After a while these objects go away. In Man Made we use objects to make people think about creativity, that it does not go away.
T: We start with a wooden look, wood objects, chairs, tables, references to woodwork, the men’s shed. It’s a bit chaotic. Then it gets cleaner and cleaner, the light sources become more and more present. The hand made chairs and tables look very different than in the shop, they are made with recycling material, the men become more in tune with the world they are in.
D: The fridge is another metaphor of our shifting attitude with life as we grow older.
T: When I was a kid, I opened the fridge to find out what’s there to eat, now when I open the fridge I often wonder “what did I come here for”.
D: Each night I wake up several times, and go to the fridge expecting to find something that’s not there.
T: Fridges are interesting objects, to see how they’ve changed over the years. They are particularly relevant to our tropical context. The way we keep our food here is different than in the South. Here we put everything in the fridge. They are a symbol for preservation, almost a matter of survival.
D: They almost have magical powers for some men, the fridge is the keeper of the cold beer.
A: You’ve invited two hip hop music makers to create the soundtrack alongside your own composition David, it will be a mix between contemporary and hip hop which is also present in the choreography, and quite a trademark of the company. How would you describe the soundtrack this time?
D: In Man Made, compared to previous works, choreographers have much more collaboration with the composers. Again, it is “man made” music where men (and a woman!) share their creativity . To get someone like Jack Prest and James Mangohig who both have strong national profiles to want to make music for this Tracks production is something we are proud of. Not everyone can make music for dance. Jack has a track record of making music for Nick Power’s Cypher, Between Tiny Cities. James comes from the film clip industry but Kelly (Beneforti) had a strong desire to work with him.
T: we work with a volunteer crew but always supported by a highly qualified professional team. The composers also reflect the diversity of the cast from 20 to 60. Dance is a highly collaborative process.
D: A lot of independent artists don’t get much of an opportunity to work with a composer until they are advanced enough in their career so that they may afford it. With Tracks, we want our artists to get that experience as soon as we invite them to work with us. For Aaron (Lim), it is fantastic to be involved in making choreography at the same time as being able to have an input in the making of the music.
T: Also, the “making” part of the show is important and so it’s important that the music is also “made”, not prerecorded or existing.
D: Why Kelly (Beneforti)? We want to say that Man is not made by men alone. Kelly will look at how men are influenced by their peers, but more specifically their mothers. When you put a woman in the mix, what does it do to the men’s group dynamic, to how each of them behave?
A: People come to see a Tracks show often to experience the unexpected. We are back in the darkness of the night. There will be reveals that we should not disclose obviously. However in a few words what would you say to a men audience to encourage them to see the show, and women?
T: Here is a group of 11 to 70+ years old men. We want people to feel that these men radiate feeling comfortable within themselves and together.
D: If a group of women comes together, there is no need for a reason, it’s acceptable. Men tend to come together for a reason, they need to create an activity, fishing, sports but you would not think of a dance performance! We are questioning stereotypical views on men by presenting the diversity of maleness, rather than a narrowed view. We challenge the assumption for example that men dancing is sissy, or that men can only do breakdancing, tap dance.
T: We want people to see men who allow themselves to be vulnerable and open rather than putting a coat of armour to show who they are. We want to create an open space to be with other men.
D: There is this whole gender theory, which tells us that men use aggression to maintain power on women. We can’t help seeing inequality if we approach maleness from a gender point of view. We turn this around in Man Made by looking at men within a creative context, a different lens not filtered through the usual lenses which the TV news brings us every night.
T: We want people to see what is the creative capacity of men., to just have a look at these different aspects of male creativity, not woman made, but man made, how it is different pending on who makes the work, from the pot bellied male to the six-packed one.
A: In relation to that, Landed brought you to immerse the audience in nature and the sense of the serenity that comes with it, Man Made is an immersion in maleness or manhood, what would you like the audience to come out with?
T: We have gathered a unique group of men, they’ve never worked before together. They can only exist because they’ve come to be in this show together, they never thought that could ever be in a performance like this before, but here they are together and what they are offering is purely original.
D: We see men everywhere, policemen, Inpex workers, security guards, tradies, but you’ll never see these men gathered anywhere but in this work, at this particular time in their lives.
T: Hopefully people will see in this group of men something that they haven’t seen before.