Fevered Sleep’s Men & Girls Dance at Tate Britain
Place: Collection Displays, Ground Floor, Tate Britain, London SW1P 4RG
Date and Time: July 27th-30th and August 3rd-6th. Visitors can view the performances at any time between 2pm and 6pm. Free admission.
In at the start of the process Josephine Leask talked to Fevered Sleep’s artistic directors Sam Butler and David Harradine about re-staging Men and Girls for Tate Britain. It’s an emotive and challenging work to present to an unsuspecting passing audience…>Fevered Sleep’s important Men and Girls is essentially a celebration of friendship and relationships – positive and joyful encounters between grown men and a group of nine girls aged between eight and eleven. The provocative and enthralling hour long dance show, which extensively toured theatres across England, was met with enthusiasm and passionate reactions, pushing most viewers out of their comfort zone; in a good way (DanceTabs ★★★★ review). The complex issues it raised through the men (all professional dancers) and (untrained) young girls playing together, dancing together and making contact with each other, created a work which was risk-taking and politically charged. So what happens when Men and Girls is taken into a wider public arena, out of the safe confines of theatres such as The Place with its progressive, open-minded dance audiences? I talked to Fevered Sleep’s artistic directors David Harradine and Sam Butler about the process of re-staging Men and Girls for Tate Britain.
Between July 27 – 30th and August 3rd – 6th, the new work will be performed in three galleries which contain the Collection Displays, at the heart of Tate Britain. Together with the dancers, Harradine and Butler will re-work the original theatre piece into a four-hour durational event that will be shown on each of those days. It will look very different. While the actual choreographic content and design of the piece will remain the same, the structure will be reconstructed in order to connect with the art in the galleries, explore the challenging new viewing conditions and engage with an unpredictable audience. When performances take place in galleries, usually what happens is that some people ignore the performers altogether while others watch for a bit then leave, or even interact with them. Often art lovers don’t want their viewing experience ‘interrupted’ by dancing adults let alone children.
It’s interesting for the company to work out what the demographic of a Tate Britain audience is and how that may affect audience responses. As Butler says, “Tate Britain enjoys a high volume of visitors over the summer and an international audience for our work is a fantastic opportunity for us to reach people who may not normally encounter us.” As Men and Girls will be presented by Tate Early Years and Families Learning Programme, it is likely that there will be younger people and more families than usual, but it’s an unknown. Will non-dance audiences, unused to watching exuberant physicality where men and girls relate so physically through touch and contact, feel as uncomfortable as many audience members did watching the theatre shows? In a culture and society that doesn’t want men to be with girls, how will an ‘un-briefed’ public respond?
For the next few weeks Fevered Sleep will be considering such issues during rehearsals at the Tate, after school, during opening times but also sometimes after gallery opening hours. As the work was originally conceived for ‘any kind of space’, the artistic directors are very excited about this ninth reincarnation of the show. They will prepare the girls for the different viewing conditions and how to deal with spontaneous reactions from people watching as well as managing their own expectations. For example, the disappointment of being ignored by audience members or what happens when someone moves too close; or what they will do if a child or adult tries to interact with them? Butler thinks that the girls will be more concerned about practical problems – such as having enough space to leap up or jump down from a male partner’s shoulders, when there is a member of the public (or a painting) in the way. The piece is boisterous and high energy in places and each member of the company will have to take responsibility for their actions. Staff from Tate Britain say they are relaxed about this!
Rehearsing in the busy galleries will prepare the performers for the many distractions but Harradine and Butler add that a strong focus will also be essential and something that they will be working on. It bodes well for them that the girls and men feel so comfortable with one another and that the company exists like a strong family which can tackle a range of obstacles. What was remarkable about the girls’ previous performances was the sheer pleasure that emanated from them as they improvised and danced with the men as well as an impressive level of commitment and concentration. Such performances skills will take them far.
Material will be re-imagined to link with the art works in the three galleries, especially the many paintings which depict images of children. While the movement is currently being worked out, there will be actions and poses which allude to, or make juxtapositions with, what is on the walls. For example in the Pre-Raphaelite gallery there is a painting by John Singer Sargent of girls wearing white smocks holding orange lanterns. These demure, restrained, Victorian girls contrast so dramatically with the feisty, empowered, modern ones moving in front of them. While in another gallery, Frederic Lord Leighton’s sculpture of a man wrestling with a python may also inspire some intriguing movement ideas or shapes.
As Harradine stresses, they can’t direct or fix the placement of the dancers because of the roaming audience but they have created a palette of set choreographic tasks and improvised movement which will give the performers plenty of material to work with, as will the piles of newspapers from the original show. This promises to keep the choreography fresh and fluid for the four hour duration – what Harradine and Butler want to avoid is a predictable loop of repetitive material.
We discuss the intimacy of the theatre performance and how much of that will be lost in this new staging. But Harradine believes that the piece will be lighter and more fun with its spontaneous and unpredictable new flavour. What hopefully Tate Britain audiences will take away from the show is how possible and amazing the friendships can be between men and young girls – free from sinister associations, sexual affiliations, abuses of power, bullying and fear.