For nearly an hour on a steamy night at the end of June an audience at a black box theatre in Hartford, Connecticut, watched as the dancers in Maskulinity: Unfolding Codes of Gender, explored manhood in transition in a series of choreographed stories about men’s lives.
Inspired, in part, by the Dreamworld videos of Sut Jhally, executive director of the Media Education Foundation (www.mediaed.org), Michael Kimmel’s Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, and the vision of Voice Male magazine, choreographer Ras Mikey C of F.I.V.E. Productions and Salix Productions artistic director, Lacey Byrne, and their dance troupe undulated, stormed, and gracefully navigated their way through issues including power and control, sex and violence, gender identity, and men’s connection and isolation. Race was an important theme running through the performance distinguishing the experiences of men of color from white males.
The spirited works reflected the dancers own lives as four men and two women who, despite their years of work in the dance world, told a post-performance talk back that they had never before explicitly addressed gender in any previous performances.
For Byrne, when she reached the corner of love of dance and feminism—not far from the busy intersection of femininity, masculinity and gendered movement—she knew she had to to try and negotiate these windy roads through a work like Maskulinty. “I wanted to bring my feminist beliefs and perspectives—along with my background as a producer, dancer, and choreographer—into the studio, both to look at the mask behind masculinity and, more broadly, to analyze gender and movement,” she writes in the Summer issue of Voice Male.
In the research phase of creating Maskulinity, the choreographer and artistic director viewed several social issue documentaries produced Jhally, in addition to Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video. They included: Codes of Gender: Identity and Performance in Popular Culture; and Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity (featuring the work of Jackson Katz); and Tom Keith’s 2011 film, The Bro Code: How Contemporary Cultures Creates Sexist Men; (all films produced and/or distributed by www.mediaed.org.) While Byrne paid attention to the objectification of women and the propensity for and the proliferation of violence, Ras approached the stories from the perspective of a dehumanized culture. He sais he was stunned witnessing a cascade of images of sexualized bodies selling entertainment and commercial products was contextualized by voice over analysis of a society run amok. On a spiritual level, he said he felt assaulted. Together, they brought their angles and ideas from the screening room to the studio; the dancers wrestled with them in rehearsal.
The Hartford performance will be followed by more in the months ahead, Byrne promised, including adding a second act to Maskulinity. To learn more about the performance, go to www.salixproductions.com, write her at email@example.com, or call 860.921.3176.