MAN MADE a new dance

The Long Hall, Roseneath, Wellington

02/02/2015 - 03/02/2015

Touch Compass Studio, 40 Ethel Street, Auckland

06/02/2015 - 06/02/2015

Production Details

a new dance

“I let the kittens outside into the garden for the second time ever. I stroked them and said nice things to them in a sweet voice to keep them close by to lessen the risk of their escape. But—and here is the LOL factor—in the end, I scooped them up in one hand, put them inside and shut the door.”

Gareth Okan and Oliver Connew perform alongside each other in a work that points to the the presence of the ‘privileged’ physicality of the male body in our world’s power structures. Taking inherent experiences of power, force and control, Oliver and Gareth send their male bodies into territory where these experiences are distorted and engineered to certain ends.

MAN-MADE is a work of power, relentless and reactionary with an over-zealous vigor reflective of an attitude of self-congratulation within the world’s powerful elite.

Auckland – 31 January,  8.30pm – Touch Compass Dance Studio, 40 Ethel Street, Sandringham. $20/$15 cash at door

Wellington – 2 & 3 February, 8.30pm –  The Long Hall, 13 Maida Vale Road, Roseneath, (Behind Roseneath School, beside the Saluting Battery).  $20/$15 cash at door or book online at

1 houor

Power games

Review by Paul Young 08th Feb 2015

Man Made. It’s the sort of  multi meaning title and ubiquitous term that sets the imagination racing . What kind of characters will present themselves? Will they be laddish, beefy, studly, ripped and shredded? Heck, there are testosterone stains on my thesaurus! Or maybe we will bear witness to the mortal man, perishable, corporeal, impermanent and transient. Lord have mercy, this is the frailty we heroically rail against. God’s raison d’être.

I could dwell on this title, say it over and over, savouring it in my mouth. Man Made Man Made Man Made Man…. dodgy double ententres and tight puns are bound to ensue.

The men (the makers) are already on stage on the far side of the vast Touch Compass Dance Studio. It’s a quartet consisting of  the Sound Man, the Lighting Man, the Wing Man and the Main Man, Choreographer Oliver Connew.

Connew’s Salted Singlet blog tells me they are addressing white male privilege. Performance art suits reflexivity, so the team seems well qualified in this reguard, superficially at least.

The beginning is announced via microphone. “Anyone who can play” is invited to participate in a game ? We don’t know the rules bro ! It turns out to be a game which requires a conventionally able body and two  feet planted on the ground (well, exclusivity based on who you are and what you’ve got is definitely relevant). An interesting point to note is that the game relies on balance and wit and virtually all the finalists are women. Why do women dominate in balance and wit?  It’s fascinating to watch the contestants size each other up and strategise, a very different display of competition than addressed by the performers. No brawn required.

Privilege: Be careful not to abuse your privilege.

Connew and Okan are dressed for endurance sport with tight aerodynamic fabrics, sports shoes and backpacks. Costume is a great undo-er of dance on a budget, but this is a solid look which speaks of sport, fashion, competition and maybe money. Connew, über lean with striking cheekbones, looks staunch, austere like a cage fighter. Okan is restless and distant and, with long hair on his face, looks bohemian cum rock’n’roller in baggy white shorts over the sleek layer. Both are wonderfully loose limbed and alien to my own dancer body which is relatively short and thick. Connew in fact, is the most foal-like human I have ever seen. In contrast to Okan’s soft muscular strapping-ness, Connew is an assembly of joints and angles so mechanical he resembles one of Len Lye’s anthromorphic kinetic sculptures. It’s a good thing. Work that point of difference.

There are elements of  boyish play which touch on ownership of space. ‘”The space between my arms is a void, no-one can sit there” says Okan gesturing to the audience. The audience are hustled accordingly. ‘This is my space” says Connew making parameters with his arms then placing them around a girl. A comment on possession perhaps ?

Ownership: Who owns what, and how do we get it?

Game playing is an emerging trope in contemporary performance practice and is sometimes used to cultivate a sense of togetherness between audience and performer in the space. Structurally the work falls into about five clearly defined sections each aiming to use games and competition as a way of giving and reclaiming power betwenn the two performers and the audience . While the initial section promises a degree of audience participation and spatial autonomy, we are eventually told where the front is and the  performer-audience relationship is not challenged again. The privilege to roam is rescinded. A rope of lights has formed a lassoo shaped perimeter within which all action now takes place

Fraternity: occasionally men seek the company of other men.

The relentless rhythmicity of the sound throughout this first section is making the performers seem directionless.  I long for some stronger structure from the performers, or aural variation to create texture. Connew and Okan don’t engage particularly directly with each other. There is touching, and although familiar dance synergy emerges later, identifiable relationships fraternal or otherwise are not explicitly obvious. The vast space is explored but not engaged with thematically. The players orienteer, parkour, roam, explore, making casual observations about mundane details of the room.

Seduction: I will charm the pants off you.

I find myself musing on distinctions between man and boy. The cast and crew are all men for sure but retain some boyish characterisics. Facially smooth, svelte hairless and fresh faced.

The movement challenges space in a recognisably youthful way with images drawn from possibilities as diverse as rave culture, quadrupedal animals and modeling.  It’s ebullient, hardcore and testosterone-y! Thrusting butts, pumping fists and boxing footwork combine elements of sport, combat, posturing and sex. I have no beef with a skillfully weilded cliché. Its a bit sexy, a bit psycho and fun. The sound supports, and is supported by this action and I feel a visceral response to the pulsing and  pumping movement. The performers are giving us something we can feel, something we can recognise and relate to as something we might do, or want to do. Am I just being seduced by ‘good’ dancing? Well there isn’t enough of it for me. Expand the material, do it twice, Retrograde it, we are not bored with it  yet. It feels too brief .

The lighting is occasionally transformative. Connew becomes a blue skinned fluoro clad apparition. An eerily lit sonambulistic prossession makes me realise how kinaesthetically noisy the work has been up until this point. The solemnity brings me to reflect on ideas of ceremony,profundity, reverence.

A competition of squatting and banana gripping is, well… gripping ! I find myself seeing metaphors and drawing conclusions. Bananas – Apes – competition – sport – primativity – reproduction – Darwinism – religion – shaking.

Power: you have the ability to affect me.

I worry that my androphile gaze, my gayz perhaps, means I’m missing irony. Okan curls his fingers around his balls with more deliberation, tenderness and reverence than has previously exhibited anywhere in the work.  He does it while looking into my eyes. Holy shit. It’s an intimate surprise! There are ethical considerations regarding audience manipulation you know guys.

And… it’s over, and I must say I really thought it was just hitting its stride. The work has become so much more engaging (to me) as it approaches more conventionally engineered  structures and driving movement.  I believe this is just a question of energy and crafting and the whole work could have more cohesion between sections, especially the beginning relative to the rest. Is motif out of fashion?

Connew is tackling relevant and appropriate subject matter for choreographic research. In Man Made it is clear he is aware and willing to explore the power and futility, the reality and the fantasy, of masculine constructions, and although I am left with questions regarding dramaturgy and efficacy, the aquiescent audience is engaged and appreciative throughout.

There is depth and personal relevance in this work but perhaps it needs to be more immediatly available to the veiwer. Inclusion and exclusion are explored in various ways throughout the work but in the end I feel like an outsider trying to gain access to a world veiw which I’d very much like explicated somehow.

 Let me in a little more guys. It would be a privilege.


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Be prepared to wonder

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 03rd Feb 2015

Actually getting to the venue The Long Hall up in Roseneath is a character forming part of the experience – and then, once in a long, dark, wooden beamed and sloping space on a cliff face overlooking the harbour we wait, without programme notes…

Anticipation is high as these two 20-something dancers have carved themselves a position of intrigue and have made previous contributions to emerging contemporary artistic endeavour as outstanding young performers and provocative thinkers. Their promo material promises an ‘elite male physicality engineered with distorted surety’ and a LOL factor inspired by the rather callous treatment of kittens.

The audience is invited to play a skill/ test/ survival game. I spend the rest of the evening looking for and possibly inventing links in the work back to this ‘game’. Balance, opposition, confrontation, unpredictability, tension, power, humour, winning, losing, walking away, letting it go… All there, but the connections are tenuous at best and lacking in resolution and satisfaction.

So what does this become? Elements are interesting, the spatial set up of the lights, the mix of electronic, dub soundscape by Andrew Cesan, the snake-like LED strip that coils momentarily with reptilian menace at the feet of Okan, predatory, darkening, the urgent and shadowy calves stalking each other against floor lights, the urgent isolations of the torso that evolve into unison in a finale that has the pulse and vibe to be engaging but which is delivered deadpan. Why? What?

Engagement between these two performers is virtually non-existent except in the lithe limbed leanness of bodies. Connew has a loping bounce that seems to always want to burst out of the containment of both the set and the hall;  Okan has an earthed quality that pulls him continuously back to his starting point. Engagement with the audience? Very little, although we do get drawn into a surreal banana contest which draws smiles and gasps of admiration, particularly from the dancers in the audience. You have to be there to see this!

I was torn by knowing the ability of these dancers, and waiting for vocabulary and structure that would challenge and commit me, but the relentless deconstructing of deconstruction almost comes full circle, back to nothing. Their choreographic statement notes exploration, process and improvisation, but the work itself begs a need for purpose.

I found myself searching for what it was about, and maybe that was all they were asking of their observers, but it was  one of those evenings where for me the sum of the parts did not realise the teasing or temptations of the journey on offer. Nonetheless, there’s space made for  every member of the audience to do their own questing as for an hour they share the space with this man-made experience. Worth the time if you are prepared to wonder.


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