May 10th marked the anticipated premiere of Macho: A Dance Film by Hit The Ground Running Dance Theatre Company. Directed by Michael John Heatley and choreographed in collaboration with the dancers and company, Macho is the first of a trilogy of digital works being released this year from the company.
Drawing from the stories of real men. This duet has a visceral address towards men's mental health and the stigma and stereotypes that inhibit men's vulnerabilities and emotional well-being. The process of creation started five years ago when choreographer and artistic director Michael Heatley consulted with the all male CREE group, based in Durham. Where the group spoke about societal expectations and how their mental health has a relationship with masculinity. The initiative to create Macho as a gateway to these much needed conversations built from there. It is exceptionally special to have also included the members of the CREE group as supporting artists within the work.
Set in Easington Welfare Centre gives the mood a touching sense of working class nostalgia that relates commonly, as I'm sure anyone who's spent time in a working men's club would be familiar with settings fuelled by masculine bravado, unfortunately speaking volumes to the insecurities met with such environments. The locations of bar, boxing ring and snooker table give this narrative an overseeing sense of competitiveness and masculine performativity. Crucially commenting on this mask used to hide weakness, by distracting from sharing authentic emotion and feelings.
We immediately empathise with the feeling of loneliness as the piece starts with Jackson Watson on stage addressing an audience. What he's saying isn't very funny, in fact quite the opposite, but accompanied by a distorted track of people laughing, we automatically feel his cry through the dreading emptiness of it all.
The moments of speech were sparse but extremely though provoking and almost always leaves us anticipating more. But the subtle changes in music throughout accompany the visuals beautifully. Sometimes gentle and dreamy, sometimes quite nostalgic like from a radio. This plays on the idea of the piece being a journey of mental health. And I think beautifully compliments the piece by giving light to the surrealist and commercialism of masculinity as a topic.
The duality of the two dancers reflect the turmoil and despair men face in current society, creating a dynamic relationship between the destruction caused by aggressive masculinity balanced with the opposing vulnerability through the pain we feel from the performers. The movement was yet poetic but raw. Transitioning between fluid dependence on support from Jordan McGowan with the striking lifts and carrying poses, opposed with this real sense of resistance and competition between the two dancers. I personally loved how Michael Heatley took dancer with different disciplines to really add another level to the complexity of this work: Between the very high paced break dancing and acrobatic tricks to strong and empowering ballet, we see strengths more in our indifferences as men, than being alike.
We were left never really sure if this was to represent a real connection between two men, whether one is a alter ego inside the others head battling himself, or whether maybe the narrative is really about one man being alone. That we are gracefully left to interpret. The last scene reads 'where there is talk there is hope-' and I think beautifully and cleverly that's what this piece should leave you. The courage to talk about it.
Watch Macho Digital below and remember to subscribe to Hit The Ground Running YouTube for more in the future!
Directed and produced by: Michael John Heatley
Choreography: Michael and Company
Dancers: Jackson Watson, Jordan Mcgowan
Jack Creed, Wynn Glass, David John Gray, Alistair Mawson, James Mawson, Janet Mawson, Mike Williams, Cora Williams, Emma Collins, Daniel Wesley Rush, Samuel William Rush, Gavin Coward
Director of Photography: Jonathan Ackley
Edited by: Jonathan Ackley
Post Production: Hype Film Ltd
Acting Coach: Kathryn Ackley
Rehearsal Assistants: Gavin Coward & Juliet Thompson
Location: Easington welfare centre _________________________________________________________________________ Fading memories & Beauty is Fleeting: Tony Anderson
Ocean Wild: Jordan Critz
Galaxies: One hundred years
Midnight: Salomon Ligthelm
Little Drummer Boy: White feathers
So Macho: Sinitta