Sunday, February 11, 2018

Questions of A Man - candid, sincere and very timely (Dylan Quinn & Jenny Ecke at Lyric Theatre)

Questions of A Man brings together a series of reflections on masculinity. It's the start of dancer Dylan Quinn's conscious process of questioning himself about his actions: starting with his childhood memory of crawling under his desk to look up his teacher's skirt, to the fear he now realises that he can instil in others by walking into a room burdened by misplaced and overwrought expectations.

The opening sequence between Quinn and his dance partner Jenny Ecke - he casually gets her name wrong and it doesn't bother him as the first of many male-isms - cycles through a series of physical male manoeuvres that take advantage of women. And as Ecke becomes more assertive and aggressive in subsequent replays, Quinn becomes angry and bitter towards her. His clown-like makeup doesn't make it funny and doesn't excuse his behaviour.

Other routines mime along to a Radio 4 Women's Hour discussion about domestic abuse, with hand gestures accentuating the worrying undertones in the male contributor's argument, a confession about familial power imbalances that cause the past behaviour of other men to echo into the present, and a mirrored piece in which the inner male monster loses its disguise and is exposed in devilish detail by Tom Feehily's lighting.

Quinn's Questions of A Man is accessible and, for me, much less obscure than his previous pieces that I've reviewed over the last few years. The 5th Province in January 2015 was my introduction to dance - and the first and, to date, last time political blog Slugger O'Toole hosted a dance review! - while March 2016's Tost raised more questions about communications than I could find answers.

Future pop songs may all be judged by the Quinn method of dancing in a giant penis outfit to test whether the words are respectful or sexually outrageous. Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines ("I'll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two … Not many women can refuse this pimping … Do it like it hurt, like it hurt") débuted at number one in the UK Singles Chart on 2 June 2013, was banned from being played in Queen's University Belfast amongst a number of other colleges, and became the most downloaded song of all time in the UK in April 2014.

Dylan struggles to get out of his phallic suit … while Ecke quietly sips her cup of tea. When she finds her voice in a later sequence, it's dripping with sarcasm. Later Quinn sweeps himself under a carpet as Ridley Scott explains the reasons - commercial overriding moral - behind the replacement of Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in his latest film All The Money In The World.

This is not a piece in which a woman's voice and perspective on Quinn's profession of guilt or complicity will be directly heard. It's a confessional piece publicly marking the start of one man's wrestling with what it should and shouldn't mean to be male and masculine. But the questions are there for everyone, no matter their gender.

Jenny's slightly disdainful façade throughout the show is perhaps a deliberate mocking of Dylan's belated recognition - "about bloody time" she might even be thinking - that masculinity has been used as a cover for the abuse of women over the years. It perhaps excuses the show's near mansplaining about the issue which has finally become embedded as a societal talking point over the past few months.

If the Lyric's other show The Threepenny Opera is opera-lite, then Questions of A Man could be labelled as dance-lite. That's not to downplay the physical control and the choreographed movements and dialogue. But while dance is the medium, the conversation on-stage and in the foyer and bar afterwards is the message. Immediately after the show, the Lyric was buzzing with members discussing their own actions and contributions towards poor images of masculinity … and femininity.

Questions of A Man is candid, sincere and very timely.

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Update: It's always good when a review starts a conversation. Dylan Quinn has responded to the review above and I've captured his thoughts at the end of this blog post to make sure they don't get lost.
I don’t often respond to reviews, I respect and appreciate the time taken to review the work we create. Alan Meban has been great at taking up the challenge of viewing contemporary dance and our work and for that I am very grateful. I have chosen to respond to this review as I feel the issue is important considering the content of the piece.

We hear the point that the piece was questioned for near mansplaining about the issue, we had questioned this during the process …. however we intended to be man explaining, man exploring and hopefully then men reflecting. It is true that it does not represent a woman's voice however it is the product of having listened to these voices very carefully because without men entering into the debate and owning their own behaviour and mistakes, not in a default self-defensive mode but with an openness that demonstrates a commitment to re-evaluating their behaviour, things are unlikely to change.

Some of the work is indeed very personal and some is observational, it may at times appear confessional however this was not our primary concern/focus. We hope and believe that in exploring the personal on stage we can enable the person off stage to be reflective.

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