Men and Girls Dance – five questions with Fevered Sleep

Posted By David Harradine and Sam Butler on 10 April 2017

Why don’t men and girls dance together? This is exactly what London-based cross-artform company Fevered Sleep asked in their piece Men & Girls Dance. With funding from our Strategic Touring Programme, it has been challenging preconceptions across the country for a year.

We talk to Artistic Directors David Harradine and Sam Butler about why they made it, and what they discovered when they did.

Man lifting tow little girls
Men & Girls Dance, Brighton 83773 © MatthewAndrews2016

What inspired you to make Men & Girls Dance? 

The idea came while we were auditioning male dancers for another Fevered Sleep piece, just after Sam had been to watch her seven year old daughter perform in her ballet school show. We thought how brilliant it would be to put these two things together; these two types of bodies and these two types of dance.

Some people dance as their job, and some people dance for a tiny part of their lives, often when they’re kids, then they never dance again. We were keen to bring together an established dance audience and an audience of parents of girls whose engagement with dance rarely goes beyond after-school ballet.

How did you do the casting?

We cast the men first: a mix of existing collaborators and new names to the Fevered Sleep family. The men remain. They are the scaffolding of the piece -the girls run all over them, so they change location in each performance.

We weren’t looking for the most highly trained dancers, but for people with presence...

We put out an open call for girls aged 8-11 to audition; we met 60 girls and shortlisted a cast of 9. Our auditions took the form of a workshop, which allowed us to see the girls being themselves as much as possible – because above anything else, it’s really their individual personalities and different bodies we’re interested in.

We weren’t looking for the most highly trained dancers, but for people with presence, a sense of playfulness and a willingness to do something unlike anything they’ve ever done before.  

Man running, children dancing with newspaper parachute in background
Men & Girls Dance, Brighton 83311 © MatthewAndrews2016

How have people reacted to the show?

When we first spoke to people about the idea, we had some strikingly negative responses based on just the notion of men and girls dancing together. People heard something else, something risky or that stoked other anxieties about the idea of bringing men and girls together.  We wanted to unpick these attitudes of suspicion, fear and even disgust, towards normal positive interactions between people of different ages and genders. 

We’ve drawn up very detailed information to give to parents so that they know what the piece entails, what it’s about and how much the girls gain from devising, rehearsing and performing with us.

As soon as people see the work for what it is, it’s hard for them to remain negative. It’s almost impossible to watch the show and not be caught up in its celebration of togetherness and shared experiences.

Who is Men & Girls Dance for, and what do you think they’ll get from seeing the show?

Put simply, it’s for everyone; people interested in or curious to find out more about contemporary performance and dance, people who have never been to see contemporary dance before and think it’s not for them, people interested in human relationships, as well as the parents, relatives and neighbours of the girls who perform in the show.

It’s a thought provoking piece, moving in parts, funny in others... 

Man and children kneeling with hands splayed over eyes
Men & Girls Dance, Brighton 83551© Matthew Andrews2016

It’s a thought provoking piece, moving in parts, funny in others, and it invites the audience to reflect on their own relationships. 

Catch Men & Girls Dance at The Place in London from 13-15 and 18-23 April 2017.