‘Of Man and Beast’ at Beersheba Fringe Festival examines masculinity

The advantage of being a performing artist is that sharing your job with your close ones is a pretty simple feat. They buy a ticket, sit in a theater or venue, and get to see you do your thing. But if your close ones are not inclined to enter a theater, as choreographer Anthony Missen’s aren’t, letting them see what you do can pose a challenge.

“A lot of people I grew up with will never set foot in a theater,” says Missen over the phone. Missen, the co-founder of Manchester-based Company Chameleon, found his way into the dance world by chance. “We live in Manchester, in the inner city, and growing up it was quite violent. Arts and culture changed my outlook on life and it’s important for me to feed that back into the system.”

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In 2007, when Missen and longtime friend Kevin Edward Turner founded Company Chameleon, they knew they would have to tamper with the conventional performance set-up in order to engage their local crowd. “We started to create a lot of work for outdoor to meet it with these people who would otherwise not meet with performance, like ourselves… we met it by chance,” Missen explains. “Outdoor work suffers from a particular idea that it is sanitized and ‘entertainment’ and not fully going into ideas. We try to forget about that and what anyone else does and really bring it as we want it to be seen.”

This week, Company Chameleon will arrive in Israel for the first time to perform as part of the Beersheba Fringe Festival. The event, Show UK, orchestrated by the British Council and supported by the Clore Israel Foundation, is a one-day explosion of cultural imports from England installed around the city of Beersheba. For their Israeli premiere, Missen and Turner decided to perform Of Man and Beast.

The piece was originally created for the stage in 2015. “In a lot of ways, the production began with my own social observations about men, from my experience growing up,” says Missen, “how groups of men work and how they affect the social order from football hooligans to drug dealers and weirdos.” The creation features five male dancers enacting different mannerisms of maleness, both individually and as a group.

Shortly after the premiere, the artistic team decided to make an outdoor adaptation. “The stage production was called Beauty of the Beast, and then I reworked it for an outdoor production. Outdoor work is watched very differently than staged works. Things that work on stage, like dialogue, don’t work outside. We shortened the piece and organized it for people to watch from all sides.”

Of Man and Beast’s dramatic arc runs from humor to violence to fragility. “It’s very rare to see groups of men dance on the street as we do, especially in Europe. We go through different faces of masculinity and maleness. On one hand you see bravado and hostility, but also the sensitivity and vulnerability of the characters. It weaves through emotional states.”

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Company Chameleon will perform Of Man and Beast on July 26 at the Beersheba Fringe Festival. For more information about this performance and Show UK, visit www.britishcouncil.org.il.