Ahead of their performance at this weekend's Being a Man festival, Anthony Missen, co-founder and Co-Artistic Director of Manchester’s Company Chameleon, talks about being a man in the context of dance and his own experiences growing up.
What does being a man mean to you?
Lots of different things but mostly it’s about being yourself and being comfortable in your own skin. It’s also about saying it’s okay to have feelings, even if they’re not tied to others' expectations of what they think you should feel. Some of what makes being a man is instinctive. Men can have an instinct to fight and protect what’s theirs. This manifests itself in all different ways – the way you behave at the pub, the way you look after and protect your family. The idea of being a man has evolved massively and it’s changed so much, even in the last ten years. The way society works has changed and it can leave men feeling lost and thinking: What’s it all about? What’s it all for? That’s one of the reasons BAM festival is important, as it opens up conversation and gets people talking about things they wouldn’t necessarily talk about in their everyday lives.
Tell us about a male role model that has inspired you.
Lea Parkinson (founding member of Candoco Dance Company and V-Tol) introduced me to dance when I was a kid. I grew up in a house of females, with no real male role model in my life. When I started working with Lea, I remembered feeling surprised at how much he seemed to care about his dancers, and it made me feel protected. He was just a really genuine and kind person, and the way he was changed the way I thought about masculinity. It’s important to remember that not everyone growing up has a male figure in their family – sometimes they’re slightly to the side. Working with Lea made me think that maybe I could be a decent role model to young people one day. This is one of the reasons that the education work that Company Chameleon does is so important to me. I’ve experienced the difference a role model can make first-hand, growing up.
How can dance engage people at the festival in a way that other artforms can’t?
In dance you create a whole new world out of movement and this couldn’t be more so than in Of Man and Beast, which we’re performing at the festival. It’s fast and there’s lots in it – lots of emotions, contrasting characters and a whole range of different situations and scenarios. But dance, perhaps unlike other artforms, allows you to have the space to think and bring your own stories to what you’re seeing and experiencing. You can relate what you’re seeing back to yourself, so it can become very personal and make you think about your own life and experiences in different ways.
What do you hope Company Chameleon’s performance brings to the festival?
Entertainment, yes, some of the movement in the piece is absolutely amazing and it’s a real dynamic spectacle. It’s very physically demanding and the five male performers are excellent – it’s a chance to see some of the best male dancers in the UK today. That said, it’s deeper than that; the piece reveals the hidden aspects of the male psyche in a very exposing way. We, as performers, put all our emotions out there and we approach the performance very honestly – it’s like you’re naked, in a way. There’s a relative simplicity to the piece – it’s clear what’s happening and it’s accessible and easy to follow but also very moving. I really do hope that the audience get that, and that the piece makes them think about the relevance of the different emotions in the context of the main talking points of the festival.
Anthony and Company Chameleon perform Of Man and Beast as part of Being A Man festival on Sat 28 & Sun 29 Nov at 4pm, in The Clore Ballroom at Royal Festival Hall. It's free to watch. @chameleon_info | @MissenAnthony