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Review by Sarah Burgess.
The unusual title of the piece, ambiguous though deliberate, perfectly reflects its nature as a performative exploration of the troubled-waters of masculinity; a nominally definitive concept, but one that does not easily translate into physical or mental reality. ‘Theseus Beefcake’ espouses images of a macho man-hero and minotaur trapped in perpetual struggle, navigating the constantly-shifting labyrinth of masculinity. However, as the performers articulate during the piece, the myth can also be used to explore man’s inner battle with himself. The monster can represent a mirror-image of man, an anthropomorphism of that animalistic, uncaged aggression we choose to suppress or unlock as a member of modern society.
The use of Theseus, a warrior-citizen, alongside ‘beefcake’, an American slang term for a ‘beefy’ muscular male, is particularly hard-hitting. This cross-over between Greek notions of idealised maleness and those of contemporary society, are vividly manifested in the piece itself. With props and costume alternating from generic frat-culture sports-vests, jeans and jockstraps, to near-nudity (adorned only by the headmask of a minotaur or Spartan-esque soldier), conventional masculinity – as a political concept – is given a sense of eternity and rigidity. Its trajectory – from the prehistoric to classical antiquity and then the modern age – is made visually clear, with frequent smokescreens often blurring the outline of the performers from an audience’s perspective. Shadow-outlines of male physical form can be discerned, but the protruding horns of the monster force the audience to question which seems less natural – a beast with human characteristics or vice versa?
As part of the curious? LGBTQ festival, this piece challenges the lingering persona of stereotypical ‘masculinity’ by undermining its definiteness, particularly through its exploration of homosexuality. It’s autobiographical element, making the piece sometimes uncomfortably personal, demonstrates how real individuals have dealt with their own sense of identity in accordance with the narrow views of masculinity heaved upon them by modern politics. Although shown at Dance City, Theseus Beefcake was much less a dance-performance than a merger of mixed martial arts, autobiographical narrative and audience-interaction, with the co-performers dancing, singing, fighting, and enacting real and hypothetical scenarios. Sometimes of a sexual nature, such ‘fantasies’ mainly involved times when their manhood was questioned and they regretted not taking stronger action, or fighting for the right to be themselves, whether that constituted a straight-male who enjoyed ‘feminine’ activities, or a homosexual man coming of age in a less-than-tolerant environment.
Through graphic anecdotes, the performers humanised the issue of masculinity and reeled it in from abstract peripheries. The recalling of experiences and audience participation showed how visions of masculinity can be corroborated by individuals across a society, while at the same time being highly idiosyncratic. Although it may have been interesting to see the ways in which masculinity interacted with femininity, a field of exploration and contention entirely absent from this piece, Theseus Beefcake proved a shocking dramatisation of how men have dealt with ‘masculinity’ throughout their lives in a highly moving, energetic way. I would definitely recommend!