Review: Androgén

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Tibor Trulik and Jakub Jeno in “Androge”, Photo credit: Divadlo Studio Tanca

Androgén is a 50-minute duet and the second full-length piece choreographed by Tibor Trulik. It is performed by Tibor Trulik and Jakub Jeňo. As the name suggests the work makes reference to themes of masculinity, manhood, manliness, strength and virility. The name of the piece refers to the steroid hormone that is responsible for triggering the development and maintenance of physiological male characteristics. The compound nonetheless is present in both males and females. It is derived from the Greek word for man: Andros.

The movement vocabulary throughout the performance perfectly describes these themes. Masculinity and what it represents is arguably much better expressed in the movement of male bodies than in words. The opening of the piece was loaded with tension. Enveloped by silence and semi-darkness Jakub Jeňo explored, interrogated, sniffed and licked a long, narrow wooden staff, like the ones used in the martial art of Bojutsu. This visual experience was strange and almost uncomfortable. The wooden staff at times seemed to be Jeňo’s lover, while later it brought to mind the image of a phallus.

Having brought along two friends who had never seen contemporary dance before, I wondered what they must have been thinking and I could hardly contain myself from bursting out in laughter; the type of nervous laughter one has when feeling uncomfortable. The tense silence was finally pierced with upbeat music, just in time to save me from making embarrassing sounds. Jeňo exploded into dance like a ball loaded with potential energy that had been waiting to be released. Then came the turn for Trulik to engage with silence and with the wooden staff, he was gentler in his approach, caressing the staff, at times kissing it softly as if it was a beloved woman.

At some point during the performance Jeňo took off his t-shirt, he lay curled-in on his side with his back facing the audience and started slowly crawling on his side across the stage. All of his back muscles clearly delineated, twitched in convulsion as he slowly moved. With his head tucked-in between his arms, only his back was visible. The bare piece of flesh reminded me of a skinned, headless piece of chicken meat moving slowly in convulsion. The image was haunting and memorable at once.

Another highlight of the performance was when the men used the wooden staffs to swing them with full force a few inches away from each other’s faces. At this point the performance became genuinely scary and exciting. The unconditional commitment and energy of both dancers throughout the performance became amplified at moments in which it seemed that one wrong move could seriously injure either of them.

Although the men swung the wooden staffs in front to each other dangerously, I had the impression that the main struggle happening throughout the performance was a very personal one. It was the struggle of each one of the two men trying to define and understand manhood in terms of their own individuality and their self-identity.

The main theme of masculinity seems to allude also to the notion of primitive men, of rudimentary and primal instincts. This image was, once more, suggested to me by the wooden staffs that, more than mere gadgets seemed to play a third character along with the two performers. In other parts of the performance the staffs were used to build and destroy imaginary ideas and desires. They were thrown across the stage as if the dancers were playing “hot potato”. The dancers attempted to leave the staffs standing vertically, only to have them collapse after a few seconds. Sections of the choreography involved dancing with them. The staffs were subsequently smashed against the back wall of the stage. Did the wooden staffs represent men’s ego?

I have still not made up my mind on whether I think the performance fell into perpetuating stereotypes or not. The notion of masculinity is a very broad one. Arguably it can encompass anything since it is a very personal concept, one that is understood by each individual differently. The performance definitely highlighted aspects of elements generally associated with masculinity, but as I already mentioned androgen is a hormone also present in the female body. Strength, energy, vitality, force and even aggression are constant themes throughout the performance but so is vulnerability.

Towards the end of the performance both dancers stood facing us with their legs spread-out in a wide, parallel second position; they created an M-shape with their bodies. “M” of course stands for “men” or “muži” in Slovak. In this position the men convulse and tense their muscles like body builders.

In terms of the dance vocabulary and scenic energy this is one of the most satisfying performances I’ve witness in a long time. The dance is explosive, raw, and genuine. The physicality of the dancers is exciting and captivating. At times during the performance I had to pinch myself to make sure my adrenaline levels kept up with the performance. The absolute commitment of the dancers to their work is contagious. The music by Matej Štresko is outstanding and an integral part of the performance. The underlying beat of the music, like the heart, empowers the dancers throughout the performance. Overall, this is a performance I will cherish and remember for a long time to come. If you are looking for an intense dose of adrenaline (a different type of hormone), make sure to check out Androgén!

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