REVIEW: Cock-Pit – Why Men Should watch men dance

Dance Review: Cock-Pit
Why men should watch men dance

special contribution by Devon Cooke

Wen-Wei Dance
Scotiabank Dance Centre (677 Davie Street, Vancouver)
Feb. 24-28, 2009

I spent a fine Friday evening last week watching Cock-Pit, a suitably
suggestive and ambiguous title for Wen Wei Wang's equally suggestive
dance piece. It featured a woman and four scantily clad men, one of
whom was pointed out to me as “Scottie-too-Hottie” (my female companion
agreed). The show was highly enjoyable, funny at times, and poignant at
others. It was also highly sexual – a fact attested by the palpable
female enjoyment in the audience. As a man, I certainly enjoyed
listening to that audience, but I also enjoyed the performance.

Now, when a man admits to enjoying watching dance, and especially when
that dance involves highly muscled men strutting around in little more
than tight-fitting boxer shorts, there's one very natural question that
arises: Is he gay? Perhaps it's not so much a question as an
assumption, but, as a straight male, I'm here to tell you that while
that assumption may often hold true, straight men don't know what
they're missing when it comes to dance.

I must admit to being a little apprehensive going into the show about
how I would handle the “eww” factor (as in “eww, naked men!”), but my
worries were unfounded. The show was engaging, enlightening, and I
didn't feel like my sexuality was compromised. Why? Because I felt
myself empathizing with the men on stage rather than objectifying them.
Cock-pit is (among other things) an exploration of gender and,
especially, being male. As gender exploration goes, it's pretty
straightforward: The men are manly, the woman is womanly, and there's
barely the slightest hint that there might be any other way of
arranging things. While this might be a less than complete sketch of
gender, it does speak to the fairly rigid gender roles that most people
fall into, and it made me look at men (and myself) in a new light.

Watching Cock-pit was like watching a hockey game or playing poker
while consuming cold pizza and beer. It reminded me what it means to be
a man, but, unlike hockey or poker, it also gave me a sense of how
ridiculous we look to the other 51% of the population. I'm sure the
women in the audience had a different perspective.

I've never thought of feathers as being particularly male, but when
they're six feet long and stuck down the front of your pants, they're a
fairly obvious symbol. Cock-pit used this symbol to good effect, and
much of the comedy in the show came from painting a portrait of man's
endless obsession with his penis. With the help of the feathers, the
men in the show sword fight and show off, bargain and compete, and,
most of all, fight with each other for the attention of the lone female
dancer in the cast.

This oasis of femininity provided a sharp point of contrast to the
testosterone-laced energy in the rest of the dancers. Her presence
helped remind the audience that maleness exists in opposition to the
female – and provided a welcome place to rest my male-weary eyes. With
my heightened awareness of my masculinity, I found my eyes drawn
strongly to her whenever she was on stage, and her dancing made me
equally aware of the difference between our two genders.

There is much more to Cock-pit than simple gender differences. Many
sections were suggestive of birds (cocks of course) or insects, and one
particularly memorable scene had the four men negotiating a sale of
some sort using creative body language and a distinctly
Mandarin-sounding gibberish.  But, even these neutral scenes were cast
in the context of masculinity thanks to their relationship with the
rest of the choreography.

At
times Wen Wei's Chinese heritage showed through, and it was interesting
watching his five non-Chinese dancers absorb this and transform it in a
very Vancouver way.  The most obvious example was the Mandarin
gibberish I've already mentioned, but the use of feathers throughout
the piece had a very Chinese theatricality to it.  The feathers served
as swords, wings, antennae, and helped emphasize and exaggerate the
movement of whatever body part they happened to be attached to.

Cock-pit was a wonderfully creative and entertaining show, and, while
I've picked it apart for analysis here, its strengths lie in the talent
and energy of its dancers and choreographer, not the significance of
its theme. The dance is an exploration, not a theory, and it's worth
seeing for the feelings it evokes. For me, it evoked the thoughts about
maleness that you have just read, but my version is hardly the
definitive one. For that, you'll have to go see it for yourself…

Cock-pit played at the Scotiabank Dance Centre from February 24th to
28th. It featured David Raymond, Josh Martin, Scott Augustine, and
Edmond Kilpatrick, as well as lone female Alison Denham, and was
Choreographed by Wen Wei Wang.

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