Men and Girls Dance created by Fevered Sleep is like a perfectly cooked soufflé. Astonishingly light and delicately fragranced. It's flawlessness is finite, the subtle favours and gossamer texture melt away as it touches your tongue. Exquisitely simple, but devilishly difficult to do well. 

© Mattew Andrews
© Mattew Andrews

Artistic directors Sam Butler and David Harradine bring together five professional male dancers and nine girls who dance for fun. Together they create 60 minutes of nimble and mischievous movement. A group of men and a group of girls* sit on opposite sides of the stage. They inch towards each other across the floor, as if an invisible thread of curiosity is pulling them into a mutual orbit.

The sections of dance build over the course of the performance interspersed by spoken word. The performers describe each other in intimate detail. Robert Clark puts his head against his companion's back "I can hear her heart beat" he says. "I can feel his chest vibrating" says a girl standing on the torso of one of the male performers. "I can see his beard has different colours" says the partner of Kip Johnson garnering a chortle from the audience.

The piece is full of humour. It bubbles up in the pockets of improvisation, exposing the vulnerability inherent in the performance and the strength of connection between the dancers.

There are lively exchanges of movement between the male performers and the girls. They touch with their hands, arms, heads and backs. The girls balance on the men's thighs, drop back expectantly into their arms, and fearlessly clamber over their bodies. It's joyous to watch and the girls are delighted as they are lifted high over their partners' heads: weightless, beaming and bursting with personality.

Men and Girls Dance is bucket loads of fun. It's also gentle and achingly poignant, risky and beautifully crafted. Like the best of theatre, it is thoroughly entertaining but it also grips your insides and elicits a response. This is gold dust.

© Mattew Andrews
© Mattew Andrews

It's hard to put your finger on what makes this piece so magical. Partly, what you see feels very genuine. There's no play acting or tokenism. The girls are never patronised; they initiate the interactions with the male performers and participate as equals. Much of the performance is improvised. In these moments, the personalities and encounters are at their most vibrant and colourful. Nick Lawson chases the girls under a patchwork of newspapers. Squeals of gleeful terror erupt unrehearsed and he gobbles up one of their gang. Under the papers, he lifts her up and swirls her round. We can hear her spluttering with laughing as she tumbles through the air.

There are three elements to Butler and Harradine's project - the performance, a print newspaper and a talking space. The newspaper roots the show in the communities and families that participated in its creation. The talking spaces allow audiences to discuss what they've seen and experienced.  

We live in a society that discourages touch between adults and children. Against this backdrop of profound mistrust, Men and Girls Dance invites a recalibration of these relationships. Butler describes it as an invitation for "people to think and talk about the ways in which men and girls can be together in more positive ways, and in more normal ways". In this respect, the show is immensely political. But there's no liberal grandstanding or overcooked ideologies, dumb-downed sound bites or provocation. Quite simply, it is men and girls making friends with one another. Big, hairy people giggling with pintsized people. It touches on what it means to be part of "tribe human", how we connect with each other and ultimately how we do this messy, wonderful thing called life together.

Believe the hype. Men and Girls Dance is exactly what the world needs right now.

*The female performers are not named or described in this review inline with the safeguarding policy of the project.