Two men, Anton van der Sluis and Jurriën Remkes, lie onstage, still as rocks. Just bodies. Two directional lights slowly shadow them, both creating a silhouette and highlighting their curves. The performers stand – every muscle flexing as they rise – and they journey to the front of the stage, oozing a pretentious confidence as they turn to face the audience. We see every detail of these sculptured men, from the crevices in their six-packs to the veins that line their muscular arms.
They pose like models, conveying the stereotypical, desired ideal of what a Calvin Klein-esque man should look like. Quickly transitioning into a series of movements including lifting, falling, jumping, rolling and dragging, they utilise each other’s bodies as one would use gym equipment. Trying not to waver in their capabilities or showing any form of exertion in their faces, they push through these repeated cycles of exercises. Their sweat flings across the stage as they do so, and they ignore the blood trickling from the torn skin as a result of throwing themselves from one sequence into the next. A shift in smell leaves the audience soaked in the performers’ stink – in fact, the entire theatre space becomes a sweaty area filled with the stench of hyperactive men.
I don’t know about the rest of the audience members, but I feel myself adopting a masculinity with which I was not at all familiar: I am a man, but not the archetypal man presented to me in this moment.
Macho Macho explores the essence of what it means to be masculine. Masculinity is quite a heavy subject, and it took precedence in several 2016 National Arts Festival productions like Ga(y)me(n)Play so as to highlight masculinity in a South African context.
Van der Sluis and Remkes navigate their way through two motifs within the showcase: hyper-masculinity and exhaustion. Although it tackles the construct of masculinity at a surface level, it’s a good beginner’s guide to showing how this dominant façade is quickly cracked when a series of draining physical routines wear down this active portrayal of machismo, thus birthing fragility.
Director Igor Vrebac alludes to being inspired by a variety of factors: the generational placement of “workout selfies” in a society dominated by social media, Turkish wrestling –where masculinity is still a hegemonic practice – and “bromance”, which explores the nuances of a level above friendship between men. But Macho Macho is not overtly homosexual in its presentation of these themes.
What I would like to have seen explored within this production is masculinity in relation to homo-eroticism, in relation to femininity, and in competition with various other forms of masculinity. Otherwise, Macho Macho is a brave attempt in presenting a conversation about what masculinity is, its influences and what breeds it in the 21st century – it bears the potential to bring questions surrounding masculinity to the forefront.
By Kyle Prinsloo