“Switch Grindr off before the night begins…”
For all the rainbow flags painted on cheeks at Pride and declarations of being an ally, I don’t straight people can ever really appreciate the extraordinary rush of feeling that comes from going to your first gay club. The excitement, the fear, the sexiness, the strangeness, the sense of community that feels right at your fingertips, the sense of potential isolation equally, precariously close – it can be a most eye-opening, exhilarating experience. It can also be more ambivalent than that.
And it is the complexity of this sensory overload that Alistair Wilkinson captures evocatively in his dance-led devised piece Man-Cub. Trailed as a queer adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, it feels looser than that but Alex Britt’s first-time gay club-goer is our Mowgli and the club is his jungle. And if we don’t get a Baloo (no bears in this gay club!) or a Kaa (joke about being hung like a python redacted), what we do get it a sense of the tribal fervour of the dancefloor.
The sheer joy from dancing with complete abandon, the worlds of possibility that come from the relative anonymity, the sensuality you find in connecting with like-minded souls, even if only for the running time of ‘I Feel Love’. That sexuality is permeated through every horned-up, hip-thrusting minute of Man-Cub, from dancefloor hook-ups to something substantially darker and though sex is not the be all and end all of gay clubbing, it is inextricably linked up to the process of self-discovery and this piece is perfectly attuned to that.
The segments that move away from the choreography don’t always feel as strong though: the use of spoken word doesn’t find the profundity for which it reaches; a slowed-down ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ veers a little close to John Lewis advert territory. More compelling are those darker reaches of the jungle, the dance moves that look like drug seizures, the sexual attraction that turns predatory… And there’s no denying the thumping thrill of those most memorable of nights out, the first times that accompany them as well as the dangers, and Man-Cub captures much of that uniquely charged excitement.