Interviewed by Andy Raine on Wednesday 1st April 2020.
Andrew, you’ve had some amazing opportunities in your creative life so far, dancing in Sir Matthew Bourne’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ and in Michael Heatley’s ‘Macho’, then working in Japan, and now travelling with a dance-production company based in Miami, Florida! Did you really recognise as you were growing up that at the same time you were actually dancing roles that explored what it means to grow into a man?
For me the bigger realisation comes when I reflect on my whole career so far, and I look at my journey over the past 5 years. It's not only the roles I've portrayed or explored but the entire creative process, during these projects, that I feel has shaped me into the man I am today and prepares me to be the man that I aspire to become in the future. It's a never ending journey, and I've come to embrace both; being on top of the mountain along with being in this temporary valley!
We’re interested in hearing where you're up to, but first can I explore with you some of the themes from ‘Lord of the Flies’ and ‘Macho’ which are kinda about male rites of passage, group pressure, and what makes a guy a grown up or not.
I really love the sound of this topic and I think it’s something that definitely needs to be discussed more. As a kid I was full of angst and never really knew where I fit in. Dancing and performing was the one thing I knew I was passionate about, and it could have been so easy for me to fall into some different path. I'm fortunate enough to have incredibly supportive parents who allowed me to explore, make my own mistakes, and find my path in life. 'Macho' will remain very close to my heart, as during that period of my life I had been living in London for almost a year, and between the ages of 18 to 21 I feel were very much my formative years. I say this in terms of building the foundation of my character; essentially re-finding myself. What I believed to be my rites of passage when I was a teenager are very different to how I feel now. According to my peers being a dancer OBVIOUSLY meant I was gay. As a young man, hearing this kind of stereotype over the best part of a decade, definitely got to me and had me questioning my own identity. But now, regardless of labels, I feel comfortable in who I am displaying both the masculine and feminine qualities I possess... People are entitled to assume whatever they please, and that's ok!
This is a rare chance to catch up with you. Last I’d heard, you were just preparing to take some shows not on the road, but on the seas? after months of rehearsal, were you looking forward to that? (and how have the quarantining issues affected that ?)
Yes I was incredibly excited! We brought 4 brand new shows onto the most luxurious cruise ship in the world, the ’Regent Seven Seas Splendor.’ Every single show has challenged me in its own unique way. One of them, ‘Diamond Run’ is my first professional role as a leading man! I had the privilege of working closely with some amazing Broadway creatives, and also choreographer Chase Benz (who has choreographed for Britney Spears, Rihanna, and The Chainsmokers, to name a few).
I'd love to have you tell us more about the 'Diamond Run' piece - what's it about?
So the plot of the show is described as this: - ‘Diamond Run’, featuring an international man of mystery who criss-crosses the globe in pursuit of a priceless blue diamond -- and the beautiful jewel thief who wants it for herself. - I would say ‘Diamond Run’ really puts the dancers in the spotlight: it’s such a unique piece that gives everyone their moment to shine. With inspiration from iconic films like James Bond and ‘Kill Bill’; I see this show as a spy thriller that really embraces that sense of nostalgia, whilst also staying so original and of itself as a live theatre production. I’ve never experienced a show like it.
What's your role? and how long is the piece? and how many performances did you get to do before they had to call a halt to immediate plans?
I play the role of Agent X, who is in pursuit of the diamond! In 45 minutes you’re taken on a journey through Monte Carlo, Japan, Paris... the action... the romance... the music... it ticks all the boxes!
I believe we only performed ‘Diamond Run’ around 5 times to a live audience, before Coronavirus came knocking!
Covid-19 put a stop to our ongoing itinerary , and at first the company just announced that all operations were being stopped from the middle of March until April 10th. We were planning on staying in San Diego for this time, but since then, as we're all aware, the pandemic has just grown by the day. In the interest of keeping everyone safe and healthy we have all been sent home. Like all industries, right now we're just taking each day as it comes.
You always seem to be still doing dancing, singing, modelling, film or acting in whatever combination!?
I always try and keep the momentum going. I've been consistently working in various combinations of those mediums for over 2 years now... so really this quarantine has come at a nice time to give me a little holiday!
And a good time for us to catch up with some of the amazing opportunities you've already had previously - in particular you've worked with 2 of the most exciting directors and choreographers, as far as we're concerned. Matthew Bourne took the world by storm with his re-imagined ‘Swan Lake’ . Just before you were born I remember going to see that in Edinburgh in '96. He's explored all kinds of ballet themes since and roles for men with humour and originality. Then he turned his attention to the ‘Lord of the Flies’ story and you were selected to be one of the boys in that story. How exciting was that? a lot of shipwrecked boys thrown together learning to survive and not kill each other - a very challenging theme...
When I found out I'd been cast in Lord of the Flies I was beside myself!! I was 17 at the time and I just couldn't believe the opportunity that was in front of me, a truly an unforgettable experience. Performing with the principal dancers of Matthew Bourne's company ‘New Adventures’ was beyond inspiring, and I will cherish that memory for ever. And a very challenging theme indeed, something that I believe holds a mirror up to society and teaches us how easy it can be to lose sense of the bigger picture. Equanimity is something I feel we can all learn from’ Lord of the Flies’. Furthermore, to see such a versatile and diverse group of boys and young men in this show proves there is not one particular mould for what it means to be a man.
And then ’MACHO’:'A physical theatre journey into 21st Century masculinity and the stigma surrounding men's vulnerabilities and emotional well being.' - what amazing work that was! The revival has been going into schools, as well, addressing boys’ expectations about masculinity, toughness, and the unravelling of hidden messages preventing us from being real and vulnerable...
The word ‘Macho’ is a word that is primarily associated with male masculinity. This dance-theatre work explored the stigma attached to men's mental health and what it means to be "a Man". But regardless of gender or race or age, I’d say that dealing with your emotions, thoughts, feeling like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, can seem like one of the hardest things in the world. Even when you see other people who appear to be ‘living their best life’ their Instagram posts may not be showing the full story. The person you least expect could be fighting through a million things every day just to get by. Whoever you are, you are not alone. You’ve got to be kind, spread some love, and TALK... talk about your feelings, good and bad, it helps. Oh yes, I’m really excited that this project, ‘Macho’ will be continuing its journey - it’s so important.
How was being part of that first production of it for you as a dancer?
How was it for me? Emotional. I think the state of vulnerability is something we all have
struggled with at one point or another, whether it's the feeling itself or simply not wanting to allow ourselves to become vulnerable with others. The process we went through during ‘Macho’ was so enlightening. There was 4 of us, completely different men from 4 completely different backgrounds, and we came together and formed such a tight unit. We used each other’s strengths and weaknesses to elevate the piece and make it as authentic as possible.
And for you as a young man?
I really discovered a lot about myself during that project and learnt how to embrace my
emotions, how to lean into them rather than shut them out.
Has it impacted on you in any ongoing way?
I was lucky enough to be able to explore all these significant things by using my art form with some really great guys in such a safe environment, and I saw myself grow so much because of it. Being a part of that experience was so eye opening. There is a lot of strength to be found in vulnerability.
Even the short film that I saw on-line with you in it was dealing with violence in a fight-club sort of way....
As I continue to learn and grow through life I've become conscious of protecting my own energy by staying true to who I am. Not being afraid of how others perceive you in turn has a positive effect on those who you surround yourself with.
And if you wanted to go there, the other question to throw at you might be around objectification, taking the opportunities that your physique and looks open up for you, then turning it on its head by not taking that too seriously...?
Well in terms of being objectified... I am more than happy to be paid for the way I look! I work hard on on my physique and I find joy in taking care of myself. I view working out and going to the gym as my meditation; it's my escape.
There’s the opportunity of being the strong man who also sets an example by being unashamed. You said, ‘There’s a lot of strength to be found in vulnerability’
It's so common, especially in the creative or performance industry, for us to constantly feel we're having to prove ourselves, rather than just sharing ourselves with the room, an audience, colleagues or friends. I try to be conscious of the kind of energy I’m putting out into the world (especially when I’m tired or hungry!). As I navigate my way through life I try to keep some words spoken by my friend Eugene Walter Coates in the back of my head: "Nothing to prove, everything to share." The difference is subtle, but could really change your experience of how you put out into the world what you do.