The first independent dance company in Birmingham just for young males has been launched – by a Frenchman.
Johnny Autin is only 29 yet has already set up Man Made Youth, along with his own seven-strong professional company Autin Dance Theatre.
Both of them make their debuts at a show called Pathos at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre tomorrow.
The show is a triple bill, one third of which is called Taksim Square, about the Arab Spring uprisings and especially the protests in Turkey.
Man Made Youth will perform a curtain raiser of their piece #uploading, about the effect of social media and smart phones on our lives.
French-born, Birmingham-based Johnny says: “There’s a real need for an all-male youth company in Birmingham, and we are the first independent one, not associated with any establishment.
“We’re doing something never done before in Birmingham, and it’s really good.
“Thirty guys turned up for the auditions and we have 15 in the company, aged from 14 to 21.
“Some haven’t taken any proper dance classes, some have experience in breakdancing and parkour – raw skills but little training.
“We provide training and workshops as well as performance opportunities.
“Girls will go to dance classes anyway, but we wanted to provide an opportunity for guys who were interested in dance but didn’t have the confidence to join a group, especially if they were going to be the only guy there.
“I thought that if there were more of them, they would go for it.
“I believe there’s a movement style that only guys have. I love watching girls dance, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something special about seeing boys dance.
“I would have loved it if there had been something like it when I was a young man trying to make my way in the dance world.
“And I hope they will motivate young people in general to go to the theatre to see dance, if they see other youngsters taking part.”
Johnny grew up in Rochefort on the Atlantic coast of France. He didn’t take up dance until he was 16, when he went to classes teaching jazz, hip hop and contemporary dance.
He graduated in contemporary dance and ballet from the National French Conservatoire and continued his dance training while taking a degree in law, followed by a Masters in international criminal law at Bristol University.
He liked Britain so much that he never left.
“Well, I had a few internships at law firms in Paris, which only convinced me that dance was my future,” he confesses. “Law was a bit boring.
“I moved to England eight years ago for university and fell in love with the country and its arts scene. It was very different from France and offers more opportunities, I think.
“I lived in London for seven years, then I moved to Hereford to work with 2Faced Dance Company. When I left, I didn’t fancy going back to London.
“I wanted to find a city that felt smaller but still had lots of opportunities on an artistic level.
“Birmingham was my first choice and the best choice I’ve made.
“I live near the mac in Cannon Hill Park, where we run the workshops for Man Made Youth.
“I also work at DanceXchange at Birmingham Hippodrome, and I cycle everywhere.”
Armed with a grant of less than £15,000 from the Arts Council, Johnny set about starting his own dance company a year ago.
Man Made Youth only began last month, founded with Jerrel Jackson from the Jerrel Jackson Dance Company.
The youngsters have been practising their piece #uploading in outdoor spaces such as the Bullring, Brindleypace, Chamberlain Square and Cannon Hill Park.
Then they will perform it at the Crescent before the triple bill Pathos.
“Pathos shows the versatility of the company,” says Johnny. “Chimera is a romantic solo, inspired by the ancient Greek muses.
“Out of Touch is performed by six of us, exploring human touch and intimacy.
“At the centre of it is Taskim Square, which I devised after the violent clashes last year in Istanbul.
“I have a lot of friends who were involved in the demonstrations against the government, which isn’t a real democracy.
“The response from the riot police was terrible and really disproportionate. People were running from rubber bullets and gas.
“I was so affected by it that I had to devise a dance about it.
“It’s performed by 15 dancers. There’s a section called Sparks, which shows how the protests started. There’s the Politician’s Section, full of sharp expressive movements. And in a part called Oppression, a heavy weight is coming down from the ceiling.
“It’s a physical response to aggression.
“We keep it raw and real, it’s not a clean, pretty piece because that’s not what happened in the square. It’s quite intense and we want the audience to feel they’ve experienced something.”
* Pathos plays The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham tomorrow (Friday). For tickets, ring 0121 643 5858 or go to www.crescent-theatre.co.uk .