Structured in three dance chapters, intercepted by a documentary style confessional monologue, Making Men is about (the crisis of) masculinity. Four black men from the Brussels-based company Dunia dance theater move in tune with the fluid life-like camera of Belgian director Antoine Panier.


The film starts with a personal account of a man’s reasons to choose dance as a career – “the least masculine activity I could find” – reasons related to a strong stereotypical father figure and a desire to escape from the repetition of patriarchal roles. We are once again reminded that the personal is political, and the choices and decisions we make support or subvert dominant discourses guiding our lives. The monologue comes in as an entry point to the theme of the film, as if the dance itself is not enough or unable to express complex ideas in a way words can. And indeed, it’s interesting how bodies and their movements remain much more open to interpretation and produce an ambiguity at the points where gender stereotypes break apart, while words come into play to bring back order, rationalize and normalize, to articulate positions.


Gender stereotypes force us to perform identity and uphold unrealistic standards (be strong, don’t cry, don’t show emotions, don’t look too gay). They ascribe meaning to words, actions, gestures, objects, and activities – and our relation to them is then constantly re-interpreted through the lens of gender. A liberal understanding of these stereotypes, on the other hand, supposes a transgression of the rules, a playful reversal of roles and identities, which is associated with queerness and liberation, but which, despite opening new possibilities, often also reaffirms the stereotypes by playing with them and performing them as valid and true. Even when performing the least masculine activity of dance, Making Men doesn’t really go into the transgression or queer politics, and in my opinion, doesn’t successfully deconstruct the stereotypes of masculinity. It stays with traditionally performed masculinity but tries to open space for new possibilities of expression within it.

A shot from Making Men by Antoine Panier

Shot outside Harare in Zimbabwe, three collective dances, performed by a group of handsome, athletic, bare-chested Black men, explore how masculinity is performed and what are the boundaries of the acceptable movements it can tolerate. The first part is a synchronized tribal community dance which structures bodies in a safe togetherness where direct relation or touch are excluded and unthinkable. Reminiscent of traditions, rituals and sportsmanship, the movements are performed in an outdoors field, but offer little possibility for freedom or real human interaction.


The second chapter is an emotionally charged duet in which touch is a function of fighting and wrestling. Repressed desire (for connection, not necessarily sexual) is made visible, and aggression becomes the only tolerable way through which it can be expressed within the normative performance of masculinity. The dance shows us how difficult it is still for two men to touch each other softly and how heavily loaded with meaning this simple physical gesture of care and connection is.


The image of a man wearing a horned animal’s skull as a mask on his face and carrying a lifeless naked black body evokes religious imagery related to devil, demon, sin, temptation, and sacrifice. In traditional understanding, punishment follows each transgression. Claiming the image as one’s own – accepting to be and act as the “devil” is an act of defiance as well as a demonstration that we’re demonizing normal healthy human behavior which then often results in deep emotional suffering and trauma.

A shot from Making Men by Antoine Panier 

In the culminating dance of the film touch becomes central to the way the four men move. The choreography is both tender and athletic but also uneasy. Despite the intention stated in the start, the piece doesn’t engage male bodies in any female movements – but instead challenges masculinity through physical proximity and tender touch which are often banned and seen as not manly enough. However, the men still look quite stifled in their newly found freedom, and I wonder what is it that actually moves these black bodies beyond the white male gaze? What remains hidden behind this Western aesthetic? What are we projecting on these bodies? What is it that they still cannot express? 


For centuries, black bodies have been interpreted as dangerous and aggressive, and up to present day structural racism is very far from being eradicated. Often, black bodies also become a source of unhealthy fascination, fetishization and exoticization. Four handsome, abled, athletic, and perfectly fit black male dancers open so many layers of meaning and political questions related to representation, postcolonial realities, decolonial aesthetics, blackness, privilege, and inequality. Above all, for me, they open the question in what other ways can black men move, aesthetically and politically?

This material was created within the project Translation on Air – a section dedicated to dance for the screen or screendance. Every month we invite the professional and amateur audience, tempted by this intriguing symbiosis between cinema and dance, to join our readings, conversations, and discussions with active practitioners and choreographers in this field from the country and abroad.

The project “Translation on Air” is implemented with the financial support of the National Fund “Culture” under the program “Audiences” 2020 and “One-Year Grant” 2021.

Yasen Vasilev works in the field of contemporary dance as a creator, dramatist and critic. He graduated in Dramaturgy from the Sofia Academy (2013) and has a Master’s in Intercultural Communication from the Shanghai Theatre Academy (2016). The practical research for his Master’s thesis on the politics of dance, NUTRICULA (2015-) has been developed and presented in the form of workshops and performances on an international level. IMPOSSIBLE ACTIONS, a collective performance for 10 participants, prototyped during a residency in Taipei in 2019, was produced by Radar Sofia in 2021 and won the annual Sofia City Council dance prize. It is currently on tour for the 2021-2022 season, performed by local artists in Bulgaria, Slovenia, Norway, Malta and Belgium. Yasen is the co-founder of Radar Sofia and Drama Pact, a regular collaborator of Springback Academy and dramatist of the choreographer Ehsan Hemat (Iran/Belgium).