Everest Theatre, Seymour Centre, 20 February
KING, the newest show from Shaun Parker & Company, made its debut in association with Sydney’s 2019 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival. It is a well thought out, and cleverly devised piece of dance theatre. The mind boggles at the depth of thought and intellectual process that underlies Shaun Parker’s complex choreography.
But you don’t need to notice every little detail in order to grasp the overall themes it explores. Essentially this is a work about men, and the psychology of the group dynamics between them. The heterosexual norm of the group is disturbed when one man shows affection towards another. This results in division, and ultimately punishment, which plays out with great pathos despite, or perhaps because of, the mimetic way violence is invoked.
All this makes KING sound a lot more serious than it is, however. The first half of the work is actually quite fun, with acrobatic stunts and entertaining physical humour that only gradually devolve into the darker themes of the second half. This is a work that keeps you guessing and trying to make sense of what you have just seen.
The cast of ten male dancers were all excellent, displaying great stamina, and performing with considerable synchronicity. Toby Derrick and Joel Fenton took more individualised roles as the transgressors who are ultimately punished by the rest of the group, but the whole cast should be congratulated for their performance.
The music is composed and was sung live by Bulgarian singer/songwriter Ivo Dimchev. In the beginning the musician perches – keyboard in hand – on the edge of the stage and starts singing before the curtain opens to reveal the all-male cast standing on stage. In their black-tie dinner suits, the dancers seem constrained and typecast by their identical costumes. Parker plays with height as a sign of status, ordering the cast from shortest to tallest on several occasions and introducing partnering work between the men based on their relative heights. In this way, a roughly assumed pecking order is established, and this carries through to the end of the work.
The set design is simple but effective. A jungle atmosphere of plants encircles the back of the stage and one lone chandelier hangs high above the dancers' heads. In the second half of the work, the dancers remove their shirts, becoming more primitive and simian in their movement and behaviour. The chandelier is lowered and the dancers move behind the plants, only to re-emerge from the implied jungle.
According to the program, Shaun Parker & Company is touring KING to Lebanon, Jordan and Austria in coming months, but I suspect this show will come back to Australia at some point. Because this is a dense and richly layered work that keeps you on the edge of your seat to the very end.
- GERALDINE HIGGINSON