We should see more of Shaun Parker. Five years in the making, his outstanding new, all-male dance work was over within 90 mesmerising minutes. Parker reportedly got little development support and no major festival gig, but this premiere of King stands tall within the current Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras program.
His company is well travelled overseas and King next marches off to tour Austria and the Middle East – you wonder what testosterone-fuelled males there will make of its subtle messages on toxic masculinity.
The first magic of King is the Bulgarian-born, singer-songwriter Ivo Dimchev whose folksy operatic songs back the ten dancers. An androgynous figure, his beautiful voice reaches to counter tenor trills and soaring notes and, while the lyrics are mostly lost, it’s a stirring “narration” backed by brass, drums and cello. Reminiscent of Antony and the Johnsons, Dimchev is a solo voice of emotion as he wanders amongst the men.
Dressed in dinner suits, they move initially with the regimentation of chess pieces before segueing into clockwork acrobatics and tumbles, a team of very cool poseurs. But, still blank-faced, they create staggered patterns of great beauty, with outstretched kinetic arms and hands moving to Dimchev’s songs. The patterning is like peering into those cylindrical kaleidoscopes we had as kids.
There’s good humour too, as when they copycat each other, pogo jumping on the spot. Or when like a rugby scrum they tightly cluster around a standing dancer, creating a huge dress in revolve as they swirl and kick out legs. Parker naturally draws on the choreography of sport, of acrobatics and, in their bodies at least, we see their pleasure in synchronised movement, in teamwork. A simple line-up makes stunning waves of gestural movement using only their upper limbs.
King is built on a remarkable dance/music collaboration and a highly theatrical, inventive and expressive choreographic approach.
Sexuality – or any overt emotion or abandonment – is not an obvious feature. In one repeated action, a dancer cups the neck of another, who then slides down away into an sad and awkward crouch.Just when you want these automatons to reveal more, dance more expressively, they slip through (Penny Hunstead’s) dense jungle garden at the back and disappear.
They emerge from the foliage, shirtless with a new animalism in the air. Is this to be an adult version of Lord of the Flies? They dance, freer now, with curiousity around one of their number (Toby Derrick) now completely naked … and especially when he draws an acolyte (Joel Fenton) to his side. The partnership is ambiguous but the group, chest-thrusting and perplexed, shift from curiousity to thrusting provocations, and then gang violence.
Parker expertly renders this violence with impact but lifted artfully into a choreographic abstraction of hatred. Derrick tenderly tries to move life back into the ragdoll corpse of Fenton. And the end hits hard.
Shaun Parker’s dancers are well-chosen athletes of movement and yet are distinctive for their diverse shapes, looks and cultural backgrounds. Other than in their expertise, these blokes look “average”.
King is built on a remarkable dance/music collaboration with Ivo Dimchev and a highly theatrical, inventive and expressive choreographic approach to something worth saying. And experiencing.
Tim Jones at the Seymour Centre was alert to get behind it. While Mardi Gras has only a small festival program this year, it’s studded with a couple of class acts. King surely takes the crown.
The dancers also include Samuel Beazley, Imanuel Dado, Alex Warren, Harrison Hall, Damian Meredith, Libby Montilla, Josh Mu and Robert Tinning.
At the Seymour Centre Sydney until February 24. Photos by Daniel Boud