With an all-male cast of dancers, Shaun Parker and Company’s KING eloquently explored control, fragile masculinity and the juxtaposition between emotional dissonance and harmony in relationships. The cast of experienced dancers effortlessly moved their bodies across the stage and weaved around each other in a mesmerising rhythm. The soulful opening piece by composer and narrator Ivo Dimchev set the tone for the performance, as the audience was swept into an oasis of vulnerability through his raw lyrical exploration of love and hurt.
Temporarily breaking away from this emotional rawness, however, the cast of 12 dancers anxiously as they entered the stage. Imitating puppets on strings, the dancers appeared to be subject to an unseen master’s every decision and emotion. This anticipatory phase soon evolved into comedy as the ridiculousness of their rigidly rhythmic movements received rapturous laughter from the audience. The dancers curled underneath and over one another in response to a bizarre glance or movement. Dimchev’s introduction of lighter music aptly suited the tone of a confused and chaotic jungle, which was gradually revealed to be the setting for the men’s expressions of anxiety and desire.
Always echoing or responding to each other’s movements, the men’s bodies were physically intertwined and together composed a powerful challenge to traditional masculine ideals. The performance’s constant dichotomy of yielding and receiving reflected male anxiety to perform yet reject heteronormative practices of emotional disconnection. The men would unravel their emotions through affectionate yielding, before quickly refusing to their desire to be vulnerable. This juxtaposition of dependence and autonomy was thoughtfully portrayed through the dancers’ physical support of each other.
The performance fastened its pace and cleverly signalled increasing anxiety, as the setting of a jungle became a hotbed of control and deceit. Allegiances were tested as fragile competition for dominance unleashed the men’s animalistic tendencies. Most powerful, however, was the way in which such competition was portrayed as unfortunately inevitable rather than desirable. There was a tiredness in the men’s expressions and movements, despite their displays of unrefuted physical strength. Explicit reference to this primal masculinity was the men’s barbaric encirclement of each other, as they became shirtless and savagely grunted and imitated animalistic movement. The humour of the scene developed from mocking hyper-masculine ideals that are supported by beliefs in primal male instincts.
The apex of this exploration of damaging hyper-masculinity was the leader’s barbaric slaughtering of one of his men. Dimchev’s repetitively sombre lyrics, ‘why do I love you sir?’ beautifully complimented the helpless weakness of human desire for belonging and love. Hurt was replaced with guilt, desperation with anger as the leader’s vulnerability was exposed. Weaving in and out of the jungle and layers of masculinity, love and control, the dancers’ strong and vulnerable movements, alongside Dimchev’s thoughtful composition, created a performance that beautifully portrayed anxiety and longing, often subsumed under normative masculinity and its focus on desire.