Dancer and choreographer Shaun Parker, hailing from Mildura, Victoria, has had a near two-decade career as a dancer with prominent Australian contemporary companies such as Meryl Tankard’s Australian Dance Theatre, Force Majeure, Chunky Move and Sydney Dance Company. Now his company, Shaun Parker & Company, performs to sold-out theatres internationally. His newest work is “King,” an all-male exploration of patriarchal power, and socio-sexual and political structures. The world premiere took place in Sydney as part of the 2019 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival.
As the audience enters the Seymour Centre’s Everest Theatre, an entrancing figure sits on the edge of the stage. Dressed a maroon velvet blazer and black shorts, his face is beautifully androgynous. He plays a small piano accompanied by cabaret-esque vocals. The figure is Ivo Dimchev, renowned Bulgarian songwriter and vocalist and musical collaborator for “King.” He will remain on stage for the entire performance, having not only written the entire score, but performing the vocals live for the entire 90-minute performance. The program gives little away, but the stage is framed by a jungle of palm fronds and lush green plants.
As Dimchev’s sings, ten male dancers wearing tuxedos enter the stage. The mood is light-hearted, theatrical. The dancers move predominantly as a unit, forming wonderful patterns wrought of clever choreography. Directed by Dimchev’s vocals, it is enchanting to watch—a mix of contemporary dance peppered with humorous interactions and occasional acrobatics, dancers disappear into the palm fronds, only to emerge elsewhere on the stage.
The tone of the dance slowly changes and the group takes on a more primitive, aggressive form. One dancer, Toby Derrick, departs and slowly undresses. It is intense and disarming all at once: the spectacle of the male figure just as it is. The other nine dancers now move together in contrast to the naked individual, and themes of toxic masculinity, brutality and pack mentality come to the fore. As the choreography intensifies, the nude dancer picks off the smallest dancer of the pack, taunting and playing with him, and then ultimately killing him. The pack retaliate, and the nude protagonist is engulfed, the choreography bold and brutal, until he is taken down. It is a powerful, intense few minutes to watch, the audience is completely silent. Only Dimchev’s haunting voice rings out across the theatre.
There are relatively few classical or contemporary dance performances that are set only for male dancers, Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” and BalletBoyz, the London-based all-male dance troupe are notable exceptions. Typically it is the female form that is showcased, while the male role is one of strength, support and bravura. Shaun Parker challenges these norms. “KING,” he writes, is a nod “to a society in revolt against an exhausted patriarchy.” In the current environment of changing patriarchal structures, “King” is a must see.