Blurring the lines between man and dog

Joshua Monten’s Doggy Style incorporates sign language alongside animalistic actions of scratching, wiggling and nuzzling.
Joshua Monten’s Doggy Style incorporates sign language alongside animalistic actions of scratching, wiggling and nuzzling. PHOTO: CHRISTIAN GLAUS

REVIEW / DANCE

DOGGY STYLE

Joshua Monten

M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

Esplanade Theatre Studio/ Wednesday

In American choreographer Joshua Monten's Doggy Style, a man and his dog become remarkably similar. 

The dancers are hybrid creatures that can both perform the upright and logical physicality of humans and the horizontal and spontaneous movement of dogs.

They stroke one another for comfort, inflate their chests to intimidate and cock their heads to the side in uncertainty or interest.

Alongside animalistic actions of scratching, wiggling and nuzzling, the work incorporates sign language, making it accessible for non-hearing audiences.

The result is an intelligent, species-blurring production performed with an incredible mix of liberty and exactitude.

Monten structures the work around four monologues, each a seamless intersection of dog and person. These are humorous and baffling in equal measure.

For example, there is the story of a dog who prizes a good haircare regimen and an account of a man who is indiscriminately friendly to everyone he meets.

Beyond Doggy Style's fascinating subject matter, the way in which it is portrayed shines through.

The choreography erases the distinctions between sign language, gesture and dance in a gorgeous amalgam of movement.

As pure form, sign language is breathtaking to watch - fingers caress temples, brush against one another and make inscriptions in the air.

On its own, the language is not universally comprehensible. Only when it is performed with accompanying text is there meaning for a non-signing audience.

Herein lies the question of whether a language needs to be understood to be appreciated. Does it need to communicate anything other than its own mesmerising beauty?

The movement devised by Monten is perhaps a true iteration of poetry in motion, and it unites man and animal, the deaf and hearing, and performer and audience.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2016, with the headline 'Blurring the lines between man and dog'. Print Edition | Subscribe