Dance review: Animalier explores parallels between humans and our feathered, scaly, furry planet mates



Megan Mazarick (USA)

National Museum of Singapore Gallery Theatre/Friday

Part of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

Megan Mazarick's Animalier showed us that in humans, there is a beast; in animals, there can be humanity.

The line between us and them was blurred and broken in this 40-minute performance, which made its Asian premiere at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival.

The American dancer-choreographer, together with three other dancers, stitched together vignettes that shed light on the parallels and contrasts between humans and the rest of our feathered, scaly, furry planet mates.

It was often funny, sometimes frightening, but always honest.

"Hakuna matata doesn't make sense to the gazelle running from the lion," boomed an affable recorded voice. Hakuna Matata, the song from The Lion King movie and musical, is Swahili for "no worries".

Animalier began with a projected video of natural landscapes - a running river, a lush forest, rust-red desert dunes.

Suddenly, a series of odd hybrids broke the serenity. Animals with human heads entered the frame, growling, chewing or yawning.

The non-sequitur drew chuckles from the audience, and perhaps was also telling of how we perceive ourselves as so very different from the rest of the planet.

But that distinction quickly disappeared.

Dancers took on the form of elegant, quick-stepping gazelles, sinewy reptiles and streamlined fish.

Conversely, movements that were recognisably human, such as the thrusts and pops of hip-hop, devolved into the mindless humping of dogs.

Then, the unquestioning obsequience of our canine companions morphed into the military discipline of obeying commands - about face, salute, turn.

I particularly enjoyed Mazarick's cheekily self-aware streak that ran through the performance.

Even dance - what we were all watching on stage - was not spared.

"Millions of years of evolution have led to this dance," a dancer pointed out.

After all, animals dance to attract a mate, he continued, and the same things that are attractive to animals - fluidity and smoothness - are attractive to us.

Animalier did not shy away from asking the tantalising question: If we are no different from them, what makes us better?

We are not apex predators; we lack the evolutionary advantages of the shark, or the hunting instinct of the cheetah.

Even chimpanzees are stronger than us, and they apparently have better sex.

If we are lacking then in so many areas, what sets us apart?

Mazarick was reticent on that question, although she took clear delight in posing it.

What she did do, though, was to end the show on a conciliatory note.  

Again, the natural landscapes from the start of the performance were projected on screen - the river, the forest, the desert.

But instead of emptiness, the landscapes were populated with the joyous, dancing silhouettes of dancers.

This time, they were moving not as animals but as themselves, demonstrating that perhaps, we belong to this place just as much as everyone else.