A beautiful story of love between two male penguins is being brought to the stage in a moving and engaging show for children about the ever-changing meaning of family.
The award-winning international choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra is stepping away from his usual style of dance to capture this unique story that is very close to his heart. Based on the New York Times article, the production of Penguins directed by Paul Mc Eneaney, tells the story of two male penguins, Roy and Stilo in Central Park Zoo. When all the other penguins are coupling up to mate, they are left without a partner so join each other and start doing everything together. As the other penguins sit on their eggs to hatch, Roy and Stilo sit on a rock. When the zookeeper finds a discarded egg, he replaces the rock with the egg and Roy and Stilo hatch their own baby, creating a beautiful little family.
Carlos Pons Guerra is a Spanish choreographer from the Canary Islands. As a child, Carlos constantly watched his sister head for her weekly flamenco classes and questioned his parents on why he couldn’t go too. “Growing up I became really interested in gender expectation, and what people can and can’t do,” Carlos explained. This spurred him on to create his dance company DeNada Dance Theatre who create radical and gritty performances around gender. Such as his current piece, Toro, which is a bold gender fluid production based on the fairytale Beauty and the Beast.
Carlos was moved by the story and the message it projects about how all families are different. “When I was growing up as a kid and I think of the ages that it is going to play to, all I was ever told was that I was wrong so I grew up thinking that there was something wrong with me that I was trying to hide,” he said. “When you’re 3 or 4 years old you don’t know that you like boys but you know that you’re different or might behave differently, I knew that I wanted to wear my sister’s flamenco dress or that I wanted to play with dolls instead of cars, or go to the library instead of playing football. I was always told that it was wrong, my parents would tell me it was wrong, society would tell me that it’s wrong.”
Bullied at school, Carlos felt alone as there wasn’t anything out there telling him that it was okay to be gay. “The fact we can do that for children and tell them that whoever you are, it is okay, that is such an important message that I wish I had when I was growing up. I think it’s incredible that the Birmingham Rep are brave enough to do it because it is a very touchy subject,” he said. “Growing up I never had these stories, if there was a gay man in a TV show or film, they were extremely camp and over the top which didn’t help the situation at all.”
It’s a theatre production that is told through movement, so there is no dialogue, just physical action. “We don’t want them to be like happy feet or Mary Poppins penguins waddling with turned out feet and flapping around. We wanted to find something different, so more like humanised penguins” he said. “They are obviously human but we are finding a language that is a human with a hint of penguin. That is the hardest thing, finding the balance but still having the endearing quality of the penguin.”
Carlos pointed out the difference in movement penguins have when in the water and outside of it. “Out of the water they are very awkward, but in the water, they are super fast and incredibly graceful,” Carlos added. “So the movement is very quirky until they’re in the water and it’s much more traditional, fluid and poetic.”
Now he isn’t a stranger to this style of theatre, he expressed how he thinks he will experiment with it more. “I found out I was really detached from children’s theatre, but when they asked me to do it, it suddenly dawned on me how important it is to tell these stories to kids,” he said. “I think we have this prejudice that if you talk to children about homosexuality is inappropriate, but it isn’t because it is so important.”
Penguins is on at the Birmingham Rep from the 1st to the 10th of February, tickets and information can be found here.