Animal Magic
Posted on 28 Nov 2019

Steve Ball this month talks about how two penguins inspired a heart-warming story of love and acceptance...


Of all the claims and counter-claims in the general election campaign, none were more unexpected than the one made by Dawn Butler - the shadow secretary for women & equalities - that 90% of giraffes are gay. 

Her statement was refuted by Stuart Lachlan, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s advisers, who responded angrily on Twitter over what he felt the claim also meant about gay people. “It is a ludicrous, offensive, homophobic claim,” Lachlan said, insisting instead that the same-sex physical contact observed between giraffes in the wild is “not gay behaviour” at all, but a display of dominance.


Either way, it's not just giraffes that demonstrate same-sex attraction. 

Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins in New York City's Central Park Zoo, were noted by staff to be performing mating rituals. In 1999, one of them attempted to hatch a rock as if it were an egg, which inspired zoo keepers to give them an abandoned egg. This resulted in Roy and Silo raising a chick named Tango.


The story captured the imagination of millions when it was reported in the New York Times and has since been made into a children's book - And Tango Makes Three. The book generated widespread concern in the United States, where, after pressure from the Christian Right, it became one of the most banned books in the country. 

Here in the Midlands, And Tango Makes Three has sparked controversy due to being one of the books at the centre of the No Outsiders protests. The protests are being led by a minority of socially conservative parents who are opposed to the inclusion in primary school classrooms of books which feature same-sex parents.


Never one to miss an opportunity to introduce children, young people and families to a heart-warming story of love and acceptance, I produced - as part of my day job at the Birmingham Rep - a piece of dance theatre inspired by the story of those Central Park Penguins. 

The show, entitled Penguins, was created by award-winning children’s theatre director Paul Bosco McEneaney, working alongside international choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra, and won praise from primary schools and parents of young children when it premiered last year. 


It’s an uplifting and very visual piece of theatre, and there’s a chance to catch it again when it returns to The Rep from 4 to 14 December. It then heads off on a major tour of the US in 2020. 

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