Zoologic, Thalia Field’s poetic and dramatic text (published in 2004), centers around an imperfect hero, Heini Hediger. Known as the “father of zoo biology” for his extensive behavioral studies of animals in the wild and in captivity, Hediger determined that the “flight distance” of each animal – that is, the distance at which another animal or human will trigger that animal to run or fly away – should match the size of an animal’s cage. Hediger’s scientific observations about how best to domesticate wild animals only get him so far with Tessela, a woman entrenched in her habits of living a life that does not “overlap” with others. Her name is a derivation of “tessellation”, the tiling of a plane in which repeated patterns fit together with no overlaps and no gaps, Tessela likes to keep her life ordered, controlled, and neatly arranged with no overlap between parts, or people. When even a wasp or a fly in her apartment is cause for alarm, how might she learn to live with another human? Hediger’s other theories, such as the “critical distance” (the distance at which the approach of another animal would trigger a defensive attack) become resonant metaphors for their attempts at the difficult task of sharing lives and living space.
Their intimate story is told against a global backdrop. From footage taken from zoo cams and drones from around the world, to match.com profile pictures from hundreds of users, the scope of the piece is expansive. In costumes inspired by fantastical Oaxacan animal carvings, the dancers portray a vast range of animals. R. Luke DuBois’ fierce soundscape brings these animals to life using the sounds of endangered species as collected over the last 100 years by the Cornell Lab of Ornothology. Drones of various shapes and sizes join the dancers onstage, in turns surveilling them, protecting them, and becoming fellow living creatures. The result is at once romantic and nightmarish, raising questions such as: what happens to animals and people as technologies of surveillance and communication expand into the wildest and most intimate corners of life? How can we learn to better respect the mysterious privacy of the animals, insects, and plant life that share our world?