It’s repetition, deviation, but no hesitation for uncompromising choreographer LLOYD NEWSON . Dennis O’Toole talks about faith, fish and feminism with DV8’s main man.
f it’s pretty pictures and pat answers
you want, forget DV8 Physical
Theatre. Choreographer Lloyd
Newson’s London-based company is
returning to Scotland, after a two-year
absence, with Strange Fish , a new work that promises to be as arresting as Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men (1988) and 1990’s If Only . . .
‘Nothing in this show is as black and white as it used to be in some of our past works, it’s deeper, with more layers and richer images. It’s also more playful.’
Playful? Despite the pun in the company’s name, DV8 is not an entity you associate with light-heartedness. The unforgettable Dead Dreams, for instance, was inspired by serial killer Dennis Nielsen, while earlier efforts like My Sex, Our Dance and My Body, Your Body dodged between brutality and tenderness to examine the ways in which people love and hurt each other.
DV8 have been particularly real and raw students in what you might dub the choreographic school of hard knocks. Power
A physical, emotional and psychological Intensity that has placed the company at the forefront of a Euro-American modern-dance trend.
games, sexual politics, abuse of trust . . . these are the subjects they trade in, with a physical, emotional and psychological intensity that has placed the company at the forefront of a Euro-American modern-dance trend.
Newson reductively and rather disparagingly pegs this trend as ‘throw yourself around,.be very serious and do lots of unison and repetitive movement.’ Aesthetically, such work can be enervating for audiences and a dead end for artists. At its best, however, it casts a harsh new light on human communication and delves into territories of experience which safer, more conventional forms of dance expression overlook.
This is what DV8 has achieved but, as Newson admits, ‘You can only ride on anger for so long before you wonder, “Do we stop making pieces because it’s no longer fun?” Every time we do something we question it,‘ he continues, ‘and all of a sudden we find ourselves not making nice movement any more.’
DV8 is composed of a shifting pool of dancers who develop each piece through improvisation and experimentation. Newson guides them as they search out their own ways of working and moving. ‘With us, there is no right or wrong.’ he says. ‘Dancers spend most of their lives viewing themselves. If they can let go of their objective, outside eye, they’ll maybe find something that really comes from their core.’
The source of the company’s creative power is less the performers’ obvious technical proficiency than their ability and willingness to draw deep from the well of their own lives. ‘The desire to have people change, or at least examine their attitudes, is inherent in what we do,’ Newson elaborates.
‘If we don’t start trying to change or at least look at ourselves, we can’t expect it of anybody else. ‘We’re constantly pushing— finding out much more about ourselves than we intended. I see that as healthy, though we have to keep tapering our performances so we don’t lose control and go over the edge.’
Strange Fish Newson says, is about a woman (Wendy Houston) who reaches a crisis of faith through her desperate, even alienating attempts to connect with others. Houston is supported by six other dancers (including DV8 stalwart Nigel Charnock) and a singer, Melanie Pappenheim, who functions as both Christ-figure and siren. This sounds like the basis of primal DV8 material, shaped and fuelled by Newson’s keen interest in the human psyche. (He earned a postgraduate degree in psychology in his native Australia before he ever set foot on stage professionally.)
Newson revels in the battery of questions posed by the show. ‘Why do we need friends?’ he asks rhetorically. ‘Does our need for love and intimacy save or enslave us? What is the link between death and desire? Is it better to have some sense of faith than none at all - even if that faith might be ill-founded? And faith in what — someone else? The Self?’
The attraction and challenge of DV8’s work is how direct and strong it is and yet how open to interpretation. Newson appreciates this, although particularly as a gay man he may bridle at hard-line feminists who have criticised some of the work as being sexist. ‘Everybody in my pieces were victims. We have all been victims. We’re using the work to explore issues which caused us unhappiness, brought about by our own abilities - as gay men, women - to play underdogs and accept that.’
One ofthe current cast members is in her sixties, but the average age is 35. ‘Honestly, we’re so young,’ Newson says. ‘I’m much more interested in what we’ll be like when we’re in our late forties. I find it quite odd to see performances by people who are eighteen, just out of school and trying to tell me what it’s all about. Yet sometimes I think we’re a little presumptuous ourselves, espousing a life theory or philosophic concern through the work. Unfortunately, I can’t help it,’ he adds, laughing, ‘so I just have to keep doing it.’
DV8 is at Tramway, Glasgow, on 9 and 10 June, at 8pm.
10The ListS— 18June 1992