FEATURE DV8 PHYSICAL THEATRE
The explosive power of DV8 Physical Theatre has been rocking the dance boat for the last ten years, now they’re back with a new show about that most British of institutions — The Lad. Ellie Carr downs a few pints with artistic director Lloyd Newson and wonders if there’s more to girls, goals and going for it (my son) than meets the eye.
n the late 80s. when the Thatcher
government’s censorial Clause 28 was
spreading a veil of fear across Britain’s gay
community. Lloyd Newson was making
dance about it. Tough. hyper-physical.
bruise-gathering dances that echoed the politics of their time and place in a way that dance rarely does. Now. almost ten years after Newson and his company DV8 Physical Theatre ﬁrst crashed head-first onto the British stage. their dance style has mellowed considerably. ‘After Dead Dreams we all decided we’d had enough of chucking ourselves around.’ Newson comments. but after all this time (and ten years is a long time in the dance world) Newson’s DV8 are still up there. and still squaring up to real-life topics that other dance companies wouldn’t touch with a pointe-shoe.
Enter Achilles. the company’s latest piece. is about blokes. Set in your typical ‘man’s pub‘ environment with the football blaring on the telly and pints lining up on the bar. it stars eight suit-wearing wideboys who get pissed. slag each other. occasionally resort to violence. and never — with a capital N — talk about how they feel. Look as hard as you like — there isn’t a new man in sight. As far as Newson is concerned. the so- called 905 new man is still a faraway glint in a Cosmo editor’s eye. ‘Women have progressed.’ he concedes. ‘but I don’t think men have.’
It’s taken Newson eighteen months of soul- searching and researching to arrive at this conclusion. but like all great ideas Achilles Heel was sparked by an accident. ‘The reason this piece has come about is because I snapped my achilles.’ he says. sitting in the tiny bar/lounge ofhis Newcastle hotel on the morning of his UK premiere. Laid up in hospital with his torn tendon. Newson began to notice that out of all his friends. the only ones who bothered to visit him were the women. ‘I realised that all my relationships with men were about doing things. and all my relationships with women were about
14 The List 6- l9 Oct 1995
DV8 Physical Theatre: exploding the myth of 905 new man with tough, ironic dance-theatre
being together. Take away the doing aspect of
tnale friendships and what is there? When I asked many male friends of mine who they would turn to in an emotional crisis virtually all of them said women. When I asked the women who they’d turn to in an emotional crisis they all said women too.’
This wasn’t the first time Newson had thought about gender. From the aforementioned Clause 28 to the upfront treatment of homosexual ‘cottaging’ in public toilets in his previous work MSM. sexual politics has long been his thang. However. this was the first time he’d thought so long and hard about ‘maleness’ and what it means to be a man. regardless of whether you’re gay or straight. ‘What is it about men. where we‘re able to do things together but we’re not able to support each other'?’ he says. ‘And can we‘.’ ls the argument that men are hunters and therefore aggressive and detached. or is that too simple a notion'?’
These are the questions that Newson spent a year and a half asking himself. his friends and eventually his all-male cast. The more he looked.
.the more he saw. ‘We've accepted that men have
Eight suit-wearing wideboys who get pissed, slag each other, occasionally resort to violence, and never - with a capital N - talk about how they feel.
traditionally oppressed women. but have men actually oppressed one another in themselves?’ he says in a quotable soundbite that’s fast becoming a media catchphrase for Achilles Heel. ‘1 would say yes.’ he adds. ‘You can see it if you walk down the street. Just in simple things like dress-code. Yes. you can wear earrings in your ears now. and we‘ve finally progressed to one on each side. but they have to be of a certain size. It’s very regimented. what is acceptable. You try a variation on that and you’re wide open to ridicule. even violence.’
Then. of course. there’s the fact that real men drink pints. ‘Even the simplest things matter like a bloke ordering a half-pint.’ says Newson. ‘You say to somebody if it’s a round. “Can I have a half-pint.‘ and they come back with a full pint. You say “I asked for a half." and they say. “I’m not ordering a half-pint." Why'.’ What is such a big issue'?’
Dress-code and pressure to drink pints. Newson believes. are all part ofthe way men ‘police’ each
other’s behaviour to maintain the tnacho status quo. and attention to details like that is what really makes Achilles Heel so powerful. Drawing on their own experiences as. er. blokes. supplemented by top-up research round sotne of London and Liverpool’s seedier pubs and strip- joints. the six dancers have polished their blokey mannerisms to create a barful of characters all of us will recognise. Under Newson’s brilliant director’s eye. dance steps have been wound seamlessly into a swagger across the room with pint and fag. matey pats on the back. muck- about-ftghts with pals. and groins that thrust and swivel when the juke-box plays their favourite tunes.
The only ‘woman' in [inter Achilles is a rubber doll that one of the lads keeps stashed in his bedroom. The only one of the lads who’s different from the pack is the pretty one who wears bright orange shirts. walks funny and likes dancing to the Bee Gees. As the night goes on and the pints tlow faster. the rubber doll gets hauled out of the closet. made fun of. then brutally molested; the pretty-boy is intimidated. then turns into Superman and ilys round the room in blue polyester tights. and the guys ﬂy back and forth from drunken mateyness to drunken violence at the ﬂick of a quip. There are hints throughout that one of the men is about to break with the bravado and get candid. but every time his efforts are met with deadly silence or turned into a big joke. The whole thing is hilarious and horrific at the same time.
One critic has described this show as being a glimpse into the secret life of the locker room but there’s nothing secret about the contents of Achilles Heel. Not all men are like these six shorn-haired. be-suited jack-the~lads. but lots are. and lots more are sometimes. But don’t get up in arms yet guys. you‘re not under attack. As one female audience member told Newson after Achilles" European premiere: ‘You’ve just said everything we hate. and everything we love about men.’
Those pundits who predicted Newson’s heyday was over when he stopped throwing himself at walls have been proved wrong. The engine ofthis Aussie-born dancer and choreographer’s talent lies in his ability to take the nuts and bolts of everyday life and turn them into a massive all~ singing. all-dancing parody of themselves. That’s exactly what he’s done with Achilles Heel. Achilles Heel. [)‘./8 Physical Theatre. Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Fri I 3—Sat I 4 ()ct. 8pm.