Often provocative and controversial, and never shying away from approaching the big issues head on, Lloyd Newson and his company DV8 have made waves with powerful pieces of physical theatre over the last three decades, which transcend the label of “dance”.
“DV8 is dance about something,” explains Lloyd. “I feel genuinely frustrated by most contemporary dance.
“I think what it’s about predominantly is beauty and shape, not content and meaning.”
His work often attracts considerable media attention, though Lloyd himself keeps a lower profile and does not allow himself to be photographed, preferring to remain anonymous.
DV8 returns to Brighton Dome with John, a new piece depicting real life stories with a combination of physical theatre and spoken word, currently touring the UK.
Lloyd interviewed more than 50 men asking frank questions, initially about love and sex, one of whom was John. The precise words from the interviews have been used to construct the piece billed as “verbatim dance-theatre”.
Lloyd says that he originally set out to make a work about youth and assisted suicide, but then was persuaded by a series of events to change his mind.
One was the unexpected death of his close friend dancer and choreographer Nigel Charnock from stomach cancer in 2012, the other a conversation some time later with a Muslim friend who was about to marry a former RAF helicopter commander, which got him thinking about the ways in which love manifests itself.
“What struck me a bit like a bolt of lightning was that I really should be doing a piece about the power of love.
“I felt that love and life was more interesting than death and the end.”
Lloyd started to have conversations with men that he knew in which the subject of sex would often come up.
At the initial stage of the project he sent three researchers into the “hidden secret world” of gay saunas. The men there were given the opportunity to talk completely anonymously.
“A number of them had been married, or were living duplicitous lives.”
Lloyd says he was struck by the story of “John” almost from the very beginning. The story of a man’s struggle to survive, which leads him on a search in which his life converges with others in an unexpected place.
“He had had a terrible childhood, committed 68 offences with 28 convictions, he slept rough for six years in Clapham Common, he went to prison several times, and kicked his drug habit. He tried to improve his life despite his drug addiction.
“He said to me ‘I want to be normal like you middle classes Lloyd’, which in itself raises a lot of issues,” says Lloyd.
Seven hundred men were auditioned for the five parts, with an understanding of the relationship between meaning and movement being particularly important to Lloyd, who says that casting was extremely tricky; German Hannes Langolf performs the lead role.
“It is not stylised, but the logistics of every movement is considered and made up,” says Lloyd.
“We spent six months in rehearsal working on every single gesture – we even choreographed eyebrows.
“All the men we interviewed are searching for something or someone. The five main characters all have incredibly different perspectives on what they want and why they are in the sauna.”
The production has certainly had people talking, and has received a swath of five-star reviews – and one zero-star review from Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail, branding John “a national disgrace”.
“Sometimes people respond to the subject matter of my work rather than the craft,” says Lloyd, unconcerned. He stopped reading reviews in 1988.
“If you do anything important there will be people who have the opposite view, but what’s the alternative?
“What’s great is that it creates discussion and debate. I think we have to talk about these things – it’s the basis of a progressive society.”
DV8 Physical Theatre previously visited Brighton Dome with Can We Talk About This?, which deals with freedom of speech, censorship, and Islam.
“Unlike the last two pieces, I’m not trying to make a big social survey,” says Lloyd. “In this piece we just have the stories of five men. There is a really interesting issue which is about representation, but we are not trying to represent all men.
“Sometimes the difficulty of a piece is what is the simple byline. John is a story of a man who interacts with other people, and it is difficult to draw a single line.
“The thing that drives me to make work is when I see something that affects me personally.
“Until this piece I have been very perplexed about respect for religion when I see the problems that it causes.
“I’m drawn to things that people don’t want to be talking about. There is never a good time to talk about these subjects.
“We have had people come see the show on the same night, and be from the same background and have completely different opinions about the piece.”
It is extremely rare for a dance piece to get the level of exposure that John has received; there have been 40 performances at the National Theatre, a 1,000-seat venue, plus live broadcasts around the world.
DV8 Physical Theatre was formed in 1986 and Lloyd has led the company since the very beginning.
Eighteen works and many awards have followed, including a Grand Prix de Danse, an international Emmy for Performing Arts, a Rose d’Or, three Prix Italia and a Helpmann Award for Best New Dance Work.
Lloyd was cited by the Critics Circle as being one of the hundred most influential artists working in Britain during the last hundred years, and in 2013 was awarded an OBE for services to contemporary dance.
- John from DV8 Physical Theatre is at Brighton Dome on January 28 and 29. The show contains adult themes, strong language and nudity. Suitable for 16 years and above. Visit brightondome.org or call 01273 709709.
DV8 Physical Theatre
As DV8 Physical Theatre celebrates its 30th anniversary, artistic director Lloyd Newson has decided to take time out from the company to reflect and think about the future. As of January 2016, DV8 have put on hold the production of new work. Read the full statement on the company website here.
DV8 Physical Theatre's work is about taking risks, aesthetically and physically, about breaking down the barriers between dance, theatre and personal politics and, above all, communicating ideas and feelings clearly and unpretentiously. Led by Lloyd Newson, DV8 was formed in 1986 by an independent collective of dancers who had become frustrated and disillusioned with the preoccupations and direction of most dance. It has now produced sixteen highly acclaimed dance pieces and which have toured internationally, and four award-winning films for television.
Since 1987, DV8 has commissioned set designers and living composers for its works, helping investigate the relationship between body, architecture and music. The focus of the creative approach is on reinvesting dance with meaning, particularly where this has been lost through formalised techniques. Thematically, DV8 insists on the importance of challenging our preconceptions of what dance can, and should, address.
"You will never see anything like a work by Lloyd Newson…bold, involving and utterly unique. Hannes Langolf’s central performance is simply devastating in its impact and empathy… If you see it, you will never forget it."
Daily Telegraph (JOHN – 2014)
"A brilliant piece of theatre... it crosses the boundaries of dance, documentary drama and sound. It sits somewhere in its own space... a rare experience... extraordinary.”
Sydney Morning Herald (Can We Talk About This? - 2011)
"Every so often, a performance comes along that not only reconfigures the limits of the form, but also redefines and rearticulates how we see the world... Without a doubt, it is one of the most important works of our age. Go.”
Time Out Sydney (Can We Talk About This? - 2011)
“DV8…have always been well ahead of the game. Now, just at a point when others are catching up, Newson reinvents the rules... you will not be able to resist this brave, life-affirming show.”
The Guardian (To Be Straight With You - 2008)
“Profoundly political and personally devastating...DV8's defiant grammar of dance and physical movement provides a liberating language of corporeal joy.”
Irish Times (To Be Straight With You – 2008)