Death and desire … Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men
Out, adventurous and in-your-face, DV8 Physical Theatre is a stroppy tomboy in the genteel world of dance. The clue’s in the name. DV8 go beyond the straight and narrow, putting people, plot and ideas into the action. Who cares whether it’s actually dance or not?
Born in Melbourne in 1957, DV8’s artistic director Lloyd Newson worked briefly with New Zealand Ballet (he was the only man to turn up for the audition) before coming to London. Frustrated with dance’s wan conformism – he later dubbed it “the Prozac of the artforms” – he founded DV8 Physical Theatre with Nigel Charnock and Michelle Richecoeur in 1986. Using a raw and risky physicality, their early taboo-busting works exposed the emotional and social wounds around issues such as Aids and gender identity, culminating in Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men (1988), a harrowing anatomy of death and desire among gay men derived from a book about mass murderer Dennis Nilsen.
kAfter Dead Dreams, Newson lightened up a little and set his sights wider. The physical style became less bruising and he began to use wry humour and introduce more theatrical elements such as speech, props and sets. He also explored film. But Newson’s focus has remained on the costs of conformity, whether in the field of masculinity (Enter Achilles, 1995), celebrity culture (Just for Show, 2005) or dance itself (Bound to Please, 1997).
Several DV8 works have been made into prize-winning films, and the company itself has collected a pile of awards. But that does not, repeat not, make it mainstream, OK?
DV8 aims to connect the world outside with the world inside – or, if you like, the personal with the political. Even though their focus is on the body in action, they use whatever means they need to achieve that connection – dance, acting, circus, film, whatever. The message matters more than the medium. Typically, Newson chooses the theme (“I only create when I have something to say”) and then selects performers, who use their own diverse skills and experiences in creating the work. That means that DV8 pieces tend to be more like cumulative collages – a collection of scenes with different takes on the theme – than sequential stories.
Because of how it works, DV8 has been host to some highly individual talents, including Nigel Charnock and Wendy Houstoun, both natural soloists; Diana Payne-Myers, performing well into her 70s; and David Toole, a charismatic dancer with no legs.
The Sunday Mirror gave DV8 a massive leg-up. “Gay sex orgy on TV” shrieked the headline for their story on the screening of Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men, prompting a flood of complaints to the TV network, angry questions in parliament by Tory MPs – and a huge surge in DV8’s viewing figures.
In their own words
“Content rather than style drives DV8’s work, which distinguishes it from a lot of other contemporary dance … Our work delves into how individuals relate to one another … exploring the individual’s actions, and looking at how these in turn reflect political and social issues.” – Lloyd Newson, interview with Jo Butterworth, 1998
In other words
“Newson’s vision may be bleak, but its sheer physicality makes it exhilarating” – Michael Arditti, Independent, 1993
“Splendid, abrasive, anarchic, uncompromising, cold-eyed, warm-hearted” – Clement Crisp, Financial Times 2005
“Expresses what is often left unsaid.” – Lyn Gardner, Guardian 2008
“This really means something. Not like those bunhead ballet clones. Or those abstract modern dance posers.”
Newson doesn’t do conventional photos. Not for you, not for anyone.
Pina Bausch (Germany)
Bill T Jones (USA)
Les Ballets C de la B (Belgium)
Jasmin Vardimon (UK)
Now watch this
Where to see them next
See the DV8 Physical Theatre website for performance dates.