Monday, August 29, 2011

Can We Talk About This?



Sydney Opera House presents SPRING DANCE 2011, DV8-Physical Theatre in CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS ? at the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House.

CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS ? is the new work from DV8 , a physical theatre company led by Lloyd Newson.
"The motivation behind the making of CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS? arose during the research of DV8's last work TO BE STRAIGHT WITH YOU  (Seen at the Adelaide Arts Festival -2008), a verbatim dance production about religious attitudes towards homosexuality. When we interviewed gay Muslims many spoke about the appalling treatment they received, particularly from within their own ethnic and religious communities here in the UK.

At about the same time [2009] Gallop and the Centre for Muslim Studies surveyed 500 British Muslims about their attitudes towards homosexuality. Out of 500 what percentage do you think said homosexuality was acceptable? Zero. Yet if I cited the need to challenge such religious intolerance, be it in discussions with academics, or friends at dinner parties - people who generally share my left leaning politics - many either avoided the issue, implied I was being offensive or denied the evidence completely.

Because of our desire to be tolerant and perhaps because of a post-colonial guilt and fear of being labelled racist or Islamophobic, I feel there is a liberal blind spot, a lack of voices speaking up for our most basic freedoms particularly when it comes to discussing Islam and multiculturalism. ... Have we ended up betraying the very minorities and freedoms we ought to be protecting for fear of speaking out and causing offence? How do we support progressive Muslims? ...

But who defines what is offensive and on what grounds? As one of our interviewees said; nothing of importance will not offend somebody, somewhere."  - Lloyd Newson, Program Foreword

Like the last work of this company, TO BE STRAIGHT WITH YOU, the performance has politics writ large. From research and extensive interviewing (some 48 nominated in the program) a verbatim script has been built up examining the cultural discussion or lack of it, around Islam and living in a democracy. Discussing the use of religion and fear to intimidate all sides of the society into silence and tacit acceptance of the most inhuman practices in the everyday life of some of our brothers and sisters. It is informative and provocative stuff. The performance is approximately 75 minutes long and the verbal information is relentless and demanding. It has lots of information, a lot of it personal, a lot of it general and particular public politics spoken in places of power. It is difficult not to listen. It is ,likewise, difficult to attempt to ignore. This is very persuasive theatre, one way or the other.

Combined with the actors speaking the text, there are video image supports that are dramatic and arresting (Tim Reid) - much less techno wiz than the last show. The set and costume design (Anna Fleischle) are deliberately low key and reflect a more sombre shadow to this work than the last, both, however, equally contemporaneously urgent.

The choreography developed by LLoyd Newson with the performers is intricate, detailed and integrated to the spoken messages in the most subtle and mesmerizing way. Whether it be a solo of an actor/dancer dressing up against a wall, a duet between a man and a woman with a tea cup, the simple shuffle routine of a choral dance, or the intricate patterns of wrists, hands and fingers  resting on a desk, or simply hanging from a bar, the skill and expert concentration of the performers is astounding in its daring and execution. The 75 minutes whiz by in the absorbing concentration of the actors and their dual responsibility of voice and body. Our invited participation/concentration was similarly intense.

The performers Joy Constantinides, Lee Davern, Kim-Jomi Fischer, Ermira Goro, Hannes Langolf, Samir M'Kirech, Christina May, Seeta Patel, Anwar Russell, Ira Mandela Siobhan are all magnificent in the modest power but under played expertness of their performances.

DV8 is the exemplar for this kind of  work. Provocative, thrilling and totally, totally challenging both to our breath holding awe at the skills and the shock and relief of the spoken verbatim text. As with the last work, we the audience gathered in the foyer for post show discussions. There was no way to just get up and leave to walk into the night - one had to de-brief the experience before  slouching off home. This is the result of good theatre. One was shaken if not activated to change things.

In our own city, Version 1.0, Big hART, Urban Theatre Projects (based in Bankstown), Milk Crate (in Darlinghurst) and at sources as far and wide as Campbelltown Arts Centre, Shopfront, Kogarah, and Newcastle,  work of a similar kind is being created, and no better a model than the holisitc approach of LLoyd Newson and DV8 could be better aspired too.

Great to have the company back in Sydney. Great thanks to the co-producers: Theatre De la Ville and Festival D'√Āutomne, Paris; National Theatre of Great Britain, London; and Dansens Hus, Stockholm.

1 comment:

Mr Mink said...

Kevin, this was indeed one of the most provocative theatre/dance events seen in Sydney this year (or likely for some time). Just that opening question alone of “do you consider yourself morally superior to the Taliban” was sufficient to take the biscuit. The fact that this could so perfectly integrate dance/movement along with the spoken text was quite extraordinary. In fact for the short season of Spring Dance there were generally some extraordinary things on at the Opera House – the Chunky Move thing I Think I Like This which I saw was also very creative in an equal number of respects. You said “Provocative, thrilling and totally, totally challenging both to our breath holding awe at the skills and the shock and relief of the spoken verbatim text” with which I would agree. My other attempt at the weekend in terms of spoken verbatim text was the Sunday arvo train to the Gong to see the version 1 Table of Knowledge. This could have been provocative – but we already knew the story – and was certainly not thrilling and I did not find challenging. I had high hopes of version 1 (my main reason for the trek) but this one disappointed – nowhere as provocative as DV8! I am sure curiosity drew an extended season of locals at the IPAC down in the Gong – but I would suggest that most people would be better off going to see the Bangarra Belong pieces which are getting a regional showcase there soon. Sorry to spend more time talking about other shows – but even the peripatetic Kevin cannot see everything!