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2012 Letter to the Scotsman regarding Batsheva Dance Company and Edingburgh International Festival


Letter to The Scotsman from Lloyd Newson [Artistic Director DV8 Physical Theatre] in response to being asked to sign a letter objecting to Batsheva Dance Company’s presence in the 2012 Edinburgh Festival.

I was approached by Jenny Morgan, Miranda Pennell and Professor Jonathan Rosenhead to sign a letter they wanted published in The Scotsman concerning Batsheva Dance Company.  Whilst the letter does not directly call for Batsheva to be banned from the Edinburgh Festival, their covering email, asking for my signature was more explicit:

“The internationally renowned Batsheva dance company will be performing at the Edinburgh Festival later this month.   We would like to invite you to join other dance professionals in saying that this should not [my emphasis] be happening.”

The lack of public transparency by Morgan and her fellow authors about wanting Batsheva banned is duplicitous. I accept the right of all people to protest peacefully against what they find objectionable – by all means stand outside the Edinburgh Playhouse with your placards – but I am extremely wary of artists calling for the banning of other artists, except in exceptional circumstances where for example the work itself directly incites violence against an identifiable group of people. There is more than enough censorship and restriction of free speech around the world, particularly in the Middle East; we don’t want to follow suit here in Britain. 

Morgan and her colleagues give the company’s director, Ohad Naharin, two highly simplified ‘options’:

“They [Batsheva] can clearly state the repugnance they feel for their government’s ongoing theft of land, its conversion of Gaza into an open-air prison for 1.7 million Palestinians, its refusal of the right of Palestinian refugees to return...or they can serve their government’s purposes by staying silent in the face of these crimes.”

The situation might be a little bit more complicated than the authors suggest. First however let me be absolutely clear regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I believe both parties are responsible for the failure to find a peaceful settlement. Until both sides, not just one, are willing to compromise there will be no solution. It’s disconcerting that Morgan, Pennell and Rosenhead only draw attention in their letter to Israel’s violation of international law and human rights abuses but neglect to mention that Palestine has been criticised for the very same reasons by Amnesty International,

the undercurrent of violence and inherent abuses of fundamental human rights and disregard for international law inherent in any long-standing military occupation is presented by both sides [Palestine and Israel  (1). The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict came to a similar conclusion.

Furthermore the authors state Israel “suppress(es) Palestinian culture” but they don’t make any references to Palestinian oppression of their own people, particularly women and homosexuals. For example, Unicef has stated more than two-thirds of all murders in the Gaza strip and West bank were most likely 'honour' killings” (2) and Palestinian women are discrimination against, largely due to Muslim religious traditions, when it comes to marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.  Hamas co-founder and strategist Mahmoud  Al-Zahar said the West “are secular, you do not live like human beings. You do not (even) live like animals. You accept homosexuality ” (3).  The Arab Organization for Human Rights in the UK (2010) published a report citing wide spread torture of Palestinians by their own (PA) security services (4).  Morgan and her fellow authors conveniently ignore much of what is happening within the Palestinian Authority itself.

I condemn Israel’s building of settlements in occupied territory, they should stop holding Palestinian prisons without trial and incarcerating children but equally Palestine should recognize Israel's right to exist, stop calling for Israel’s destruction and renounce terrorism.

If the authors of these letters are calling for Batsheva to be censored for the actions of the Israeli government, why then aren’t they also calling for Palestinian artists to be banned from performing in the UK because of human rights abuses by Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority, as highlighted by numerous human rights organisations?

To claim that Batsheva is complicit in Israeli “crimes” because they receive some government money is equivalent to holding British artists responsible because Tony Blair decided to go to war against Iraq or for the alleged British involvement in rendition and torture. To ban or blame an arts organisation for their government's actions is problematic. To then apply that rule selectively is prejudice. 

© This letter cannot be edited in any way without the prior permission of Lloyd Newson.

Reference links updated 11.1.2022

As dance professionals, we admire and respect the work of the Israeli Batsheva Dance Company, scheduled to perform at the Edinburgh Festival later this month.   As human beings, we find their visit raises difficult questions.   This visit, like all their overseas tours, is being funded by the Government of Israel – that same government which violates international law and so many human rights of the Palestinians, including suppressing Palestinian culture.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Batsheva are Israel’s ‘best global ambassadors’.   They are an essential building block in that Ministry’s ‘Brand Israel’ campaign, by which culture is deployed to mask the brutality of the occupation regime.

Artistic director Ohad Naharin and his company have a choice to make.   They can clearly state the repugnance they feel for their government’s ongoing theft of land, its conversion of Gaza into an open-air prison for 1.7 million Palestinians, its refusal of the right of Palestinian refugees to return...or they can serve their government’s purposes by staying silent in the face of these crimes.

Author Iain M. Banks said in 2010, ‘I would urge all writers, artists and others in the creative arts…to consider doing everything they can to convince Israel of its moral degradation and ethical isolation, preferably by simply having nothing more to do with this outlaw state.’   We ourselves will not be attending Batsheva’s performances.


Archive News 2015: Leading Choreographers Raise Concerns Over UK Contemporary Dance Training


Press Release - Background History

In 2013, myself/DV8, Helen Shute/Hofesh Shechter and Farooq Chaudhry/Akram Kahn - supported by other prominent companies/choreographers/dancers - approached the senior management of London Contemporary Dance School, to express our concerns about the lack of rigour and technique of many LCDS graduates.

After 5 months of emails, calls/conversations and meeting with LCDS senior management, but making little progress, we decided to request a meeting with the Chair of LCDS’s board.

We provided a list of suggestions in advance of this meeting, called “WAYS FORWARD”: ideas and pointers, to be jointly discussed, to help refocus the training LCDS offer and improve the standard of their graduates. We asked the school to provide their past 5 years of employment figures (Destination of Leavers), showing clearly who got work in the dance sector as a more objective way of measuring the issue and moving forward.

Meanwhile conversations with students, teachers and choreographers suggested many of the problems we were identifying extended to Trinity Laban and Northern School of Contemporary Dance, as well as LCDS; three of the UK’s key contemporary dance-training institutions.

So we then approached Trinity Laban to provide us with their Destination of Leavers (DoL) statistics. The figure quoted on their website of 98.9% includes non-dance work as well as further study, so we asked them to clarify how many of their graduates were specifically in paid dance employment as performers, teachers, or choreographers.

As both LCDS and Trinity Laban couldn’t provide the DoL statistics we asked for, we contacted HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency) to obtain these figures for the three schools. The statistics reinforced what we had originally suspected– that students from these colleges were three times less likely to work as a dancer or choreographer than leading comparable schools internationally e.g. Juilliard Dance Division (NY) and PARTS (Brussels).

We accept the situation is complex, but felt that unless we made our concerns public, there would be a continued lack of urgency about addressing and improving the quality of UK contemporary dancers. We need and want these three training institutions – they have produced many great artists: choreographers, dancers and teachers - we would just like them to produce more.

- Lloyd Newson, Artistic Director, DV8 Physical Theatre

 


Diana Payne-Myers 1928-2020


A message from Lloyd Newson:

“In 1991 we auditioned female dancers who were over 60 years of age for a new DV8 production called Strange Fish. Four women turned up, Diana was one of them; she got the job. Four productions later, at 75, she was still working with us when we took over the Tate Modern with Living Costs. She had become DV8 family.

Diana was a stalwart; fiercely loyal, tough, funny, eccentric (read individual), hard-working and committed. How many other dancers do you know who kept performing into their late 80s? She had the courage and integrity as an artist to know what was right for a work rather than settling for the safe or soft options.  I remember Diana in Living Costs sitting still on a plinth, naked except for a pair of knickers, holding a sign saying ‘Please Touch’. Occasionally people reacted by gently touching Diana’s hair or face. As the crowd moved through the promenade performance, a man turned around and walked back to Diana. He looked at her, knelt down on one knee and kissed her foot.  It was a respectful and touching homage.

Between the tears of hearing about her death, friends immediately started recalling the wonderful, wild and fond stories we had of DPM and of the generosity she showed towards others.  Despite her petite frame Diana’s character (and life) was immense. She was never going to be a wilting flower.

Oh Diana…”

 

(photo credit: The Daily Telegraph)


David Toole 1964-2020


David Toole was a truly remarkable performer and person. He personified the concept of ‘differently able’, or perhaps more appropriately, 'exceptionally able’. David made you marvel at what a body, his body, could say and do. He was funny, irreverent, droll and direct with an openness of spirit that meant he was up for anything - and that’s what made him such a joy to work with.  He had no time for pretension or middle class waft.

On stage he was magnetic and his attitude towards life won the admiration of all of us who worked with him on The Cost of Living.  I remember him telling me the story of when he’d been working for the Post Office and he came home and said to his mother: "Mum I want to be dancer".  She replied: "Can I just remind you, you don’t have any legs”. That wasn’t an obstacle for David….. and he became one of the most outstanding and alluring dancers I’ve ever witnessed on stage. It was an honour to have worked with such a courageous and talented man.

Lloyd Newson

 

 


Enter Achilles (2020)


Enter Achilles (2020) Receives Standing Ovations

Lloyd Newson’s reworking of Enter Achilles (2020) for Rambert received rapturous applause and standing ovations in Berlin and at the Adelaide Festival:

“[Enter Achilles] was the sensation of the 1996 Adelaide Festival – and the reboot is just as urgent. Tenderness and vulnerability seep through the cracks and when they aren’t scaring the shit out of you the men are tremendously engaging. It needs exceptionally talented performers and Newson has them. They’re wonderful…”

The Australian (March 2020)

TOUR UPDATE:

Please refer to Rambert’s website for further information and updates regarding future performances of Enter Achilles. Alternatively, if you are signed up to DV8’s emailing list we will inform you when, and if, other performances are programmed.

In the meantime, should you wish to look at DV8’s past work, including Strange Fish, The Cost of Living or see the award winning film of the 1995 version of Enter Achilles they ar available online via the DV8 Media Portal.

Photo by Hugo Glendinning

 


Enter Achilles 2020


 

One pub, eight blokes, a stacked jukebox and a load of pints. It was always going to kick off.

Twenty-five years after legendary dance iconoclast Lloyd Newson first dragged British pub culture kicking and yelling onto the stage, Rambert and Sadler’s Wells present Newson’s reworking of this landmark physical-theatre production.

Presented by Rambert & Sadler’s Wells     

A work Conceived and Directed by Lloyd Newson (DV8 Physical Theatre)

Choreography: Lloyd Newson with the performers (past and present)
 
Original Set Design: Ian MacNeil
Original Music: Adrian Johnston
Original Lighting Design: Jack Thompson 
 

Creative Associate & Tour Director: Hannes Langolf

Rambert performers:

Tom Davis Dunn
Nelson Earl
Richard Cilli
Miguel Fiol Duran
Ian Garside
Eddie Hookham
Scott Jennings
Georgios Kotsifakis
Jag Popham
John Ross

Lighting realised by Richard Godin
Associate Sound Designer: Amir Sherhan                     
Design Assistant: Loren Elstein                         
Costume Design: Kinnetia Isidore, Richard Gellar
Rehearsal Director: Paul White

A Rambert & Sadler’s Wells co-production in association with Onassis STEGI, Athens. Co-produced with Festspielhaus St. Pölten; Grec Festival de Barcelona i Teatre Nacional de Catalunya; Théâtre de la Ville – Paris / Chaillot – Théâtre national de la danse; Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg; Adelaide Festival, Melbourne International Arts Festival; Romaeuropa Festival and Torinodanza Festival / Teatro Stabile di Torino – Teatro Nazionale. 

Premiere: first performed 7 June 1995, Wiener Festwochen, Vienna. Recreation Premiere at Festspielhaus, St Pölten. Premiere International Run at Onassis STEGI, Athens.

Age 15+ / No latecomers / No filming or photography

Photo: Hugo Glendinning


A Timely Revival - interview with Lloyd Newson (2019)


ENTER ACHILLES       
A work by Lloyd Newson (DV8 Physical Theatre)

A TIMELY REVIVAL

As Enter Achilles is revived in a co-production between Sadler’s Wells and Rambert, we spoke with choreographer Lloyd Newson about restaging the 1995 work…

 

Enter Achilles was made in 1995. It was turned into a film by the BBC winning a number of accolades including an International Emmy and Prix Italia. It continues to be a staple resource for GCSE, A Level and degree and diploma syllabuses throughout the UK. Why do you think the work struck such a strong chord with audiences across Britain and abroad?

 

I formed my own company (DV8 Physical Theatre) in the mid-1980s out of a frustration with the vagueness and abstractionism I experienced with most British dance; both as a dancer and audience member. And I wasn’t alone… many people saw Enter Achilles as a welcome relief to other contemporary dance they’d seen.  It had a storyline and characters people could recognise; audiences understood what the performers were doing on stage and why they were moving the way they were.

 

“What a relief it is to see a modern dance piece where you don't spend the first 15 minutes wondering what the hell is going on” The Observer on Enter Achilles (1995)

 

If people comprehend what a work is about, generally it’s easier to engage with it – and that includes criticising it. Which might explain why some contemporary choreographers prefer making abstract work; it’s the Emperor’s New Clothes. Audiences are left thinking, “I’m not smart enough to understand this” when unfortunately, there’s often little to understand.  Dance with meaning, which mixes drama with humour was rare when I made Enter Achilles in the mid-90s and is still relatively rare today – when was the last time you laughed in a contemporary dance show?

 

Why have you decided to restage Enter Achilles with Rambert?

 

After 30 years I was tired of running a company and managing people, as well as having the pressures, and fears, of making new work. So, I put DV8 on hold at the end of 2015…  and that worked a treat, I discovered the joys of a life outside of dance. Then Helen Shute (Rambert’s chief executive and executive producer) approached me about her plans for Rambert to showcase seminal British work which was no longer available for audiences to see live and asked if I’d be willing to mount Enter Achilles again.

What stopped me in the past making or restaging works on other companies was the expectation to use dancers within an already existing company.  This was too constricting because I cast performers according to the needs of a project. I require dancers who can act, which is a hard ask, then I may also need them to sing or do aerial work, or even, be good at football. Previously, due to the subject matter of my works, I’ve actively sought to employ disabled, older (60+) and ethnically diverse performers.  For example, Can We Talk About This? - a work about Islam and free speech – specifically required many of the cast to be of Middle Eastern and South Asian appearance.

While many companies have dancers who have great technical skills and can execute perfect pirouettes, they often struggle to understand the principles of body language, as the work they do trains this knowledge out of them. Many dancers I’ve auditioned, despite their incredible techniques, can’t connect meaning to movement. Rambert is the only repertory company that has offered me the opportunity to audition worldwide to find the right dancers for my work. I was enticed by the prospect of being able to focus on the art, without the pressures of having to manage a company.  This along with Helen’s guarantee of sufficient support and time in the rehearsal room meant I couldn’t refuse her offer.

 

Will Rambert’s version of Enter Achilles be the same as the original 1995 production?

 

DV8 toured Enter Achilles for over 3 years and during that time I kept revising it.  There were also some cast changes, and this meant I’d rework the choreography to suit the incoming performer’s skills and personalities. The 1995 premiere was very different to the final show in 1998.  Consequently, I’ll make some changes to reflect the new incoming cast and a Britain 25 years on, however it’s also important for me to maintain the key elements and structure of the original production, because these gave the work its power.

 

For those people who haven’t seen Enter Achilles, what can they expect to see?

 

Enter Achilles celebrates the humour, fun and camaraderie that many men - especially working-class men - enjoy and shows how alcohol plays a significant role in their bonding - as well as being a catalyst for violence.  So, I set the work in a pub, designed by Ian MacNeil, who also designed Billy Elliot.

The work explores what unites a group of men and what divides them - what they feel they can share with other men, and what they feel they can’t. It looks at vulnerability, pack mentality and how men, these men, police one another’s behaviour for weaknesses and deviations from what’s considered traditional masculine norms.

 

While Enter Achilles received overwhelmingly positive reviews, there was one critic who said your portrayal of the men within the piece was “too bad to be true”. 

 

Interestingly, the person who said that was a woman. Enter Achilles was based on my direct observations and experiences of men - as a man. There were a number of significant events happening in Britain at the time I made and toured the production. Football violence was endemic, for example there was a match between England and Ireland in 1995 where English fans rioted mid-game; dozens of people were seriously injured and parts of the stadium destroyed.  The following year, when we were touring Enter Achilles, England lost against Germany in the Euro 96 semi-final - German cars were overturned and set alight around Trafalgar Square*.  In dozens of other locations around the country violence erupted, including a Russian student who was repeatedly stabbed by British thugs after being asked if he and three friends were German.

None of what happens on stage in Enter Achilles comes close to being as “bad” as this. Enter Achilles doesn’t aim to speak generically about all men. The work is about a group of specific men, in a pub, on a specific night and what happens when an outsider enters their world.  Nonetheless the scenarios that then unfold are reflective of “traditional” masculine, rather than feminine patterns of behaviour; be they innate or learned.

On an anecdotal level, when I was in A&E when my Achilles tendon operation became infected back in 1995, two guys came in, they told me they were best friends. One of them had ‘glassed’ the other when a drunken argument they were having escalated. Enter Achilles is tame in comparison.

 

Do you think ideas about what it is to be a man have changed significantly since you first made Enter Achilles?

 

Let’s take football again, only because there are some references to it in the work. When I first formed DV8, English teams had been banned from playing in European football for 5 years because of hooliganism – it was referred to as the ‘English Disease’.  39 people died in the Heysel disaster; 14 Liverpool fans were subsequently convicted of manslaughter. It’s fair to say that the majority of football hooligans during this period were English men, not women, predominantly from working-class backgrounds. Compared to that, today’s calmer matches abroad show some things have changed – although police confiscating passports and banning alcohol in stands at matches has helped reduce that violence considerably.

However, the pressure for men to conform to masculine stereotypes hasn’t vanished despite the wishes of many of the chattering classes and remains highly ingrained in the social conditioning of most men. Don’t get me wrong, there are many admirable attributes associated with traditional masculinity, and Enter Achilles isn’t a blanket condemnation of masculinity, far from it, but it’s worrying today in the UK that 78 % of the perpetrators of violent crime are men, 74% of homicide victims are male and men are 3 times more likely to commit suicide than women.       

Interestingly, this year when the American Psychological Association (APA) said traditional masculine ideology had been shown to limit males’ psychological development they got a fair amount of flack as a result. While APA were quick to make clear they weren’t referring to every quality we associate with masculinity, they believed they had enough empirical evidence to show that many masculine ideals are often counterproductive to men’s emotional stability and that aspiring to these stereotypes can exacerbate men’s mental health problems resulting in violence towards others or themselves – suicide, excessive drinking, reckless behaviour.

The British police receive 100 calls relating to domestic abuse every hour; where the perpetrators, again, are mainly men. If England loses in a world cup match, that number will increase by 38%. That’s not a good ad for modern day man.

One of the questions we asked back in 1995 when making Enter Achilles was, we accept men have historically oppressed women, but how oppressive have men been to themselves?

So, to answer your question, there has been some chipping away at the negative aspects of masculinity: the violence, sexism and homophobia but as the stats show the problems haven’t disappeared.  

I think in light of all this and with the advent of #Metoo and Brexit it’s a timely moment to revisit the work.

Please note: research articles can be provided to corroborate the statistics Lloyd Newson uses throughout this interview. If you require these, or images to accompany the publication of this interview, please contact: [email protected]


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