Lloyd Newson on Dance
Dance Now | summer 1993 | pp.11-13
Lloyd Newson of DV8 Physical Theatre charts some of the many considerations that form a background to his work.
.... on risk
Newson ... For me risk means trying something that is new, and therefore involves the possibility of failure; it does not necessarily imply physical danger. It is about challenging myself to try something different. In Strange Fish (1992), I deliberately avoided physical danger/risk because we had done this before and I felt it had been repeated so often on the European dance circuit that it was now a cliché. For many dance companies it seems that risk just means physical risk; nothing is risked in terms of content or approach.
In [Strange Fish] the risk became "Can dance deal with complex emotional narrative: can it be funny: can comic-tragic theatre be created through dance alone?" Risk should be viewed as a relative concept: what is risky for me may not be for someone else. I would like to keep DV8's ability to challenge itself continually, to keep pushing in different directions, to resist using the same formula for each new work, never to be the same.
.... on artistic motivation
I only create when I have something to say. DV8 is not a permanent company but one that comes together when there is a need, a need that is artistically motivated rather than commercially or administratively driven. The work is always about issues: things that concern or affect my life at that given time. For this reason we do not repeat past shows. DV8 is fortunate in that it doesn't have to create regularly, to order. Dancers are chosen according to their appropriateness to the given subject matter of each new project: there is no obligation to keep employing the same dancers.
.... on power
When I was a dancer in repertory companies, attempts by myself or other dancers to question the reason behind movements were often brushed aside or deemed unnecessary. The power of the individual dancer and performer was often denied. I have tried to create a company that allows me maximum power while at the same time enabling my own performers to question, to discover their own movement and therefore better understand who they are and what they're doing. Consequently, may of the people who have worked with me have gone off to do their own work, empowered through their association with DV8. To maintain DV8's artistic freedom we've fought to be independent of others' needs: the work isn't dictated by a board of directors, funding bodies or educational programmes. I've declined offers to direct major companies because I see the restrictions and limitations of such establishments. DV8 must be flexible if it is to grow and survive, it mustn't be trapped by bureaucracies.
.... on structure
I am constantly assessing the way that I work. Each new project brings a new approach; partly out of the necessity of what the subject matter dictates and partly because of a reaction to the previous show. After "if only ..." (1990) I felt I could no longer go back into a studio with a few sketchy ideas. It was too difficult to go back into what I call the "dark room, the black room" with nothing to hold on to. I needed to prepare a detailed structure before the dancers arrived, but it became apparent once we began rehearsals that you can't stick to structures that have been thought about in your head and written down on paper. The physical truth of movement is much more complicated and cannot often be captured by words or discovered until you are in the studio with dancers. At the same time working on the structure gave us a certain framework and security, but we had to have the courage to throw out ideas that weren't working, no matter how wonderful or logical they appeared on paper.
.... on collaboration
It has always been important to share the process as honestly and directly as I can with the people I work with. It's counter-productive and often more about insecurity and personal protection to hold back information. By sharing the process the final work becomes collaborative and the performers are credited accordingly. Ultimately I do make the decisions, set exercises and edit material but I need performers who are open to improvising, who are prepared to think about their roles, not those who just want someone to come in and tell them what to do. This process requires the performers to take on responsibility for themselves, to think actively and challenge themselves. Because of their training, it's difficult finding dancers who want to do more than just learn steps, who are able to act and value truth more than tricks. Our work is only ever as good as the people involved, only as deep and profound as they are.
.... on organizational flexibility
We are also very lucky in that our administrative organisation is highly flexible. Because we work within an agency we are not obliged to keep a full-time administrator working all year round. That allows me to begin and end a project whenever I feel the need. Consequently my artistic freedom has been very dependent on the company's ability to maintain administrative flexibility.
.... on audiences
Over the last few years, there has been more and more pressure for DV8 to perform to large audiences. The dilemma is that if you are in a large auditorium the subleties of the gesture are often missed and performers feel they have to make actions bigger and in many cases they become less real. Expansion, moving to bigger audiences, isn't always synonymous with development and growth. DV8's film work has provided a solution to this problem in that the camera can also explore intimacy and physical detail to an extraordinary extent while at the same time reaching enormous audiences. Its possibilities give another type of performance, another way of viewing and communicating that we're just beginning to understand.
.... on success
When people refer to DV8 as a "successful" company, I question what they mean, what they define as successful. Just because a work is popular does not mean for me it is successful. Just because audiences like it doesn't mean it's good. Again success should be seen as a relative term. I believe that providing I keep pushing myself and do not rely on formula, I am successful. I have learnt some of the best lessons and most valuable information about my craft through works that have been public failures. Success and ego reinforcement are regularly confused.
.... on political themes
It is never my intention to provoke audiences or upset them per se. I'm interested only in provoking and pushing myself, questioning my own and the performers' motivation, reasons, thoughts, assumptions. Many of the things I deal with are often considered social taboos but unless one examines and questions them, I feel that we, as a society, cannot go any further. Rather than make generalised statements about society as a whole, I find it much truer to question myself. The self as part of society seems to be what dance deals with best: a very personal investigation, rather than trying to deal with social and political themes on a larger theoretical level. Life is not about political correctness. One would like to strive for that, but it is far too complex. Words that adhere to political theories often smell of naivety.
.... on vulnerability and failure
To show vulnerability and failure on stage has become increasingly important to me. I often set tasks that ask performers to reveal something of their inner selves that they may not want to show in public. In doing this the performer can feel totally exposed and vulnerable. While this can take its toll I believe eventually the benefits outweigh the difficulties. It is important for us to share all of ourselves with the audience, not just our strengths. Traditional dance, for too long, has emphasised 'success': showing how well one can execute a movement. I'm also interested in how hard it is to do a movement and to redefine what achievement means.
Traditional notions of dance tend to have narrow definitions of what is considered beautiful and acceptable, with people (dancers) striving towards the same constructed ideal. The rigidity of the "perfect" image gives little room for individuality or reality. This can be very destructive. It gives little room for acceptance of ourselves, of our failures and the value of trying rather than just matching up to what someone else defines as successful or beautiful. It is just those definitions that I am trying to move beyond with DV8.