Interview: Dance Umbrella | Only Connect

Lloyd Newson

Interviews

Lloyd Newson: Only Connect

Interview by Donald Hutera
Dance Umbrella Newsletter | Spring 2000 | issue 5
reprinted with permission

Lloyd Newson is not one to mince words. Take his current thoughts on dance right across the board. "I\'m very concerned that in dance we\'re not addressing the real world," says the artistic director of DV8 Physical Theatre. "We\'re still playing in such an esoteric area. We lack a larger perspective". As a consequence, Newson believes, "We\'re pulling very few people in, in terms of audiences. What most dance lacks is the ability to connect to the life-concerns of real people. At least DV8 attempt to talk about something.

Wasted (later renamed can we afford this) is the name of the new piece Newson is preparing to première at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Arts Festivals this summer, prior to its British première as the kick-off to Umbrella 2000. Featuring 18 performers plus a handful of extras, in terms of onstage personnel it\'s one of the biggest pieces DV8 has ever mounted. And it\'s loaded with a particular brand of the something that Newson is always so keen to bring before an audience.

"This piece is about what we think we are, and what we think we ought to be", he explains, "we camouflage ourselves in conformity, put on a mask, smile, hide and pretend, so we too are invited to the ball. But what happens to those who don\'t get invited, who aren\'t perfect, who can\'t pretend?"

Once again, as in pieces like Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men, Strange Fish, Enter Achilles and Bound To Please, DV8 is throwing a glaring spotlight on society\'s marginals and mavericks.

"There\'s a belief about people who become difficult or speak up", Newson says, "who take drugs or kill themselves - that it\'s their individual responsibility. That\'s not to excuse those individuals who refuse to take responsibility for themselves." But, as Newson knows, taking the moral high ground has its pitfalls. He hopes Wasted (can we afford this) will "challenge certain myths about the value placed on you or me. It\'s about those who survive the test and those who don\'t. Who is wasted, or discarded, and why?"

Newson is on a roll now. During our 45 minute conversation, he buzzes between declarations and rhetorical queries like a bee spreading intellectual pollen. He speaks of "the way we silence ourselves every day in order to be liked" and "the danger of being carried away by prevailing values". Most of the choreographers he knows create their work in collaboration with their dancers, he says, yet few acknowledge it. "Who gets credit for what?" he asks. And he wonders,

"How can we make a significant contribution to the society we live in? I don\'t want a wasted life. I want feel I had some impact. I\'m concerned that I\'ve not spent forty years constructing a load of nice curves and twists. Dance can address big and real issues. I\'m not sure how real a bit of floating around is."

\'Nice\' gets him going too. "If I hear the word \'nice\' in relation to dance one more time..." he begins, cutting himself off. "Niceness and dance go hand-in-hand. But people need to connect. They want more than a few nice shapes. I think they want to feel a whole range of things."

Newson wants the casts of DV8\'s shows to do likewise. "The one thing I look for in all of our performers is a level of authenticity," he says, "that they truly own the material. What\'s inside them in relation to the themes of the piece? I want us to find a vocabulary that truly reflects something complex about people."

The sizable ensemble assembled for Wasted (can we afford this) is, for Newson, a real luxury.

He views this with a degree of irony. "All I need is to have each of them do 5.5 minutes of excellent or interesting material. But it does allow me a range of physical abilities. If somebody is not strong in one area, I can use someone else." Of the 18 performers, Newson has previously worked with only three. During the rehearsal process he\'ll also bring in a handful of creative pals to help out and maximize the working relationship for everybody. "After 15 or so years, slowly

I\'ve been able to find a support network of people who\'ve worked with me before and who understand my approach."

Wasted (can we afford this) is being co-produced by the Royal Festival Hall in association with Dance Umbrella. At the moment it will be seen only in Sydney, London and Hong Kong. "Then we will see if there\'s a smaller, more reasonably-sized piece in it," Newson says. The limited performance schedule pleases him. "Co-productions usually mean you\'re touring for six solid months, which can be formulaic and deadly."

I enquire if it\'s possible to come in and observe a rehearsal. But DV8 maintains a firm closed-door policy. "We\'re constantly judged publicly," Newson says. "You\'re not allowed to acknowledge your failures and insecurities. You\'ve got to present the face of success. The beauty about the rehearsal process is that it\'s private. I encourage the performers to look foolish, make mistakes and do the most indulgent things". It\'s a safe bet that even their most outlandish efforts will not be wasted.

 

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