from DV8 Physical Theater's To Be Straight With You
Photo: Tristram Kenton 2009
Lloyd Newson’s DV8 Physical Theater company appeared at UCLA’s Royce Hall over the weekend with a dance piece intended to push buttons. To Be Straight With You
concerns the intersection between homosexuality, race, and ethnicity in a particularly British context. Growing out of Newson’s own brushes with homophobia, he set about constructing a dance work that he soon felt needed more narrative structure than he was accustomed to. In response, he conducted interviews and focus groups in numerous locales around the UK and collected several first-hand accounts from activists, bigots, those living their lives out and proud, and those living in secret and fear. The resulting monologues became the source for the copious amounts of spoken text in Straight With You
, which does two things very well. It captures the real conflicts inherent in constructing a personal identity. First, it’s filled with stories of people living their lives half-submerged in fear and those who have sacrificed everything to be out in the open in a new world. The other major success of the piece for an American audience is to act as a reminder that while we in this country are caught up in a myopic debate about gay marriage, half of the world’s population resides in places where there continues to be penalties ranging from years in jail to death for any kind of homosexual activity. And, although the focus is undoubtedly on the UK, the question is just as relevant here. Are we really worrying about the right things when people elsewhere are dying for what we take for granted?
Not that Newson doesn’t get bogged down by the seemingly trivial at times. There’s a lengthy section regarding the hate lyrics popularized by many dance hall reggae performers that have enjoyed much greater attention abroad than in the U.S. However, the biggest shortcoming of the evening is that Straight With You
gets sidelined by its own wordiness. The dancing, though remarkable at times, often seems like an afterthought. The work is divided into short segments usually performed by a single member of the 8-dancer troupe with occasional group numbers. The miked dancers speak quotations taken from the interviews while they perform, often behind a scrim in the midst of a nondescript three-walled office-like set. There is ample augmentation with interactive video and graphics to emphasize certain elements of the spoken text. For about the first 30 minutes or so, there’s so much AV going on that it almost appears that there’s no dance involved at all. Later more movement is incorporated into the action, but it often seems unrelated to the spoken text. In one scene a dancer recounts the tale of a young man leaving his home after being stabbed by his father in response to the disclosure of his homosexuality. All of this is done during intense and rapid rope jumping that is amazing to watch for its physical dexterity. What the physical action and the text have to do with each other, though, in this context is unclear.
Still, there are many physically interesting moments and well-taken points over the course of the lecture. And, even though some of the truths it speaks may not be shocking, To Be Straight With You
sheds light on our sadly lacking global perspective just as we think we are somewhat ahead of the curve on social issues.
Labels: UCLA Live 09/10