Lloyd Newson hates dance. At least, he hates its feel-goodiness and its inability to handle facts. He wants to shake people up, engage them politically, make them think – and to this end he has melded speech to the body in motion.
Conformity, gender identity and consumer culture have all come under scrutiny in his work with his company DV8 (its very name a call to arms). The insights have often been trenchant and funny. However his latest show, To Be Straight With You, takes on vicious anti-gay dogma, and a natural reaction is to think not merely that he's preaching to the converted, but that he's wasting his time.
For the first five minutes, this writer's prejudice was confirmed. A barrage of hate speak from an actor-dancer posing as a Jamaican followed by a recorded reggae song advocating the lynching and burning of gays is so repellent that you wonder if repetition isn't compounding the crime. There follows a rather preachy lecture about the global extent of homophobia, made suddenly more palatable by a mysteriously beautiful giant globe. As the "lecturer" speaks of the 85 countries that criminalise homosexuality, and the seven in which the death penalty can be imposed, those sections of the virtual world turn blood red. At the flick of a wrist, the globe spins in a dark blur. The contrast between this alluring object and the abhorrent facts still burns in the memory.
But what really switches the receptors on is the realisation that this isn't just horrible stuff happening far away under mad, bad regimes. It is also happening here. All the words in the show are drawn verbatim from interviews conducted in British towns and cities. Granted, the most terrifying stories are those of men and women from immigrant cultures, both aggressors and victims of aggression. But the underlying message is that, in some neighbourhoods, local religious custom sometimes supersedes the law. Consider the 15-year-old from Hull who, after telling his Muslim parents that he was gay, found himself cornered by a family member in an alley and stabbed.
It sounds gruesome, but among the tales of bigotry and fear are glints of joyful defiance. The Hull boy's story is related by the hugely appealing Ankur Bahl while continuously skipping, the rhythm of the rope responding to the pace of events in the narrative. It is such a feat of virtuosity it makes you laugh out loud. Bahl's Hull accent is spot-on, too: the whole sequence is a tour de force.
More obscurely, a dancer spins mutely around the stage to the recorded testimony of a 70-year-old female rabbi who confesses herself tired of fighting the destructive aspects of religion. A hard-line Christian talks about how he isn't really gay, while graffiti is chalked around him on a wall, deflating his claims.
Technically, the show is wonderfully slick, and full of visual surprises. It has flaws: some of the speech is indistinct, and yes, the type of person who attends this type of show will hardly need persuading. But it's a jungle out there, and we do need to know about it, and the extent to which British fairness and freedom are threatened.
'To Be Straight With You' continues to 15 Nov (020-7452 3000)
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