Thursday, 15 March 2012

#DV8 Review 2: The personal is the political

So the other day I recorded a conversation for Getting Better Acquainted with Sanne who's currently studying physical theatre and has a background in dance and performance. She talked about what she wants to get from seeing theatre which broke down as: magic. She wants to sit in an audience and watch wonder happen on stage. Something unquantifiable, something indescribable. And broadly speaking I'd say that's what I want too. It's certainly something that you can only get in a live moment. It's something that theatre and dance can offer that other mediums can't. Not in the same way.

When I studied theatre at university dance was the stuff that really spoke to me. Having gone there as a playwright I discovered my course wasn't really about texts. It was about a different kind of theatre. A kind I wasn't familiar with. As I became familiar with it I found it to be limited in many ways. But the stuff that did excite me, that surpassed the limitations, tended to be dance and physical theatre. It broke through all the theory and pretension and hit you in the face with visceral performance that provoked emotional responses. It was the stuff that gave me the magic.

DV8 in many ways represents this magic to me. Whilst I didn't see them live the films of their performances are some of the few times I've seen the amazingness that physical bodies in space can be captured on film.

Sanne also spoke about trying to make theatre that conveys a political message. She hasn't seen work that contains both politics and the magic. She hasn't come out a piece of political theatre saying "Wow!" She may have said "that was worthy" or "that was interesting" but never "that was a transformative experience."

She's still trying to find a way to knit these two things together in her own work. I told her that I think she's in the right area. I've found physical theatre to be the least preachy and most challenging political theatre I've seen. In it's physicality it has the power to disturb and challenge the viewer much more than something with words can.

I spoke of the ways that gender roles and sexuality is explored and challenged by DV8's Enter Achilles and Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men. And told her that I was excited to be going to see their new show Can We Talk About This?

I knew this new show was going to tackle issues around radical Islam, terrorism, censorship and the liberal fear of challenging religion. I went to the show expecting to see these themes explored with emotional physicality and powerful ambiguity by amazing dancers.

I did see amazing dancers, occasionally there were hints of amazing dance, but mostly what I experienced was a well crafted political essay spoken in a verbatim style by dancers. The movement was actually very uninteresting compared to what you might hope for, it didn't even seem that connected to the words. And the words dominated the whole experience. There was hardly a moment in the hour and 20 minute show that wasn't filled with words. The words weren't connected to characters particularly, although they came from real people, and they were delivered in a dispassionate style. This was a theatre in a Brechtian style, but missing the humour and style. And with far too much reliance on words.

What was sadly absent from the piece was the humanity of the people being quoted and of the issues and themes being played out. This was a slanted history essay. Dry. Biased.

The biggest strength of dance, of the human body in space, is the way it can explore what it is to be human. That's why it has political power. That's why I had high hopes for this piece. Enter Achilles and Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men both challenge the audience with the physicality of the performers. They also have characters and they have plot.

Can We Talk About This? takes the humans out of the equation. It doesn't explore why people feel the things they feel. It didn't challenge with anything that wasn't words. It basically had all the flaws Sanne had picked out as being present in political theatre. It had no magic. It was just preaching a point of view.

For the most part it took the personal out of the political. And we can see that sort of politics anywhere. What it could have done was put the personal into it. Explore more. Engage more. Give us a human experience rather than a cold polemic.

It didn't talk, it lectured. If we are to
talk about this then we have to listen. We have to challenge. We have to explore. And we have to remember we are all humans. That's the hardest thing to do.

Recently in a conversation about the recent Thatcher film I said "I'm annoyed that it will humanise her so much." The person I was talking to said "But she is human."

Werner Hertzog was accused of "trying to humanise" criminals on death row whilst he was making his recent documentary. He replied, "They are already human."

That's one of the things we always talk about. That we have to talk about. Sure, we should criticise bias. We shouldn't be afraid to challenge any idea, any belief, any action. But we should also explore why it is said. Consider the human who says it. Consider the human who murders as well as the human who is murdered. That's what we don't talk about. That's what this show could have talked about.

By not doing so it was as biased, scared and one-sided as the people it was attacking.

It could have been an open conversation. How else can we hope to understand difference and bias?

This talk by Karl James discusses many of the issues I go over in this blog and many of the issues DV8 was preaching at me the other night.

I'd like to end this review by suggesting you check it out. I wish I could recommend DV8's show but I can't. Their back catalogue however is amazing. Check that out if you can.

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