DV8: John (preview)
Seen at Dansens hus, Oslo, June 2014 (I also did a class/workshop with the company)
On leaving this performance, I caught myself wondering why I had not changed. Maybe I didn't feel any change yet because I was being too impatient, expecting to be challenged and sort of mentally re-engineered with immediate impact?
The very question said something about my high expectations of Lloyd Newson's and DV8's work. Some of his pieces have indeed changed my thinking. Watching "John", I kept thinking it was good, solid quality work, awesome set, strong performers, dramatic stories - and yet I was watching it as if from the outside, not really feeling touched, not sensing dilemmas to think about or be challenged by.
DV8's method for the last few years is described as "verbatim" - they build on research and interviews, and use real-life stories and quotes extensively as part of the performance. The texts are often illustrated or interpreted by movement - somewhere between physical theatre and dance. This whole approach means they must consider their "responsibility to portray" (their phrase, used during workshop - I love it!) and consider how their sources want to be used. It requires a very high level of trust from their sources, and it's amazing that they have been able to keep using this method for so many years and pieces.
For "John", they interviewed more than 50 men for a piece about "masculinity" or "men's place in society". One of them is the performance's main character, a person with a lot of "baggage" - crime, drugs, sentences. We hear his story, in his words, and it's a dramatic and strong one. Yet I feel like his problems remain his problems and have nothing to do with "Masculinity" or me as a male, I'm merely peeping into a 75 minute representation of a particularly troubled life.
The performance in Oslo was labelled a "preview" - seems Lloyd himself didn't consider the piece really finished. Certainly, the memories or impressions might still change me. But here are some of the possible reasons I felt like a neutral observer:
- The "John" persona has a strong sense of humour and a certain distance to his own suffering. The performance does him justice (responsibility to portray!) and thus perhaps disarms some of its potential emotional impact, if it were to portray him as more of a "victim".
- When "John" spoke about going to gay saunas, when he spoke of sex - it was information that was "intimate" through being a secret shared with few, but I didn't feel it was "personal". Sex is on many levels not personal at all - when described on or referenced from a stage, certainly not. The emotions and sensations are personal, but "John" was not the sort of person to dwell on that. However, in the general story arc of the performance, this part took up much of the last third - as if were a highlight of "getting to know" this person. For me it was more of an impersonal distraction.
- Few challenging dilemmas.
It's still a well-crafted piece full of interesting moments, so if I'm slightly disappointed it may simply be mostly due to oversized expectations.