DV8 is ‘an independent collective of dancers who had become frustrated and disillusioned with the preoccupation and direction of most dance.’[i] Their work is about taking aesthetic and physical risks to break down barriers between dance, theatre and personal politics.
Contesting Clause 28
In 1987, in Thatcherite Britain, gay men were under considerable public pressure owing to three fronts: the increased awareness of AIDS, hostile press coverage regarding AIDS and the introduction of Clause 28 (which subsequently became Section 28) into the Local Government Finance Bill, which made it illegal for local authorities to promote homosexuality, publishing material with the intention of promoting homosexuality and the teaching of it as a pretended family relationship.
The Clause outraged the artistic community and many recognised artists (including Sir Peter Hall and Julie Christie) condemned it as a “censorship of a depth, extent and malignity unknown to any democratic country”[ii]. A number of artistic companies devised and/or commissioned work that would politically challenge Clause 28. DV8 were commissioned by Signal of Channel 4 to create a piece for television broadcast. The piece they created, entitled Never Again, controversially depicted images that could be perceived as showing homophobia, homosexuality and, by contrast, heterosexual relationships.
Within this piece the audience is invited to watch a series of representational dances based on relationships, but most notably homosexual interaction. We are presented with a gay couple that, in a symbolic gesture of their masculinity, perform an almost combative sequence that slowly becomes gentle and tender.
At the point where the two begin an intimate interaction a party sequence of ‘blatant’ heterosexual couples above them begin throwing glass bottles at the gay couple. To begin with, the couple attempt to dodge the bottles but slowly they are forced apart by the broken glass at their bare feet. We are then confronted with a sequence involving a lesbian duo. A sheet of glass appears from nowhere and separates the couple – with a heterosexual figure standing on each side of the partition. Eventually the party above fades off and the homosexual couples are left to rediscover each other once more, although they suddenly realise that they are being watched from a number of different angles.[iii]
DV8 and Homosexuality
DV8 have produced many works revolving around the theme of homosexuality including My Sex, My Dance and Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men. Their work opposes conventional theatre aesthetics by using a series of montage sequences, non-linguistic media, deconstructed signifiers and above all, by opposing traditional aesthetics of dance thereby making the company primarily postmodern. The observing of two male dancers enwrapped in a playful, almost sensual, routine contradicts the norms of aesthetic dance. As Ray Burt explains:
“Conventions generally dictate that no spectator should be shown the male body as if he were the object of a pleasurable gaze. This is because the spectator is presumed to be male and his dominant male gaze a heterosexual one.”[iv]
However, since dance is a non-linguistic medium the audience can only develop interpretations through the semiotics of the dancers’ bodies. Many of the relationships depicted on the DV8 stage do not at any point state or dictate that they are homosexual.
Instead the audience are confronted with a sequence of power-play images that (while being highly suggestive) indicate a relationship of some sort with no direct indication that it is either sexual or homosexual. The sequences could be interpreted as a form of comradeship, bonding or unity, but, as Burt observes, “lest this acceptable attraction be mistaken for forbidden homosexual interest, their affection is severely restrained.”[v]
Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men
Of particular significance with the method in which DV8 subversively challenge their audiences is an example from Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men, a production loosely based on the story of the serial killer Dennis Nilsen.
During the performance two men conduct an intimate sequence of reaching out and holding each other and finally rejecting each other. While the action is taking place another male dancer observes them. Burt comments on this stating that by having a ‘watcher’ within the performance affects the audience by forcing them to shift their point of view – alienating them and making them aware that they are outside the action in Brechtian style.
“This challenges the audience to recognize that they are looking at men who are looking at men in a way motivated by sexual tastes conventionally judged to be deviant. Dead Dreams … prompts the audience to consider whether or not they accept that the behaviour presented is totally alien to them.”[vi]
The notion of the conventional role of the spectator’s gaze is opposed by observing men as objects of ‘pleasurable gaze’.
This further highlights and demonstrates how postmodern performance styles challenge audience perception by confronting them with ‘unpleasant realities’. Postmodern performances do not propose ways of intervening these realities, but simply illustrate their existence and raise awareness. DV8 challenges homophobia through a means that cannot be accused of promoting homosexuality, thereby avoiding any legal problems with Clause 28. The more challenging and risqué the subject matters become, the more susceptible the performance is to censorship.
In our next article we will review what censorship is and how postmodern theatre is capable of defying themes that are considered censorable.
[ii] Campbell P (ed) Analysing Performance Ch. 16 p.281
[iii] Newson L Never Again DV8 Films, Signal
[iv] Burt R “Look at the Male” in The Male Dancer p.72
[v] ibid “Post Men” p.178
[vi] ibid “Post Men” p.189