Can we talk about this?

Currently the Britain located DV8 Physical Theater is on tour with their latest piece ‘Can we talk about this?’. It is a dance piece, which builds heavily on the actual theme of Islamophobia with specific accentuation on the British situation and thus luckily also recruits its dancers from a multicultural background. For me personally this was a very important aspect as in some parts the performance borderlines too easy interpretations, which might especially tempt a strictly western society into too easy conclusions. Generally the piece is absolutely worth seeing, though it tries to deal with quite a lot of material and that might be its weakest point.
I pass over to quote from dance bloggers, quite apt description of the piece:

[..] The 10 dancers/actors (they are equally skilled at both) are all outstanding but two stand out in particular, Joy Constantinides and Ira Mandela Siobhan, whose flow of movement combined with their detailed gestures, is entrancing.
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Constandinides, in her early 60s, and a founder member of Kim Brandstrup’s ARC Dance Company, dances/speaks a duet in which she portrays a perfectly proper Englishwoman making a speech while balancing a teacup on a saucer. She wears a coral coloured cardigan and expresses some of her words with balletic movements, a developpe here, a rond de jambe there, while miniscule yet eloquent hand movements personify her satisfaction with her words.

Her partner is her frame, her support, her furniture, her weight bearer, and her docile animal. At one point she places her saucer on his head, so that he resembles a subservient yet attentive faun. Masterful.

This duet comes as a relief in the flow of words and movement that at times threatens overkill as the performers raise the issues of freedom of speech, censorship and Islam, all based on interviews, thoughts and speeches of individuals such as Maryam Namazie, the director of ‘One Law for All,’ which fights for the rights of women, and against Sharia courts and Sharia law being introduced in Britain.

The repetitive nature of the subject matter and dance movements mean you have to concentrate, as the words of the performers are not always easy to hear. The set offers no distraction, as it is (deliberately) bland – a panel of mirrors, two TV sets, on which news footage is screened, two sound speakers, and beige walls on which the names and dates of various key events are scribbled.

But any wavering of attention is brief. Again and again, the power of the issues and ideas returns, in particular, close to the end when a performer sits at a desk and speaks with his only body movement being meticulous and impressive choreography for his agile hands. He is speaking the words of Roy Brown, a representative of the International Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Brown talked about challenging the United Nations’s resolution, ‘Combating Defamation of Religion’, which prevents discussing human rights’s abuses in relation to Sharia law.

At first, the text of Can We Talk About This? seems at odds with the dance language. The movement is initially comic, a hop from leg to leg; then heads – or upper bodies – moving like metronomes from side to side; or a man zipping up on his trousers as he flips into a head stand.

The choreography expands into broader, more dynamic movement, then retreats once more into restrained, robotic shuffling that emphasises chaotic debate or restricted thinking.

This whirlwind history lesson through bi-cultural culture is focussed on the United Kingdom, home of the Australian-born Newson, so that it demands close attention and probably some knowledge of British multicultural politics such as the fear in Britain of Islamic extremists who recently papered London boroughs warning residents that they were entering a “Sharia-controlled zone” where gambling, alcohol and music was banned.

Similar issues, however, recently made news in Australia when The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils made a submission to the Federal Parliament’s Committee on Multicultural Affairs. The council argued for the right of Muslims to be able to marry, divorce and conduct financial transactions under the principles of Sharia law.

The work is a co-production of the Théâtre de la Ville and the Festival d’automne, Paris, Dansens Hus, Stockholm, and the National Theatre of Great Britain. The Australian premiere is the start of a long international tour that appears to be ending its run in London next year, by which time the performers will have spent more than a year rehearsing and touring this work.

The dancers clearly contributed a great deal. Newson has explained how they downloaded onto their iPods interviews and speeches made by politicians, victims, authors, preachers, filmmakers and Muslim leaders, among others, then listened as they began to improvise their movements.

Can We Talk About This? is verbatim dance theatre that follows in the path of DV8’s similarly constructed To Be Straight With You, with both works indicating Newton’s growing desire to tell a story through words as much as choreography.

In this new work, the relentless onslaught of the text, at times distracts the mind from the complexities of the dance. The movement, however, is never subservient to the words. [..]

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