September 18, 2000

DV8’s Can we afford this.
Photo by Jimmy Posarik courtesy DV8

DV8 Physical Theatre

Queen Elizabeth Hall
London, England
September 18?29, 2000

Reviewed by Donald Hutera

“BLESSED ARE THE AVERAGE” reads a digital signboard in the newest work from Britain?s groundbreaking DV8 Physical Theatre. Surely, in terms of art or entertainment, this is an inaccuracy. Most of us attend live performance in the hope of seeing extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. But what qualifies as extraordinary? And in the wider arena of society, exactly who are the arbiters of taste, beauty and acceptability? These are some of the central ideas kicked around by director Lloyd Newson and a cast of seventeen in Can We Afford This/The Cost of Living. After premiering at the Olympic Arts Festival in Sydney, Australia, this intermittently engaging production transferred to London as the opening event of this year?s Dance Umbrella.

Newson, champion of the unpretty and unconventional, prides himself on perpetrating a more honest, provocative brand of movement-based theater than we are normally allowed (or choose) to see. Here he?s assembled his largest and most diverse cast yet. Sydney cabaret artiste Paul Capsis plays an anxious camp diva like Sonny and Cher morphed into a single body. Svelte septuagenarian Diana Payne Myers and mountainous Lawrence Goldhuber make cameo appearances. DV8 stalwart Robert Tannion, more conventionally built, duets with such newcomers as tattooed hula hooper Kareena Oates. Legless David Toole, the most powerful presence and something of a through-line character, circles intensely beneath the pillar-like limbs of speechless, classically trained Kate Coyne.

Newson and the company devised the piece. Peppered with text, it is episodically structured so that we encounter everyone at least once. There are too many people, really; some are given short shrift. The performance comes across like a cross between an uneven sketch show and a garden party gone awry. The set, designed by Newson and Liam Steel, is typically clever: a sloping, walled lawn cunningly studded with trap doors. The tone is deceptively lighthearted given the plethora of heavyweight themes: conformity, body image, social ostracism, misplaced value judgments and eagerness to please.

During a mock meet-the-contestants parade (shades of Pina Bausch), a cast member tells us he sold heroin for two years to support his dance training. Another blithely announces that he has AIDS. These are declarations, not confessions. Each contestant wears a ribbon, as if awarded a prize simply for being him- or herself. The false notion that everyone?s a winner is Newson and company?s heavily ironic point. What worth do we assign ourselves and each other, they are asking. These are valid questions, often thoughtfully posed. But the notion of dance as a form of prostitution is belabored, and the production ends up being something less than the sum of its parts?much less profound than it might wish itself to be.