DV8 – The Cost of Living
Brighton Dome, 12-15 November 2003
There’s an amazing scene in DV8’s The Cost of Living when a tall skinny man walks on stage and sets down his ghetto blaster. You’re thinking: lives alone, not many friends, probably a bit repressed, sadness in his eyes. He presses play and Cher’s ‘Believe’ pumps out of the speakers. The man begins a routine of expressionless disco hand moves, just marking out the beat.
Then slowly you start to see his pursed lips curling at the corner, a slight smile in his eyes, the music catching a grip on his soul. Soon he’s throwing his whole body into it, gyrating around the stage with abandon, totally seduced and set free by the music. It’s such a simple idea but it’s so completely joyful and life-affirming that the audience whoop in appreciation.
Dance lets this guy be who he wants to be. But what is it to us? That’s the kind of question DV8 ask in this piece which is all about image and perfection, worth and self-worth, celebrity and conformity and other such contemporary queries.
What’s a dance worth? £5 for a plié one performer suggests. With arms that’s a tenner, add some emotion you double the fee. “Heard you can do some tricks”, one man pesters a balletic dancer. “Do that thing with your leg. I can pay you,” he insists, pegging her as a performing pony, or perhaps a prostitute.
DV8 confront us with some striking images. David Toole is a dancer with no legs, gracefully spinning on his hands. He is bombarded with provocative questions from another dancer, everything we want to know but would be far too polite to ask – Were you born like that? Ever had a girlfriend? We don’t get any answers.
Another ‘differently sized’ dancer moves his large but nimble frame around the stage. It’s tokenistic but that’s the point. “DV8 hired me for my size,” he says, “now I’m worried if I lose any weight I’ll lose my job!” No ironies are lost here.
A group of beauty pageant babes peel back the pretence to show the scarred pasts behind their smiling faces. Drugs! Sex! Therapy!
A series of clever and playful scenes are danced out, all asking pointed questions or painting a picture of mindless conformity. Couples strolling in the park with colourful balloons, someone getting in a tangle with a tape measure, a demented game of follow-the-leader. Plus nudity, cross dressing and suicide.
The show completely kept my attention for 90 minutes although it wasn’t nearly as controversial or hard hitting as I expected from Lloyd Newson. Yes, the obsession with image is unhealthy, especially prescribed images of perfection. At the same time watching dance is all about judging images. They know this too, so seeing as we’ve paid our ticket money, DV8 give us what we came to see, interspersing the theatrical scenes with sleek contemporary duets.
It’s all very entertaining and well paced, shifting effortlessly from realism to fantasy with the help of a great set and lighting and an eclectic musical selection. Comic, tragic and technically slick, DV8 are the original ‘physical theatre’ company and they’re still doing it better than the rest.