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Smart and clever dance reveals harrowing stories of hate

A dancer crumples against a wall of angry graffiti in To Be Straight With You.

To Be Straight with You

  • DV8 Physical Theatre
  • National Arts Centre
  • In Ottawa on Thursday

Lloyd Newson is the revered artistic director/creative force behind Britain's hard hitting DV8 Physical Theatre known for tackling unpleasant subjects head on. His production of To Be Straight with You takes a tough, uncompromising look at ethnic and religious intolerance against gays and lesbians - and is full of clever physicality and lyrical grace.

To Be Straight with You makes the point that many gays and lesbians living in so-called liberal societies still face intimidation, physical abuse and even death. Every monologue or dialogue within the piece is taken from utter truth: Over 200 interviews were conducted throughout Britain over 18 months to collect views from both sides of the spectrum.

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The text is then performed to some kind of movement. For example, a gay Indian man dances a charming Bollywood number shadowed in mirrored choreography by another man, presumably his lover. His speech, however, is about how he's going to cope when his new bride arrives in Britain.

Smart physicality abounds. A female dancer keeps her feet nervously swiveling as she constantly changes her voice to present various Caribbean women in their condemnation of homosexuality. The image is one of tension and vulnerability. A monologue stating that gay people are animals is followed by the cast stepping out in various full-head animal masks doing an animal dance.

In terms of religious intolerance, Christianity and Islam are clearly portrayed as the heavies. African and Caribbean culture (particularly Jamaica through its dance hall music), as well as Muslim societies everywhere, are also depicted as dangerous places for gays, with the greatest tragedy being that these prejudices are allowed to exist in supposedly tolerant societies.

Newson's shows are always on the cutting edge of technology and To Be Straight with You is filled with mind-boggling wizardry. The use of video, design, lighting and sound will leave the audience wondering "how did they do that?" The interaction between live action and animation is truly a marvel.

Take, for example, the virtual globe that one performer manipulates as he explains how the world aligns itself on homosexual issues. He appears to be inside the globe and his hands cause the image to revolve around him as he points to various countries. He also ends with the sobering note that 85 per cent of nations with the least tolerance for homosexuals are former British colonies.

The strong, eight-member multicultural cast strikes a chord whether depicting the victims or their tormentors. The stories are infuriating or harrowing by turn. One certainly can't quibble with the consummate theatricality of the show or its good intentions.

That being said, I couldn't help feel that Newson should be putting To Be Straight with You on where it counts - namely in high schools, with the hope of impacting attitudes during formative years.

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The prolonged applause that greeted To Be Straight with You in Ottawa was one of affirmation, not one of change.

DV8 Physical Theatre appears in Toronto at the Fleck Dance Theatre in Toronto Dec. 2 to 5.

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