© Kris Rozental

© Kris Rozental

Lyttelton, Theatre, National Theatre London

If you haven’t been paying attention, Lloyd Newson’s DV8 has morphed into one of the most influential modern dance companies of modern times. I saw him many years ago, probably in his nascent form when the style was silent, aggressive, confrontational with a decidedly gay perspective.

Since then, he’s added text, confronted taboo subjects such as Islamic fundamentalism and homosexuality and religion and turned into a dance/verbatim company infused with his particular brand of no holds barred directness. And it has to be said, beauty.

John, his latest, manifests all these qualities in a piece based on one particular story – John, who appeared in Newson’s rehearsal room when researching and interviewing gay men about the connection between love and sex and those who frequent gay saunas.

John’s childhood and upbringing is reflected in Anna Fleischle’s revolving doors so eloquently summarising the revolving door state of John’s existence: familial turmoil, domestic violence, alcohol, drugs. In and out of prison, homeless, John eventually finds his way to a gay sauna to find possible companionship.

A narrative that might be familiar, Newson’s distinctive style of spoken text – not always clear – and the accompanying choreographed movement however make it something wholly unique. Each phrase, emotion, situation seems carved out through the human frame, particularly that of Hannes Langolf (John). His corkscrewing body seems as if made of rubber, never still, wrapping itself around walls, doors, other human beings – even bottles. A never ending river of motion.

At one point, John is had up before the Justice. John and the Judge (Ian Garside) perform tiny shuffling foot moments, like geishas, which have the effect of watching criminal and justice system hypnotically dancing around and beside each other. Fabulous.

Another time, repetitive pelvic thrusts accompany a gay sauna customer recounting his lust for repeated unprotected sex.

If the gay sauna naked bodies are the show’s most eye-catching if predictable element, Newson’s message of individual responsibility is its most surprising in an evening that otherwise explodes with emotion and ends on a dying fall; John’s search for a person – maybe male – to share love. And the steady breathing of his sleeping frame, rising and falling.

First published in Reviewsgate Nov 2014