It’s hard to imagine Lloyd Newson choreographing just for the sake of making pretty pictures onstage. The artistic director of London’s DV8 Physical Theatre specializes in the kind of gritty, content-driven works rarely seen in today’s dance world.
Newson’s latest piece, “To Be Straight With You,” is hard-hitting even by his standards. The multimedia production, which explores intolerance, religion and homophobia, comes to the Novellus Theatre Thursday through Nov. 14 in a production presented by San Francisco Performances and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Newson began developing the work in the early 1990s after attending a gay rights march near Brixton, a London suburb with a large Afro-Caribbean population.
Newson, who is gay, and his then-boyfriend, who is Indian, were shocked to see people of color shouting obscenities at the marchers.
“That was something that stuck in my mind for a long time, one minority deciding to harass another minority,” says Newson, calling from the UK. “These were people who had experienced discrimination. Why would they then give it out so freely?”
He decided to let them answer for themselves. Working with a full-time researcher, Newson and his company began conducting interviews with people from both sides of the issue.
Gleaning his subjects from human rights organizations and anti-gay groups, he went to marches, protests, dance clubs and youth gatherings. He talked to people on the street, and what they told him was startling.
Newson documented examples of extreme violence, such as a Muslim boy who was stabbed by his father when he revealed he was gay. Others described life in a culture of fear dominated by threats and hate speech.
Newson was surprised at how many of his subjects said they’d been terrorized.
“These are people living in London, where homosexuality is legal,” he says. “We’re not in some extremist country, where homosexuality is punished by death.”
“To Be Straight With You” sets interview excerpts and Newson’s own movement vocabulary to a varied musical track.
The director strove for “authenticity,” even when the texts were repellent; one anti-gay protester, for instance, compared gay life to “cannibalism.”
“One of the issues that kept coming up was freedom of speech,” Newson says. “While I might not agree with some of these people, it was important to hear what they had to say.”
IF YOU GO