Lloyd Newson

Bienvenue. Over the next several months I hope to record my observations and thoughts about my time in Paris.

Tonight I saw the first – for me – ‘spectacle’ of the Festival Automne at the Theatre de la Ville. The Festival Automne is Paris’ fall festival of the arts. Playing from late September through December, it offers theatre, dance, music and performing arts beyond categorization in a variety of venues though out Paris. It is – in a sense – a winter companion to the summer Avignon Festival.

Through Saturday David Newson – an Australian dancer I was previously unfamiliar with – presents his dance/ theatre piece “Can We Talk About This?”. Through real testimony – spoken by the dancers – and heightened movement, he offers a critique of the Westerns world’s overly politically correct laxness towards radical Islam.

The piece contains some familiar events – the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the threats over the Danish cartoon, and the killing of Theo Van Gogh – as well as fresh, to me, debates from the British parliament, television and UN transcripts.

The work is channeled through an event at a British school where a teacher caught fire – metaphorically – for making anti radical Islam statements. The setting for the piece appears to be a large room or corridor at this school. The architecture is blandly modern – we could be anywhere in the contemporary Western world – and chillingly conformist.

The most provocative moment was at the start when Mr. Newson, alone onstage, asks the audience if we feel we are morally superior to the Taliban. A couple of brave audience members raise their hands and Mr. Newson – as he details the medieval brutality of the Afghanistan regime – goes on the criticize the rest of us for our political correctness. These descriptions are accompanied by Newson’s distinctive dance and gestures which embellish and elaborate the straightforward text. It is a captivating coupling and when more dancers appear, speaking testimony from school teachers, imams, and feminist activists, I felt myself drawn into the material. I have not seen before this mix of spoken testimony and physical gesture. 2 Muslim men argue the subtleties of Islamic law hopping across the stage in a rhythmic pas de deux which underscores and contradicts their statements. The evening continues on, covering many facets of Newson’s supposition, in testimony after testimony, at times playful and deeply moving. However, for me, it never rises above this simple idea to transcend into something more poetic. It felt more diatribe than Dionysian. There is one section when Mr. Newson dances alone – and he is a marvelous dancer – to a collage of voices speaking texts which are repeating the word ‘implication’. I felt the work start to dig deeper than its academic debates and personal testimonies.

Interestingly 9/11 is not mentioned and only suggested once in a projected quote. America’s relationship with radial Islam is very different from Europe’s and Great Britain’s – we are at once more hostile and more accepting. I can’t imagine an American President banning the hi-jab in schools as Sarkozy has done. On the other hand I don’t know if David Cameron would be so bold as to suggest creating a ‘wanted, dead or alive’ poster for Al Qaeda’s latest mastermind.

Et ainsi au lit.

About Russell Parkman

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