David Hughes

Feature by Gareth K Vile | 16 Aug 2011
  • David Hughes

"The company is serious when it says it wants to be truly original. Our works aren't conventional but are entertaining and extremely hard to define. We gather talented people with talented and very different backgrounds and put them in a blender. The common thread is each performer has a mastery of their given discipline."
Matt Foster, Associate Director

Although Scotland is surprisingly well-served for ambitious dance companies and choreographers - Scottish Dance Theatre, Scottish Ballet and multiple Made in Scotland entries can all hold their own against dance from nations with larger populations and older traditions - the rise of David Hughes Dance suggests the future is even brighter. A former dancer with Rambert - Christopher Bruce made Hurricane on him, which has recently become part of DHD's touring repetoire- Hughes' Fringe entries are compelling Caledonia collaborations.

Hughes is tentative about defining a particular style for his productions. He suggests that it is about "working with different disciplines, though that is nothing new," before admitting "I suppose it's in the quality of that performer, from that discipline." Certainly, he has involved prominent Indian dancers, clowns, ballet boys and live artists. Last Orders is a "sort of sequel" to The Red Room, which also employed Glasgow performance legend Al Seed.

The Red Room dealt with decadence and plague: Last Orders grapples with the tale of Sawney Bean, Scotland's most famous cannibal. It's not a typical dance story.

"I don't feel the story of Sawney Bean is macabre by theatrical standards," Seed insists. "I think Aeschylus or Shakespeare get a lot more more macabre, and on bigger scales too." His lighting designer, Alberto Santos Bellido concurs. "In the years I have spent working with Al, we have addressed much more macabre subjects in more explicit and graphic ways. This show was not really a shock for me."

The real provocation of Last Orders is perhaps in the diversity of talents involved. Aside from Seed, Alex Rigg has been enlisted as scenographer and performer. His recent work has brought a new dimension of garish surrealism to street theatre.

"It has been great fun," he says of bringing Sawney to the stage. "I feel the company has an openess to the distortions and corruptions of dance to creative ends." That willingness to manipulate dull conventions chimes with Rigg's own aesthetic. Rigg was almost arrested during a street performance - merely because his costume and Butoh inspired movements were beyond the comprehension of the local police.

Matt Foster takes up the theme. "It has been a thrill as if we have been doing something naughty," he laughs. "There have been moment when we have literally felt dirty and unclean because of the themes of the work." Dance - or physical theatre, or whatever Hughes work can be called - lends itself to the carnality of the tale. "There has been a close link between the story of Sawney Bean and the physicality of the world we are performing in," Foster acknowledges. "For instance, there's a a strong sense of claustrophobia and flesh."

Seed is ultimately unapologetic about tackling tough subjects. "People are endlessly fascinated by their own mortality, by the breaking of taboos, and by ghost stories," he explains."And that's what we're dealing with." And he rightly notes that "it's not about source material, but the treatment. Dropping your ice cream cone on the pavement can be tragic, or horrifying - if played properly."

Last Orders has been supported by the National Theatre of Scotland, a recognition of Hughes ' increasing importance. His passionate belief in the popular potential of dance, the union of disparate talents and an unwavering committment to serious ideas marks Hughes out as more than just another minor Scottish artist. Last Orders is the pride of the Traverse's programme, a clear statement of the venue's willingness to expand their New Writing remit beyond the obvious. And this production takes the idea of dance far beyond vagie notions of relevance and immediacy.


Traverse 1, 
16 to 28 Aug 2011, various times and prices



Autumn 2011 Tour Dates:
Thursday 22 September - Macphail Centre, Ullapool
Saturday 24 September - Aros, Portree, Isle of Skye
Tuesday 27 September - Carriageworks, Leeds
Friday 30 September -  Eastgate Theatre, Peebles
Saturday 1 October - Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
Monday 3 October - Universal Hall, Findhorn
Tuesday 4 October - Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
Thursday 6 October - Cumbernauld Theatre, Cumbernauld
Friday 7 October - Arches, Glasgow
Saturday 8 October - Macrobert, Stirling
http:// http://www.traverse.co.uk/