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Interview: David Hughes

The dance great brings his latest creation to the Carriageworks

Written by . Published on September 23rd 2011.

Interview: David Hughes

DAVID Hughes grew up in Leeds before pursuing a career in London with all the major dance companies including DV8, Siobhan Davies Dance and Rambert Dance Company. 

He then formed his own company scoring a massive hit at the Edinburgh Fringe with ‘Red Room’. 

He’s back in town for a one-off performance of his new work, ‘Last Orders.’

Confidential caught up with him.

"He lived in a cave with his family and they all shagged each incestuously, as well as mugging, murdering people and then eating the bodies."

You grew up in Leeds. Are you looking forward to coming home to perform Last Orders at the Carriageworks? 

I was brought up in Chapeltown so I always look forward to coming back as I get homesick and Leeds is a beautiful city. 

After I finished my career in London I came back to Yorkshire to work with the Phoenix Dance Theatre, and I loved it. But there no real opportunities here and, ironically, there were more in Scotland.  I was disappointed, as I really wanted to come back home.

Last Orders sounds like a challenging and odd show; can you give us any sense of what the story is?

It’s based on the life of Sawney Bean who was a 16th century East Ayrshire cannibal.

He lived in a cave with his family and they all shagged each incestuously, as well as mugging, murdering people and then eating the bodies. It’s really myth and legend, as with so many stories which range between the 15th and 16th centuries.

We’ve transposed this idea into a derelict 1980s Glasgow nightclub, which is a metaphor for the cave, but it’s then been transposed into something else which is the celebration of flesh. It’s almost like you can eat someone’s heart and you take their soul which gives all this power

It’s a tricky one to describe and, believe you me, I’m still trying to work it out.

What’s the reaction been like? 

It’s actually split audiences and critics. Some have hailed it, and some of have really torn it apart. It can be quite bleak in some places...that’s really selling it isn’t it? Come and see a bleak show.

Don’t you think if you’ve split the critics and split the audience you must be doing something right?

A lot of the new young writers have hailed it as genius or having amazing performers, and say it’s a bit like David Lynch. It’s like, 'what the fuck is going on here?' 

Then you get the major papers who always used to support us – all the nationals. They’ve been really angry with us.

It’s a backlash, but surely you’ve got to stay true to your artistic vision? 

When we did the Red Room it was so different. People didn’t know if it was theatre or dance. My reaction was, do you like it? That show was celebrated and now we’re touring it internationally.

With this work there wasn’t that much dance in it so in the last week I’ve intervened and actually bumped up the dance a bit more. The director, Al Seed, and I agreed that was needed because we can’t be arrogant about the work. We don’t want to alienate the audience because we can still produce challenging work, but we also want to be accessible.

I’ve been in the studio choreographing parts of the work, and Al has stripped back some of the sections. We’ve been chopping and changing a little bit.

But it’s such a fine line. Sometimes we get our knuckles rapped. But you’ve got to believe in what you’re doing.

Why should people come out to see this show?

It’s really hard to explain the work. It’s beautifully lit with great performers. Don’t go in there expecting dance or expecting theatre. Just go and see it for what it is.

I’m still to get the show into perspective but the first time I saw it I came out, looked at the director, and said ‘Damn, that’s a mad work.’ 

When people come to see your stuff they do expect you will push it a bit?

Look, it might be based on a cannibal but don’t expect to see people running around eating each other. It’s a celebration of flesh. 

I’d rather not even say that about the work because you’ll be looking for metaphors that aren’t there.

I think what’s really bizarre, and has divided the critics, is that I’m a dancer who has worked for all the major companies and they’re expecting a big dancey number. Even though there’s dance within it - or there is now – there’s not really a narrative to it. 

There’s four sections and four journeys. It’s almost like The Canterbury Tales or Dante’s Inferno where we’re telling different stories through different journeys, which is probably the best way to describe it.

It is a bit mad though.


* Tickets for Last Orders on Tuesday 27 September at Carriageworks are priced £13.50/£11.50 concessions and can be booked by phone on 0113 224 3801.






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