All at DV8 are very saddened by the death of Nigel Charnock, a founding member of DV8 and inspirational performer.
The following obituary by Lloyd Newson can be seen in part on the Guardian online and can be read in its entirety below.
Untamed artist who combined extraordinary physicality with acerbic wit
Nigel Charnock the performer, director and choreographer has died, aged 52, after being diagnosed with stomach cancer in mid-June of this year.
I first saw Nigel perform at a Dance Umbrella gala in 1985 and was struck by this lithe, translucent and hyperactive creature. His energy and physical commitment were overwhelming. We met and discovered we shared disillusionment with mainstream dance and the superficiality that dominated the form. So I invited Nigel to work with me on a duet about male friendship and trust. The result was My Sex: Our Dance (1986) and the birth of DV8 Physical Theatre. Dancing with him remains one of the most joyous experiences of my life. He gave everything he had; emotionally, intellectually and physically – there were no half measures about the man.
For the next 6 years Nigel and I continued working together. His unsparing performance inDead Dreams of Monochrome Men (1990), and tragic-comic character in Strange Fish(1992), subsequently captured on film, remain testimony to his extraordinary physicality and talent with text; he was touching, tragic, hilarious, honest.
Born in Manchester, Nigel studied at Cardiff's Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and then went on to train at the London School of Contemporary Dance (1981) before working with Ludus Dance Company (1982-1985) and Extemporary Dance Theatre (1985-1986). After leaving DV8 in 1993 he created a series of solos for himself: Human Being, Hell Bent, Original Sin, Resurrection, Frank which all revolved around themes of love, redemption, loneliness and nihilism. Themes that recurred through his life’s work.
He formed his own company – Nigel Charnock + Company – in 1995 but continued to make pieces for other companies in Britain and abroad.
At the time of his death he was working on TEN MEN for his own company, an excerpt of which premiered to great acclaim at the British Dance Edition showcase in February 2012.
Twenty-five or so years after I met Nigel he was still as vital as when I first saw him, “the taut physical discipline of his fast paced energetic jazz dance routine would have been the envy of someone half his age” (5 star review of Nigel’s collaboration with Jazz musician Gwilyn Simcock in 2010).
In the world of contemporary dance to have your work referred to as a "jazz dance routine" would be an insult – not for Nigel. He took great inspiration from the philosophies behind jazz music and improvisation, and his later shows, the ensemble piece Stupid Men (2007) and autobiographical solo, One Dixon Road (2010) were largely improvisational. The only word from that review that he might have taken offence at was the word dance.
Nigel had a love/hate relationship with a lot of things, but dance as a form was up there in the top 5. He was critical about the lack of content in dance and most contemporary choreographers whom he believed hid behind a cloak of abstraction. For many years he tried to stop dance audiences from coming to see his work, particularly dance critics. “They don’t get it at all, for a start they don’t think it’s dance,” he said. “The best audiences for me, if I can get them, are ordinary people, the people who don’t go to theatre”.
There maybe an element of defensiveness in his statements but Nigel was scathing about the elitism of contemporary dance and ballet and this underscored his dislike of arty pretentiousness: “I’m more of an entertainer, I make shows really, I make pieces, I don’t make work.”
Prophetically he said last year in a filmed interview “I don’t take anything seriously, oh well here we go, let’s do this – come on you’re not here for very long, you could get cancer tomorrow, it’s only life, its really not important". But if you believed every word Nigel said on stage you’d be fooled. He was a bundle of contradictions and embodied them. He took many things seriously and rallied fearlessly against religion, homophobia, bad hairstyles and whatever was topical that day.
In 2007, during a performance of his improvised solo Frank, he inadvertently caused a cultural furore by dancing on the Armenian and British flags. The Armenian Minister for Culture said “it is unacceptable for us that someone who is considered a national treasure to Britain would bring such low-quality art to Armenia.” It was reported that some audience members likened the solo to a “strip act” and felt uncomfortable because it challenged their “conservative definitions of art”. Thank goodness he did. I have only given a handful of shows a standing ovation and his Frank was one of them, and that was Nigel’s power. When he hit the spot, and usually it was with his solos, he provoked and awoke audiences – there was nothing he wouldn’t say or do. With incisive wit he spoke aloud his private thoughts and ours. Who is doing that today? Who will take his place? He was an original, so why should we expect a copy.
A week before Nigel died, emaciated, frail and heavily sedated with painkillers, he was photographed in the bath grinning ecstatically holding the Olympic torch – yes the official thing. Later that day he was found in the hospice gym. Even until the day before he died he was there, on the static bike, trampet and treadmill. As the hospice doctor treating Nigel said, “he’s outside of my usual experience”. I couldn’t agree more.
- Nigel is survived by his two elder brothers Andrew and Peter, and he died surrounded by his closest friends and partner, Luke Pell.
Lloyd Newson - DV8 Physical Theatre