"I feel the company has an openness to the distortions and corruptions of dance to creative ends."
Alex Rigg, performer and poster boy for Last Orders
When David Hughes Dance hit the Traverse with The Red Room at Fringe 2009, the enthusiasm of the critics was contagious. Not only did he recruit the dark lord of clowning, Al Seed, he presented a version of The Masque of the Red Death that incorporated Indian dance, a disorientating light scheme and even a joke about ballet at the French court. Perhaps taking his cue from continental companies like Les Ballet C de la B, Hughes recruited a diverse cast, and placed their technical skill and traditions at the service of Seed's fiendish vision.
Come 2011, and expectations were running high for the "sequel": Al Seed taking on the legend of Sawney Bean, Scotland's most famous cannibal. Yet the result divided critics. Some delighted in the savagery of Seed's vision; others attacked it as predictable and distasteful. It was even accused of bulletin boards of "not being theatre" - an accolade usually afforded to the most challenging work that settles down in subsequent years to become an establishment favourite, like The Rite of Spring.
Hughes' career has included time in Ballet Rambert - when, under choreographer Christopher Bruce, they were are their creative peak - and DV8, who were crucial during the introduction of physical theatre to wider audiences. His subsequent work has included solo pieces from some of the UK's finest choreographers - especially the challenging Bruce's Hurricane, set to the music of Bob Dylan and retelling the story of the unjustly imprisoned boxer in a powerfully mimetic style.
Yet unlike many other companies - including Rambert, who have remained stuck in ballet-based technique - David Hughes Dance have followed up on the promise of freedom within "contemporary" choreography. While much so-called contemporary dance is ballet with a few ungainly additions, DHD reached out to other forms. The Red Room was an expression of confident mutation: Last Orders has taken that confidence further. Refusing to tame Bean's story for the stage, it has been accused of reveling in ugliness.
Of course, that is entirely appropriate for the story that Last Orders tells.That the show has met such harsh criticism does not reflect so much on the quality - no-one suggests that the company can't hack it - but the challenges made to the accepted ideas of what dance ought to cover. It's also a question of taste...