MODERN DANCE COMPANIES don't often make raunchy front-page news in tabloid newspapers. But for DV8, which performs in Hong Kong from tomorrow, it's not unusual. The company's award-winning Dead Dreams Of Monochrome Men not only made headlines in Britain in 1990 - 'Gay sex orgy on TV' - and jammed the broadcaster's switchboard, it had Tory MPs in Parliament demanding action from the Home Secretary. The TV show which followed then had its highest recorded ratings. A few years further down the line and more controversy for Britain's top cutting-edge dance company. As audiences walked into DV8's innocuously named The Happiest Days Of My Life, they were greeted with signs warning them about the hardcore pornography being projected on to screens and bodies throughout the performance. Flick to the company's Web site. Virtually the first thing viewers see is a quote: 'We owe it to the community to ensure this kind of thing is not encouraged. We have to protect the public . . .' (Ken Blanchard, Tory Councillor). No surprise, then, to learn that the show DV8 brings to Hong Kong, can we afford this?, comes with a warning: 'This production may contain nudity and may offend.' It's not that controversial artistic director Lloyd Newson revels in trouble - he never reads reviews (though even he did not miss one newspaper's 'nauseating filth' comment about his 1997 show Bound To Please) - it's just that he can't be bothered doing anything half-baked. 'A lot of people come away from a DV8 show quite upset, even angry,' says Newson, 42. 'I've realised that it's often because they've engaged in the subject matter and have completely forgotten about how the form got them to that very point. I think, 'This is brilliant!' ' When the row over Dead Dreams broke out, his reaction was typical. 'It suggested that dance can be a potent force and can stimulate thought, that it's not just a wimpy piece of moving wallpaper.' Newson has never disguised the fact that he intends to provoke. He wants to show life like it is, not as some insipid bourgeois existence. He tells you within minutes of an interview that he's gay and that's a part of his dance. Studying psychology at Melbourne University, Newson became interested in dance, was performing in England by 1980 and was frustrated by what he found within the first five years. He issued a printed manifesto Are You Tired Of Contemporary Dance? When he started DV8 in 1986, he was by all accounts an angry young man, determined to stay unpretentious and to challenge blandness. If the name of his new company - both a pun and an acronym - didn't set the tone for his new direction, the title of his first piece did: My Sex Our Dance. Whatever subject Newson has tackled, it's always carried the same undercurrent of raw emotions, and has aimed to jerk audiences into reality, rather than provide an escape from it. His company became known as a 'theatre of blood and bruises', with bodies hurtling across the stage, crashing into one another, ramming into the ground. Newson is out there to examine human frailties, to give dance a meaning he feels it too often lacks. These days he says he wants to try to make people laugh, but he doesn't seem much more mellow. You can forget about mainstream. Which makes it slightly incongruous that can we afford this? is the company's largest production commissioned by and for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Arts Festival and the Royal Festival Hall, London. Hong Kong is the only other place which will get to see the show outside of Britain. With 17 performers on stage rather than the usual six, it involves actors, dancers, singers and circus artists. But Newson laughs when asked what Hong Kong will see when the 90-minute can we afford this? opens. It is 'about what we think we are, and what we think we ought to be', he says. Without DV8's usual linear narrative, it's a series of mood pieces, anecdotes and images. It's a piece about perfection and pretence; about how society measures individuals and how we, in turn, value ourselves. 'We camouflage ourselves in conformity, put on a mask, smile, hide and pretend, so we too are invited to the ball. But what happens to those who don't get invited, who aren't perfect, who can't pretend?' People like, perhaps, his dancers. Two have no training in dance. Two were driven from the Royal Ballet, Kate Coyne because she was too tall and her breasts too big, and Viv Wood because she wasn't thin enough. There's an amputee, a 72-year-old woman, a former heroin addict, a 150kg man who dances with his hands, a tattooed hula-hoop dancer . . . They've been through hell to get to Hong Kong. Newson's workshops are a legend. Far, far longer than the average, taking months not weeks, they are also physical and emotional therapy sessions to 'liberate' performers from their training. They need, says Newson, 'to have a fantastic technique and then throw it away'. He is dismissive of ballet or formalised dance styles - 'You all have to do the same steps, move in the same way, so actually it's all about reductionism to make everyone look identical on stage' - but nonetheless regularly does ballet classes. He directs workshops in Britain, Europe and Australia and teaches dance technique freelance in London and to major companies in Britain, Australia and South America. But his working methods differ radically from those of most classical companies and though invited to choreograph for most of the world's leading ballet companies, he has consistently refused. 'I think it would be at my peril,' he says. 'There would be a daily crisis, I know.' For a man so committed to communicating at almost any cost, it seems rather incongruous that Newson refuses to be photographed - in Australia he appeared in TV interviews in beanie hat and sunglasses. He hasn't been captured on camera for many years. It's all to do with preserving his anonymity, he says. His work depends on him being able to observe people. What Newson doesn't want to become is one of the observed. can we afford this? Today-Oct 14, 8pm. Kwai Tsing Theatre. $160-$320 Urbtix.