Comedy Shuffle - New Art Club
This article is from 2008.
New Art Club are aiming to stretch beyond their usual crowd by injecting some daftness into dance. Kelly Apter finds out how steps and stand-up can go hand in hand.
From Morecambe and Wise to The Mighty Boosh, great comic duos are known for wit, timing and chemistry. Not their dancing. Eric and Ernie may have skipped merrily to ‘Bring Me Sunshine’, while Vic and Bob cut plenty of rug with ‘Dizzy’, but largely speaking, comedy and choreography don’t mix. Or rather they didn’t, until Pete Shenton and Tom Roden came along. Both trained dancers, the duo first worked together in 1995 before forming their own company, New Art Club, in 2001. And in the process of dancing and choreographing, the men discovered that actually, they’re both quite funny.
‘We decided to try and make a comedy in 1998 and really enjoyed doing it,’ explains Shenton. ‘So we just carried on. We never intended to be a comedy dance company and for a few years we kept asking ourselves if we really wanted to be that way. But now we just embrace it.’
Over the past five years, New Art Club has become synonymous with accessible dance. Works such as This is Modern and The Not Cracker put contemporary dance within a framework of witty banter and candid chat. All of which is done with the utmost respect for the genre. ‘You can do something delicate and serious when you’re dancing,’ says Shenton, ‘and then pull the rug from under it by doing something stupid or saying something horrible. We recognise that dance can be exciting and beautiful as well as potentially silly and ridiculous.’
As New Art Club evolved, so too did Shenton and Roden’s partnership. Until eventually, like every other comedy duo, they each had a distinct role to play. Not that they planned it that way. ‘It’s a constant debate,’ says Shenton. ‘Because we know that’s the case but we don’t really know why. It’s not a conscious thing, but I suppose the truth is that it reflects something about our real relationship with each other.’
Standing in front of a mic, Shenton looks completely at home and, frankly, is funnier than many people for whom comedy is their chosen subject. It must have crossed his mind to leave his leotard in the dressing room one night and just go for it with stand-up. ‘We’ve thought about it so often it’s unbelievable. We’ve set ourselves the challenge to do some stand-up comedy on a number of occasions, but so far all we’ve managed is to go and watch it.’
Given that he’s halfway there already, what stops Shenton from diving headlong into the comedy world? ‘It’s partly fear,’ he admits. ‘And partly because we’re not sure of the value of it. We don’t really want to get involved in the comedy circuit, but one of the reasons we’re coming to Edinburgh is to do something which is more like a stand-up show with dance. The dancing helps us, because that’s our background so we feel happy with the process.’
That said, Shenton and Roden have opted for the comedy section of the Fringe programme with their new show, New Art Club’s Extra Ordinary World. They feel that there’s no point just preaching to the converted when you’ve got a unique product to sell. ‘We’ve been to the Fringe before but always played a dance venue,’ says Shenton. ‘That was great and the shows were really successful. It’s not that I don’t want people who like dance to come and see us, but we want to try and pick up a more general Fringe audience as well.’
The new show features over 20 short pieces, during which Shenton and Roden are on a quest. ‘We’re in search of the ultimate dance,’ explains Shenton. ‘So that’s why we do so many of them; we’re going after the dance that says it all about us. But of course, really, we’re just messing about.’ Most of the dance pieces will already be in place, but the duo hope to insert some improvisatory slots into the show, too, with a little help from the crowd. ‘We’re going to get the audience to come up with some titles for us,’ he says. ‘So we’ll get them to fill in a card in the bar beforehand and try and do those in the show. Although obviously there’s a danger that some of them might be rubbish.’
But then, as every comedian knows, dealing with the random thoughts of audience members is all part of the job, and can sometimes lead to your finest moments. ‘Absolutely,’ laughs Shenton. ‘And if somebody gives us a really difficult title, that’s great, because although we might struggle, something good could come out of it.’ Whether it’s their choice of music, use of everyday sets and costumes or simply the strong humour element, New Art Club has managed to win over non-dance fans wherever they’ve played.
‘Everybody we know in the dance world that has a boyfriend: we’re their favourite dance company,’ says Shenton. ‘So we’re aware that people who aren’t really into dance like our work, because we reach beyond that typical audience to people who enjoy other things as well.’ Three weeks at the Fringe should put that theory firmly to the test.
New Art Club, Gilded Balloon Teviot, Bristo Square, 0131 668 1633, 3—25 Aug (not 11, 18), 3.15pm, £9—£10 (£8—£9); Previews 30 Jul—2 Aug, £5.
The Odd Couples
Brian Donaldson uncovers a few more acts doubling up for the Fringe
The identical twins of La Clique bring us the kind of high-octane acrobatics that earned them a slot on the Royal Variety Performance. Now that’s showbiz. Udderbelly’s Pasture, Bristo Square, 2—25 Aug (not 11, 18), 5.50pm, £12.50—£17.50 (£10—£12.50). Previews 31 Jul & 1 Aug, £7.
Ginger & Black
She is Eri Jackson, he is Daniel Taylor. They’re a comedy combo who, they’ve been happy enough to admit out loud, do not tan. One of them is ginger, the other is black. Simple really. Pleasance Dome, Bristo Square, 0131 556 6550, 3—25 Aug (not 13), 7.30pm, £8.50—£9.50 (£7—£8). Previews 30 Jul—2 Aug, £5.
Elizabeth and Raleigh
Hold on a minute: isn’t that Simon Munnery pasted and ruffed as Elizabeth I? And, wait a sec: can that be Miles Jupp looking for all the world like potato-fancier Walter Raleigh? Yes, they flaming well are. It can only really mean another Late But Live comical playlet from the mighty quill of thine Stewart Lee. Udderbelly’s Pasture, Bristo Square, 2—25 Aug (not 13), 10.35pm, £11—£13.50 (£10—£12.50). Previews 31 Jul & 1 Aug, £7.
2 Drummers Drumming
Back in the 1990s, Mathew Priest slapped the skins for Dodgy. And even further back, to the 1960s no less, Maurice Bacon was doing the same (slapping the skins) for The Love Affair. In the 2000s, they’re doing a Fringe show about their awesome careers with the aim of having a different drummer guest every day. Fingers crossed the gorilla from the chocolate ad shows up. Bongo Club, Holyrood Road, 0131 557 2827, 4—25 Aug (not 8 & 9, 17), 4.30pm, £7—£8.50 (£6—£7). Previews 30 & 31 July, 3 Aug, £5 (£4.50).
Physical comedy? No thanks. Except when it comes hurtling along in the massively innovative shape of American pair, Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez. But do they actually perform in their pajamas? They have a daft stage name if they don’t. Assembly Rooms, George Street, 0131 623 3030, 3—24 Aug (not 11), 7.40pm, £12—£13 (£11—£12). Previews 31 Jul—2 Aug, £5.