New Art Club – Big Bag of Boom

Posted on May 7, 2011

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Dancers and choreographers Tom Roden and Pete Shenton knew the rules of dance before they so effectively and hilariously broke them.

So You Think You Can Dance?

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest asks entrants to write the worst possible opening sentence for a (non-existent) novel. Generally speaking, in order to win you have to be a good writer – you have to know the rules of writing before you can effectively break them.

At first glance Tom Roden and Pete Shenton look like two blokes who don’t know a thing about dancing trying to dance. But it soon becomes obvious that these two Brits are actually extremely well-schooled dancers and choreographers. Like the Bulwer-Lytton winners, they know the rules they are breaking. And they are breaking them for deliberate comedic effect.

It’s no surprise, then, to learn that the two started performing as New Art Club to dance crowds rather than to comedy crowds. If your audience knows the rules as well as you do, they better understand and appreciate the skill it takes to upend them. But such is this duo’s skill that they have translated their pastiche, their shtick – their pashtick, if you like – to the comedy circuits to great and deserved acclaim.

It helps that they play to the traditional comedy double act, with Shenton’s straight man the foil to Roden’s comic fool. Put in local terms, you could call them the Lano and Woodley of dance, with Roden the silly Frank Woodley to Pete Shenton’s serious Colin Lane.

Big Bag of Boom is their Best Of. It initially seems like what would happen if two average guys drunkenly decided to parody the very worst auditions for So You Think You Can Dance and call it a theatre show (and if you’ve ever watched the SYTYCD audition shows, you’ll know that not much parodying would be required). It’s about when Roden emphasises to the crowd that unlike some shows, which can be read on many levels, there is only one level to theirs that you realise they’re playing you and the opposite is true.

On the most basic level you have the ludicrously amusing spectre of two middle-aged men, not in especially great shape (one with lank, unkempt hair; the other with the beginnings of a beer gut) ‘attempting’ to ‘do’ contemporary experimental dance – that most earnest and self-important of dance styles. On another level, you have the slightly more highbrow whimsy of two professional dancers deconstructing their art form. And on yet another, there’s an educational aspect as audiences are surreptitiously schooled on the mechanics of dance by two professional dance teachers.

The interplay between these levels is perhaps best seen in the droll ‘I did this’ number – in which they tell us “I did this and this and this” as they do it; trust me, it’s hilarious – and ‘Another One’, which rhythmically combines and recombines four simple words and movements into one of the best contemporary dances I’ve ever seen. Their terrorist-beating piece, meanwhile, sees the two wearing balaclavas and sporting prop guns as they dance out a brutal torture and murder routine and the audience claps along joyfully. And that’s a fourth level: they make us complicit; we are in on the joke.

And it’s a really fun joke.

First published by The Enthusiast.

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Posted in: Comedy, Live reviews