Since the early noughties, award-winning comedy duo Pete Shenton and Tom Roden have developed an impressive niche in the dance industry, by slyly taking the mick out of contemporary dance while creating a new style of art. But New Art Club are no novelty act – though they’ve been crowned ‘the Reeves and Mortimer of contemporary choreography’, they usually have the last laugh when people discover they have over 15 years of dance experience and have even choreographed routines for the Royal Opera House. Now, the pair are marking a decade of delivering hilarious routines with a greatest hits show called Big Bag of Boom, complete special guest comedian Phil Kay. The Cultural Exposé spoke to the pair to talk gags, two-steps and why they describe their work as “art fuelled comedy”
On doing a Greatest Hits tour
Pete: After 13 years of making work together we found that there was a new load of people (especially in our ventures into the world of comedy) that had not seen a lot of our work. We thought it would be nice to revisit some of the material that we’d made in the past and rework it from our point of view now.
Tom: …and we couldn’t be arsed to come up with a new show.
On fusing comedy and dance
Pete: In the beginning it was just a question of whether we could make something funny that was still a dance show. Our aim at the time was not to become a comedy double act or even a comedy dance company. It was just to see what would come out if we tried to make a funny show based around physical ideas. I suppose we both thought we were quite funny (it was our shared sensibility and sense of humour that brought us to making stuff together).
Tom: …and we don’t really ‘fuse’ the two things – we just sit them next to each other in a cafe and see what happens.
On their influences
Pete: We are influenced by a lot of things both in good ways and bad ways. We were probably originally influenced to try to make something funny by Reeves and Mortimer and Monty Python and there are number of people working now in comedy that we really like. Phil Kay is a hero of ours and he will be performing with us at the Place. Daniel Kitson, Stewart Lee, Simon Munnery, Hannah Gadsby. But our influences in dance and live art are also important. Jonathan Burrows, Graeme Miller, Forced Entertainment, The Glee Club, Guy Dartnell. Then there are films and visual arts and music. There are so many people doing really great things. It makes you wonder at how marvelous humans can be.
Tom: We often say we are inspired by each other too. We each work separately as choreographers, performers, writers and directors in different contexts. This brings a lot of outside influence to the world of New Art Club as we grapple with our experiences. And we both love The Fall.
On getting into dance
Pete: When I was 21 I saw a piece by the Cholmondeleys and the Featherstonehaughs. I had never seen a piece of dance before and it amazed me whilst at the same time having that great punk sensibility where it made me feel that I could actually have a go at doing it. so that’s what I did. I am both indebted and cross with Lea Anderson for making dance seem so attractive to an angry 21-year-old me with no direction in life.
Tom: A sneaky teacher at school told me that the interesting movement sessions I was enjoying so much were ‘drama’. It didn’t take me long to work out I wanted to be a choreographer.
On social and political influences in their work
Pete: For me being an artist is fundamentally about creating your own rules. I moved from being completely embroiled in politics to becoming an artist. I have no desire to engage in directly political work but I think there is a philosophical discussion being had in all of our pieces. We fundamentally care about human relationships. Our working practice is built around a real deep love and respect between us which we openly mess about with. And we hope to share that with the people that come to see our shows. We are playful and a bit naughty. I think comedy can really play role of rule breaker and questioner of accepted beliefs.
On the future of NAC
Pete: In the next year or so we’ll be touring our new show Quiet Act of Destruction, which is an interactive comedy show. We start doing that in February 2012 and will be touring it around the UK and taking it to Melbourne Comedy Festival. After that, possibly a kids show, a new show for a group of performers and a new one for me and Tom. Then world domination, fistfuls of cash, drug addled self destruction, a period of quiet, then a press conference and reforming the act for one last big payday, oh no now I’m talking about the Stone Roses – We’ll probably just tinker along making largely ignored works of misunderstood genius like we have been doing and wait for the 2nd law of thermodynamics.
New Art Club perform Big Bag of Boom (Feat. Phil Kay) on November 4th at The Place.
Tickets are £17 and for more info visit: www.theplace.org.uk