Interview: Tom Roden & Pete Shenton Q&A

Friday 18 April 2008

New Art ClubPhoto: Richard Stocks *Pete Shenton & Tom Roden have been New Art Club since 2001. Variously described
as the Morcambe &Wise, Reeves & Mortimer and Gilbert & George of dance, they
share a sense of humour – and a serious commitment to contemporary dance. Their
shows include Dance, Jokes and Dance Jokes, Slide Show and This Is Modern – and a Christmas show, The Notcracker.*

*_The Visible Men,_ their latest show, is at The Place on 27 & 29 October, as part of Dance Umbrella.
Their vodcasts on all things Dance Umbrella can be seen on youtube each week throughout
the festival and they also found time to answer afew questions for us…*

Tell us about your new show The Visible Men.

Tom: It’s a dance comedy game. It’s about being invisible and disappearing and
reappearing and looking and not looking and making life magical and life being
magic and art being a shared experience that is nevertheless different for us

*I gather it has developed out of your work for the Place Prize a couple of years
ago – The Short Still Show. Was being part of the Place Prize a good thing for

Pete: Yes and No. It was hard work, I got ill and we didn’t win but on the other
hand we did make something small that we liked and that we were able to develop
into this, which is the best thing we’ve ever done.

When did your interest in dance first start?

Pete: I used to make dances with my cousin Jo whose mum was a ballet teacher before
I started going to school. I can’t really remember the details but I think that
they were like early improvisation duets with lots of lifts and stuff. I always
liked the dancing on the summertime specials on the tele and when we went to see
end of the pier type shows on holiday.

Tom: I started dancing at school in Cheshire. I liked it, because you could make

Can you remember the first dance company you saw?

Pete: The first piece of dance I saw was the Cholmondeleys and Featherstonehaughs in Flag in the late ’80s. I thought it was amazing and inspiring and it made me think
if that great big wonderful giraffe of a man (Frank Bock) can do this then maybe I could take my gawky 21-year-old frame and put it to
work in the world of contemporary dance.

Did you train in dance – and where?

Pete: I went to Leicester Poly, which turned into De Montfort University whilst I
was there.

Tom: I went to the Northern School of Contemporary Dance

Do you think dance takes itself too seriously?

Pete: Sometimes, but sometimes I don’t think it takes itself seriously enough. Contemporary
dance is where all the great choreographers are but in Britain it remains in the
shadow of ballet, which may have some great dancers but is essentially conservative.
Contemporary dance is about creating new forms and new languages. You have to
take that seriously otherwise you wouldn’t bother because it’s bloody hard.

*‘Contemporary dance’ and ‘a good laugh’ don’t often occur in the same sentence – let alone on the same stage. How did it happen that you’ve brought them together?*

Pete: I’ve seen loads of funny dances including the one mentioned above! The Featherstonehaughs’
early shows were hilarious. I remember watching them at the Phoenix Arts Centre
in Leicester and people were falling off their seats it was that funny. Nigel Charnock was incredibly funny in Strange Fish. Wim Vandekeybus, Trisha Brown, Mark Morris and Jonathan Burrows have all had really funny moments in their shows.

On your website it says _”Pete is committed to the development of choreography as an art form”. _ Do you ever make work that doesn’t have an element of humour (together or individually)?

It says that because it’s true. Both of us are committed to that otherwise we
would have walked out of the world of dance years ago and done something else.
Making great choreography doesn’t require you to lock your sense of humour in
a cupboard.

Who or what are your main influences?

Pete: *Mark Whitelaw, Graeme Miller, Guy Dartnell, Lea Anderson, DV8, Anne Teresa De
Keersmaeker, Angelika Oei, Merce Cunningham*, the Judson Church lot, Jonathan Burrows, Reeves and Mortimer, Howard Barker.

What are your favourite books? CDs? Films?

Pete: At the moment I’m reading a really nice book by Don Patterson called the Book of Shadows, which is a book of aphorisms. It’s full of wisdom. I don’t have a favourite
cd but I did think the other day that if I could have someone sing at my funeral
it would be Neil Young – though hopefully he’ll be dead before me (sorry Neil).

I like Super Furry Animals, punk bands with girl singers, Nick Cave, Mercury Rev, Stravinsky, Steve Reich and The Fall and, you know, typical things that dancers of my age would like. Ghostbusters is my favourite film. The moment that the giant staypuft guy appears provided
me with the biggest, longest laugh that I have ever had. I love the Monty Python films and David Lynch and Peter Greenaway and, obviously, Ace Ventura Pet Detective.

Tom likes anything as long as it comes from Manchester.

If your life’s work hadn’t become dance, what might it have been?

Pete: My life’s work hasn’t been dance, it’s been dancing and writing and singing
and talking and thinking and generally showing off in front of people in whichever
way seemed possible. I would have liked to have defeated Thatcher, brought capitalism
to its knees and brought about a real change that made the world a fair place
where all people are treated with respect and not just as commodities to be bought
and sold. Still, dancing about and cracking funnies almost makes up for it.

Where did your company name come from?

Pete: It was an era when Labour had become New Labour and the Tories were tentatively
dipping their toes into the socks of the Modern Conservative Party, The name New
Art Club seemed apposite in the light of the cynical efforts of the two main parties
to remain contemporary and relevant, if not in action at least in wordplay. When
brown was the new black and not the new Blair it seemed that New was essentially
the new good.

Tom: I saw it on a home made sign written in felt tip pen and stuck to a lamp post
near my old house in Stockport.

What’s happening next for New Art Club ?

Tom: After The Visible Men at The Place on 27 and 29 October, we’re touring This is Modern, Dance Jokes and Dance Jokes and The NotCracker until Christmas, then back on tour with The Visible Men in January. We’re in the middle of making a show for Probe which is so good we’re regretting not making it for ourselves. After that we’re
going to moonwalk the London Marathon and I’m in training for the hammer for the
2012 Olympics.


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