New Art Club
The Electric Tales
Purcell Room, London
Tom Roden and Pete Shenton, aka New Art Club, were finalists in last year’s Place Prize for choreography. They didn’t win the competition, but they did charm everybody with their theatrical larks, and they impressed us by actually managing to make dance that is comic but isn’t clowning.
Their new show, The Electric Tales, is all about electricity. It’s not the kind of hyper-kinetic, static buzz that you’d associate with the choreography of, say, Wayne McGregor. Instead, the movements Roden and Shenton play with are more everyday in their electrical references - it could be something a simple as switching on a light.
Roden and Shenton are very likeable performers. They are two blokes you’d like to go down the pub with, because you’d be guaranteed entertaining banter, hammy acting and games of friendly one-upmanship, which is what we get here. They’d regale you with amusing childhood stories, like the one Shenton tells about getting told off my his mum for playing with the bathroom light, when he was trying to pinpoint the moment between the light being off and on. He mimes pulling the light cord so slowly and carefully, so as not to make that clicking sound that signals the light going on, but of course he can’t do it. He winces as a loud click rings out and only gets into more trouble. It’s the kind of domestic familiarity that easily strikes a cord and makes us all smile.
The thing is, a lot of the material in The Electric Tales just seems a bit too familiar, whether that’s the text - such as a monologue about time-saving gadgets asking what we do with all that saved time - or the movement, which is mostly built on simple repetition, sometimes growing into inventive sequences, sometimes not really going anywhere at all.
In one scene the boys shuffle around on their backsides, in another they launch into jerky abandonment, and later they get stuck in a rhythmic groove with some interesting hand gestures. It sort of fits with the ideas and the characters on stage, but it hardly adds to them.
Happily, however, there is some meaning behind all this madness, and some thought-provoking ideas reach out through the comic ramblings. The preoccupation with capturing the instant between off and on is the main one, plus an obsession with the search for a colour that no-one has seen before. It all comes back to the image of the light bulb as a eureka moment. To capture the moment of conception, the millisecond between the idea and the action, when an inspiration becomes an invention, from not knowing to knowing.
There’s a whole world of philosophy hinted at in The Electric Tales, but for all their likeable chatter, New Art Club don’t really manage to shed much light on it.