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Babel – Stan Won’t Dance – Metro Article

Stan Won't Dance - Babel

Stan Won't Dance - Babel

Dancing to a different drum; The Big Interview Babel Author Patrick Neate and physical theatre group Stan Won’t Dance tell KEITH WATSON about an unlikely collaboration that depicts modern Britain

KEITH WATSON

21 January 2010 METRO

Many magical moments no doubt occur at midnight in a Manchester Travelodge but few of them involve poetry, dance and the seeds of a dystopian vision of British society on the edge of communication meltdown. But four years ago that was the root of Babel, which finds physical theatre mavericks Stan Won’t Dance putting flesh to the pugilistic rhymes of writer Patrick Neate.

Liam Steel and Stan co-founder Robert Tannion were on tour, channel-hopping, when they caught Neate’s TV performance of Babel on C4. They had no idea what they were watching, just that they were hearing words crying out for action. ‘It took a lot of tracking down,’ says Steel. ‘I ended up writing on Patrick’s blog trying to convince him we weren’t crazy stalkers.’ Neate, a writer whose work roams across novels, poetry, film scripts and live spoken word – he co-created storytelling salon Book Slam with Ben Watt – readily admits that contemporary dance was a world away from his natural habitat. ‘It’s been quite a weird collaboration in that, after we first met, I thought I was just handing over the words,’ he says. ‘Everything has to be authored and it was never going to work if I was the author – I had nothing to contribute in terms of the staging. Dance is not my world at all.’ Given the force and confidence of his words, it’s a surprise to hear Neate being so dissembling. For, far from merely handing over his words, it’s clear from watching a rehearsal of Stan Won’t Dance‘s take on Babel that he’s contributed substantial chunks of new material, written to order to flesh out the movement action. From a ten-minute word-slam rant expanded to 25 minutes for the TV version, the script for Babel now clocks in at an hour.

There are pauses in the word-flow (‘there’s comedy in it too, it couldn’t be just an hour of bombardment,’ says Steel) but Babel is essentially a rich stew of ideas, Neate’s text refracted through five streetwise hoodies bouncing around a set consisting of burnt-out cars and assorted hoodied dummies. It’s a threatening scenario, the hoodies shadowy and anonymous in bizarre heavy metal make-up, talking straight to the audience. It’s a portrait of alienation in physical form.

The subject matter roams across racism, war, consumerism and the media, with Neate’s language, rich with the rhythms of hip hop and overflowing with pun-crazed wit, providing the motor which drives the dancers on.

‘The first thing we had to do was get the original out of our heads,’ says Steel. ‘We had to look at the words afresh. What was amazing about working with Patrick is that he’s so quick – we’d ask him for some more material and we’d get an e-mail straight back.’ There is light relief – Duffy’s Distant Dreamer provides the hoodies with a surprising comedy routine – and the Plan B-heavy soundtrack makes some of the bitter pills easier to swallow. But Babel takes a hefty swipe at a world where everyone’s talking a lot but not saying anything. In one telling moment a character notes ‘how eloquent we are in our grieving’, a line that’s close to Neate’s heart.

‘There’s this strange disconnection between words and meaning,’ he says. ‘A kid was murdered on a doorstep right where I live and straight away there was a shrine outside and kids giving interviews on TV and eulogies written on the walls: “To my brave X – you’ll never be forgotten.” But it was as if all the reactions were created to be on TV. It was all soundbites and no questioning what had happened and why.’ Both Neate and Stan Won’t Dance‘s founders are around 40 and acutely aware they are a generation apart from those on stage. But Babel highlights a communication breakdown that cuts both ways. ‘It’s not us trying to be “down” with the kids,’ laughs Steel, mock horrified. Neate agrees: ‘No one gets off the hook in this. Everybody gets a bad rap. It’s definitely not hug a hoodie – there, that’s your headline.’ Babel is at London’s Laban Theatre tonight and tomorrow, then tours nationally.

www.stanwontdance.com

Stan Won’t Dance is at the macrobert arts centre on Thurs 11 and Fri 12 March. If you are aged 12-17 you can get tickets for £2. Check out http://www.mpowerscotland.org and http://www.macrobert.org for more information

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