Stan Won’t Dance

March 15, 2006

Liam Steel and Ben Wright in
Photo by Dona Ann McAdams, courtesy PS 122


Stan Won’t Dance
Performance Space 122, NYC

March 15–19, 2006

Reviewed by Wendy Perron


Like Brokeback Mountain, Sinner brings the danger of gay love to center stage. The place is a smoky gay pub in London, and the movement idiom is rough-edged contact improvisation with sinister overtones. Choreographed by Rob Tannion and Liam Steel (both formerly with DV8 Physical Theatre), this dance-theater duet traces a nervous flirtation between two men. Ben Payne’s script is a fantasy of what happened in the hours before the real-life David Copeland planted a bomb in a gay bar in 1999, killing three people and wounding many others.

This is a powerful performance, filled with a sly kind of precision; the men’s limbs and heads seem to just miss each other, fitting into a revved-up kinetic puzzle. What makes it engaging is not just the nifty lifts and throws but also the physical wit, sweaty humor, and the uncertainty of how far to trust someone you’ve just met. The dancers, Steel and Ben Wright, didn’t seem to be acting; they had a real-life curiosity and intensity. “Robert” (Steel) is small, insecure, ambivalent. “Martin” (Wright), tall and oozing self-confidence, moves with a kind of offhand gusto and sharpness.

The story leads down a psychological path from frightened to frightful, suggesting that hate crimes are, deep down, fueled by fear. The refrain of a cell-phone ring precedes an ominous, one-sided conversation: “Who is this? Leave me alone.” This culminates in an aria of self-hate for Robert: “You’re my brother . . . You’re my disease . . . Whoever you are, that’s what I am.” The two men seem to switch identities, becoming two sides to one coin: confidence/fear, aggressiveness/insecurity, bigotry/empathy.

The religious overtones sink in bit by bit: first the title; then T-shirts emblazoned with kitschy images of Christ; and then . . .the crucifixion. Small, sweet Robert takes a hammer and nails Martin’s jacket (with Martin inside it) to the table, then knocks the whole pile over and tosses chairs on top of the mess. It’s all because of fear and confusion and wanting to “be somebody.” Possibly not too far off from the real David Copeland’s psyche and others like him. See