Three people died and 139 were injured in April 1999 when David Copeland – widely known as the “London nailbomber” – planted three nail bombs across London. “Sinner,” the first work of the much-acclaimed British dance group, Stan Won’t Dance, traces the psychological confusion of the London nailbomber as he plants his last bomb in a gay bar.
Seeking to explore the speculations that Copeland’s acts reflected his own repressed homosexuality and schizophrenia, “Sinner” beautifully portrays Copeland through two counterpart personas (Robert and Martin) that represent his dual sexuality and mindset. The entire performance is based on the short period of time in which the pair meet in the bar targeted by Copeland. This scene – interspersed with energetic, naturally flowing dance sequences – is repeated in different formats, reviewing the London nailbomber’s mental state at the time. Although this concept is original and intriguing, the repetition starts to wear a little thin and seems tedious after the first hour.
The emphasis of intertwining language with movement is also central to the performance. The movements are excellently choreographed and display great skill. Yet surprisingly, dancer Ben Wright – who portrayed – claims that the hardest part of performing “Sinner” is not rolling over while holding a chair, but trying to talk and dance simultaneously.
“I don’t think people have any idea how hard it is to talk and move at the same time,” he said. “It’s incredibly hard, because we use the same side of our brain for speech as we do for movement. In fact this is probably the most difficult choreography I’ve ever experienced.”
Wright gives a flawless performance, which is particularly commendable since he has just stepped into the shoes of former Stan Won’t Dance artist, Rob Tannion. In fact, the Feb. 22 performance was only his second in the role. Wright works well alongside artistic director and performer Liam Steel. The pair are able to make the audience giggle at some moments, and to think deeply at others.
In particular, “Sinner” draws attention to and questions the way in which society constructs icons of good and evil.
“Our emotions are universal. I don’t understand why David Copeland did what he did, but I can understand where it came from and the emotions that he was feeling,” Steel said.
The performance had the whole audience sitting on the edge of their seats. The dramatic finale is certainly tense and exciting as Robert crucifies Martin in a way that bursts with symbolism.
Symbolism is a key aspect of this performance, and some who attended “Sinner” expecting to see a dance show may have been disappointed. “Sinner” is perhaps better described as physical theatre than as dance. And if artsy-fartsy is not your thing, then neither is this.
“We wanted to break through the preconceptions of what dance is,” Steel said. “We wanted to do something different.”
Well, hats off to them, “Sinner” is definitely different.
Judging by the audience response at the U.S premiere last Wednesday, Stan Won’t Dance certainly can strut their stuff. The future looks bright for this new and refreshing dance group.