Resolution! 2016, performances on January 20

Posted: January 31st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution! 2016, performances on January 20

Resolution! 2016: Justine Reeve, Rhiannon Brace, Simone Mousset

Simone Mousset, Elisabeth Schilling and Hannah Ma in Their Past (photo: Bohumil Kostohryz)

Simone Mousset, Elisabeth Schilling and Hannah Ma in Their Past (photo: Bohumil Kostohryz)

Justine Reeve and Company is actually Justine Reeve sans Company, or the-one-and-only Justine Reeve distilling over 20 years of dance teaching into a satirical compendium of key principles. Reeve is a fine performer and the line she draws between performance and reality is also fine; she gets away with pointing out uncomfortable truths by offering them in a comedic routine that has us laughing hysterically. And this evening she is in full flow, hosting a mock Continuing Professional Development (CPD) seminar entitled Outstanding Dance Teaching and Tactics for Achievement, abbreviated nonchalantly to Outstanding and tactics, in which the audience plays the role of delegates. Reeve has a lot to say and she says it with delightfully-timed word play, bullet points, aphorisms, biscuit licking, a clip of her teaching a jelly-roll sequence to Chloe Mead and Corey Baker, a beached-whale dance, and a Tim Van Eyken song called Trust in Me that morphs into Trust in Reeve, while unflinchingly taking on the university dance syllabus and dreams of Michael Flatley. As a teacher she’s on dangerous ground; but behind the mordant humour of Outstanding and tactics it is not hard to sense that Reeve’s object of dissection is not teaching per se but the bureaucratic structure of dance training that sucks the life out of its teachers and replaces the oral tradition with administrative jargon. She has been teaching long enough to know the difference and in the custom of the court jester or clown, Reeve is a messenger who uses the art of performance to convey it. Outstanding and tactics is classic Reeve and the dance community should have the courage to present it and discuss its issues. As long as she agrees to share her biscuits.

Rhiannon Brace describes her creative path self-deprecatingly as ‘a clueless mother’s experience of pregnancy, childbirth and “life” after’ following the birth of her son, Dylan. Less clueless is her choice of music that inverts the meaning of ‘baby’ in pop culture to the biological phenomenon with which she has recently fallen in love. Baby thus has a similar structural reliance on popular music and the double-entendre of its lyrics as Jerome Bell’s The Show Must Go On. From Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Brahms’ Lullaby played on a music box through a juke box playlist of Be My Baby by The Ronettes, Kooks by David Bowie (to whose memory Baby is dedicated), Baby Boy by Beyoncé, Love Me Tender by Elvis Presley, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You by Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons, to a finale of Tina Charles singing I Love to Love, it is the music that proves the driving emotional force through Brace’s autobiographical journey. Babies don’t dance (well, they do, but that comes later) so the cast reflects an older family hierarchy with Gracie-Jayne Angel as ebullient baby, Grace Kemp as mother, Mary Cox as young grandmother and Jey Jeyakumar as teddy-bearing father. Bookending her journey with a short before-and-after solo by Kemp, Brace’s choreography celebrates the bonds of family and friends and the mutual help that makes the process of early motherhood bearable, proudly sharing the fruits of her labour with five mothers and their (very young) offspring in Snugglies who join her in a loose improvisational finale to the Tina Charles track. Never has so much applause been showered on so many babies for such a brief appearance.

The initial impact of Simone Mousset’s Their Past is a first hearing of two movements from the extraordinary Middle Symphony by Russian composer Yuri Khanon. Mousset does not attempt to counter the urgent power of Khanon’s score but along with Elisabeth Schilling and Hannah Ma she weaves an ethereal contrast to it both visually and emotionally. The music rises up suddenly out of the dark and its haunting orchestration spreads like a mist. Their Past is inspired by Mousset’s experiences of travelling, living and working in Russia, Ukraine and Lebanon and there is in her approach to the music of Khanon (from whom she asked permission to use the score) a response to the expansive and mysterious land as much as to the music. Schilling and Ma in matching black bodices and red tulle skirts are described as guides to the white-clad Mousset as she journeys through time. There are traces of a Renaissance dance and a wonderful trio of three silent voices speaking through the body. Mousset revels in the gesture of ambiguity; the women float with mysterious shivers and shudders, hesitant in their fragile relationship in which they seem ineluctably drawn to each other. As rich in imagination and as enigmatic as Khanon’s music, Their Past forges a unity of its elements that sustains its folkloric enchantment to the end. A simple inversion of the opening relationship between the three women brings the work to a close with Mousset and Ma watching Schilling’s final abandoned spiraling of red tulle under a red light until she falls to the floor on the final percussive crack of the score and the spell is broken.


Casson & Friends, Selling Secrets Part 3: Office

Posted: August 14th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Casson & Friends, Selling Secrets Part 3: Office

Casson & Friends, Selling Secrets Part 3: Office, Purple HR, Bournemouth, August 7

Robert Guy in a previous manifestation of Selling Secrets (photo: Helga Brandt)

Robert Guy in a previous manifestation of Selling Secrets (photo: Ian Abbott and Casson & Friends)

The idea behind Tim Casson & Friends’ Selling Secrets is simple: gather information from a group of people and translate that information into a dance. It is the basis for Casson’s pop-up performances, The Dance WE Made and he did a variation of it for his Wild Card evening at the Lilian Baylis Studio. He added themes to the idea in two series of Selling Secrets — Part 1 in a hotel and Part 2 in a pub in Bournemouth — through commissions by Pavilion Dance South West. So successful were they that PDSW has commissioned a sequel, Selling Secrets Part 3: Office, hosted at Purple HR, a small office squeezed into what was once a neat, manila-coloured seaside town villa. It is possibly the first world premiere of a dance theatre work to be performed in an office.

For Office, Casson & Friends — the incomparable trio of Justine Reeve, Robert Guy and Katie Green — collected insights (and the odd choreographic suggestion) about office culture from fourteen people and the entire process, from the first interview to the first performance took five days. Notwithstanding, there is a maturity and cohesion about Office that takes the themed pop-up form to a new level. In short it’s a winner and opens up a host of possibilities for future performances: its portable nature and susceptibility to local stories means it could be coming to an office near you.

The framework of Office is a guided tour of the building for as many people as can sit around the boardroom table. Purple HR is a real company, but Casson & Friends’s surrogate, Mauve, is a tiny creative enterprise that designs, manufactures, hand folds and distributes birthday cards. Once inside we find out we are there not because we booked tickets but because we had won the first round of Mauve’s design competition.

Guy greets us at the front door and ushers us in to the boardroom where he preps us for the tour. What he doesn’t tell us in words he parlays into a gestural dance that snakes and twists, darts and smiles around the truth with a comic improvisation that has us all giggling helplessly. Before the tour he has us look at the desultory examples of cards on the shelves with a view to competing in the final round of designing a new birthday card. The card stock, colours and stickers on the table look as if they are lifted from the local kindergarten. We only have five minutes to complete the task (so Guy can see how we work under pressure) and the winning design, he tells us, will be accepted into the company’s catalogue.

This much is artifice, but the rest — the personality traits of the owner and her employees, their interactions and the events we witness on the office tour — are a synthesis of the real stories and anecdotes Casson & Friends collected. We have to pinch ourselves to remind us of this because reality is (far) stranger than fiction. If reality wasn’t so bizarre (and hilarious) it would be easy to see Selling Secrets as a slick parody or an easy satire of office life. Reeve, Guy and Green are gifted translators bursting with conviction but the material they are translating is nothing short of surreal which gives the performance a double edge of trenchant wit and underlying veracity.

Selling Secrets constantly crosses the line between an interactive presentation of the office environment and a performance of the anecdotal material, seamlessly flowing from one to the other and back again. Guy is telling us how dedicated and upbeat the team is just as a brooding Green mopes in with her lunch box. Reeve, the manager, comes in to demonstrate her control by making sure Guy is following the correct procedure, which he already has.

After the five-minute design task is officially closed, Guy invites us to see how the office he shares with Green handles the company’s distribution and logistics. We shuffle down the corridor and bunch into the office to see how skilled Green is at putting callers on hold — especially Guy’s mother — and then dancing to the hold music. Before any work is accomplished she and Guy encourage each other to take an early lunch at their desks. Reeve appears like a vengeful ghost outside the window spying on their activities. Amid all the office culture is a moment of pathos. It is Green’s birthday and nobody has remembered (perhaps it is this anecdote that suggested the nature of the company). She invites us outside with her birthday cake and a single candle; she lights it and asks us, in a tone reminiscent of Eeyore, to sing Happy Birthday. Through the window we see Guy’s chagrin as he rushes into rearguard action.

The anecdotes Casson & Friends have collected seem to run along two themes: the insidious control culture of authority and the many surreptitious ways of surviving it. On our final stop in her office Reeve gives a Chaplinesque performance of masterful bloviation that illustrates the link between the two.

Guy rescues us by ushering us back into the boardroom where he has hastily assembled party hats (which we put on), crackers (with which we arm ourselves) and lurid cupcakes (which remain on the plate). Green walks in to enjoy the surprise of seeing streamers and hearing Happy Birthday once again, with gusto.

And the winner of the design competition? My card was chosen. Reeve hired me and fired me within the space of five minutes. It was a narrow escape.