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.


Wild Card: Tim Casson & Friends

Posted: April 2nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Wild Card: Tim Casson & Friends

Tim Casson & Friends, Wild Card, Lilian Baylis Studio, March 18

Tim Casson on stage and on film in Fiend

Tim Casson on stage and on film in Fiend

There is something so ebullient about Tim Casson that his Wild Card evening at the Lilian Baylis Studio is bound to be a lively occasion. He takes over the Garden Court Café, the Khan Lecture Theatre as well as the Studio stage and fills them with dance appetizers and main courses that will cater for a broad range of tastes. Oliver Fitzgerald, Chloe Mead, Sarah Blanc and Jen Irons collect stories (in the nicest possible way) from people in the café prior to the main performance to gather material for a dance they will perform later on stage; this is the latest incarnation of Casson’s groundbreaking, record-breaking The Dance WE Made. While we are watching the first part of the evening on stage, these four dancers are editing and rehearsing their accumulated phrases for performance in the second half.

In the half hour before the main performance (it is also repeated in the intermission) Casson curates what he calls First Contact in the Kahn Lecture Theatre, bringing together two pairs of artists who have not worked together before, one a dancer and the other an artist from another discipline. Each pair has been given a speed-dating two days to come up with a collaborative work (collaboration is the name of this evening’s game). The first pair is filmmaker Alisa Boanta and dancer Robert Guy, the second actor/musician Tim van Eyken and dancer/choreographer Dani B Larsen. In Dust You Are Boanta projects a film on to Guy’s bare back that makes him both tactile screen, a live chakra model and actor in his own drama. The film is so cleverly filmed and projected that it is difficult to differentiate the filmed movements from Guy’s own. Van Eyken sings a ballad of a young man lost at sea while Larsen embodies his lover in her interaction with both the story and the storyteller.

On the Studio stage Casson presents three works that continue the theme of collaboration: works by Nina Kov, Cornelia Voglmayr and his own Fiend. Kov’s Copter was first seen as a Place Prize commission in 2012 but she has subtly reworked it from being a duet between a dancer and a remote controlled helicopter to a fable of human interaction with machine. Kov has also removed herself from the protagonist role, allowing her the distance to mould the choreography on Rosie Terry while the copter pilot is the ace Jack Bishop. I remember seeing the original and being more aware of the copter than of the dancer but Kov has now balanced the work to show a charged relationship between the two that runs the gamut from touchingly playful to coldly voyeuristic.

In Voglmayr’s Sonata in 3 Movements dancer Elisa Vassena and violist Benjamin Hooper create a deconstructed sonata in which the dancer’s body, the viola player’s body, the viola and the bow all have a significant and interchangeable role to play. Hooper begins by laying his viola on its side and lying on his back behind it. He reaches over his head to pluck the opening phrase of the glorious Prelude to Bach’s cello suite No. 1 with Vassena dancing her torso on his upturned knees. Throughout the work Voglmayr mischievously sets Hooper an obstacle course, both physical and mental, that tests his ability to return to the Prelude. In the second movement, Vassena gives Hooper a lesson in dance imagination: ‘take your sitting bones for a walk’, ‘imagine your pelvis coming out of your mouth’ ‘imagine yourself a pillar of ashes and your cells are disappearing in the universe’ to which Hooper valiantly submits with hilarious results. In the third movement Vassena holds the bow between her foot and her ear and Hooper presses the viola strings against it to play Bach’s notes in unfamiliar but recognizable fashion. It is a blurring of the familiar demarcation between musician and dancer that is witty and rewarding. Hooper gets his virtuoso moment in the coda while Vassena sits at his feet seemingly unmoved until she gets up and nonchalantly walks him off.

Casson’s Fiend (his definition of wild card?) is a collaboration between himself and computer programmer/operator Tom Butterworth with whom he shares the stage. The work is based on Nijinsky’s ballet L’Après-midi d’un faun where Casson is the faun but his nymphs are multiple images of himself captured in various poses and phrases by an onstage camera that Butterworth then loops on to the backdrop screen when the choreography demands: Butterworth improvises the transference of Casson’s movements on stage so that his screen image interacts with his nymphs. It is complex and the only way to see the logic of it is to watch the screen. Casson is using the technology to explore the dual nature of watching and being watched in an environment of digital manipulation and his adoption of Nijinsky’s lecherous faun adds an element of voyeurism — a subsidiary theme of this Wild Card — to the work’s theme.

The time arrives for The Dance WE Made, which references those who valiantly contributed their stories; it is short and sweet and danced with fun and enthusiasm that makes a strong point of contact with the audience. Casson comperes this part of the show, adding a final coup in which he divides the audience into pairs for a choreographic task: the first partner asks a predetermined question (Where do you live?) and the second answers in purely physical language. The second then asks ‘What kind of house do you live in?’ and the first responds with another phrase of movement. The two responses are then performed together (on stage or in the seats) to form a simultaneous series of short choreographic phrases. Hey presto, the choreographer has demystified choreography in such an unpretentious, engaging way and in doing so has possibly broken another world record for the number of new works created amongst a dance audience in one evening.