Casson & Friends and Stopgap Dance Company, Night at the Theatre

Posted: May 20th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Casson & Friends and Stopgap Dance Company, Night at the Theatre

Casson & Friends and Stopgap Dance Company, Night At The Theatre, Rich Mix, April 24

Nadenh Poan, Hannah Sampson and Connor Quill in Night at the Theatre (photo: Camilla Greenwell)

Nadenh Poan, Hannah Sampson and Connor Quill in Night at the Theatre (photo: Camilla Greenwell)

Rather than contain his work within the confines of a theatre Tim Casson usually brings theatre into places that are essentially porous: think hotel, office, pub, or the street. This goes hand in hand with his method of gathering material: anonymous anecdotes from the hotel industry (Selling Secrets Part 1), public houses (Selling Secrets Part 2), office culture (Selling Secrets Part 3) and stories directed through the Royal Mail (Choreospondance). He has also worked directly with the public in outdoor spaces (Dances We Made). So finding Casson making work in a theatre is a new experience on unfamiliar ground. Night at the Theatre is aimed at children of all ages; gone are the adult themes and sardonic humour of the Selling Secrets trilogy and in their place is a complex plot within a plot within a plot that retains elements of Dances We Made. Casson has created a hybrid story that has the wit of the physical and the playfulness of the imagination, a brand of theatre that comes from the heart as well as the head. There is no gearing down for a young audience and the three protagonists — Connor Quill (just up from the mine in COAL) and Stopgap Dance Company’s Nadenh Poan and Hannah Sampson — know exactly how to stir up creative trouble.

‘When three characters discover a theatre, little do they know that they will soon become the stars of their own show.’ Although it takes place in Venue 1 at Rich Mix, Helen Scarlett-O’Neill transforms the stage into a backstage prop room. The three intruders are seen peering through a gauze window next to a high brick wall at the back and it is not long before Casson has his Pina Bausch moment and the wall comes tumbling down with Sampson leading Quill over the cardboard rubble. Clearing the way for Poan’s wheelchair, the trio explores the dusty props: boxes of dresses (all costumes by Valentina Golfieri), masks, and assorted theatrical paraphernalia. Quill finds a megaphone and interrupts Sampson’s reverie over a yellow dress; she is not amused. He then messes around with Poan until they find a pair of partially covered legs. A dead body? Sampson approaches cautiously and in the suspense Poan sneezes. Unfazed, Sampson uncovers the rest of a doll but in the process reveals a horse’s head than neighs loudly. She faints.

This is just the preamble before the plot unfolds in earnest. Casson has a mischievous sense of humour (as do his collaborators) that blends in well with the wide-eyed expectations of the children in the audience. Quill asks a young girl in the front row how she is and then innocently, ‘Why are you here?’ ‘To see a show,’ she replies. Brilliant idea. Quill suggests to Poan and Sampson that they do the same. They sit and watch the audience watching them and match their tics and gestures. Giggles of laughter. Then a phone rings; Quill finds it among the props and answers. It’s the voice of the theatre’s director (Tim Van Eyken); he has only a moment to explain his concept for the show he wants to make and before Quill can demur, the director clicks off. It’s fight or flight and the desire to create a show wins out over scuttling back over the rubble and escaping. The director wants a prince, a princess and a wizard. Dougie Evan’s choice of Prokofiev’s scores for Romeo and Juliet and Peter and the Wolf create an appropriate score of romance and headstrong ingenuity as the three set about deciding their roles and what to choreograph. Inspired by the infectious make-believe of the props they battle with paintbrushes and dusters, cross dress, and perform a trio of arms and torsos. Poan does wheelie pirouettes, Sampson and Quill dance a duet in which she perches on his feet, Sampson starts to seriously groove in a dance of her own, and Poan acts as a DJ on a turntable suitcase. The three are choreographing up a storm and in their enthusiasm miss another call from the director, who leaves a message: he wants a grand finale with 100 extras on stage. That’s 97 additional performers. Quill counts the audience. You know what’s coming. The grand finale becomes Casson’s trademark use of choreographic transmission in which we are all encouraged to make movement phrases that we perform in our seats.

Casson is essentially a choreographic provocateur in the way he blurs the distinction between audience and performer by combining or inverting the two. Night at the Theatre works on both levels, giving young audiences a chance to enter into the ludic nature of theatre with the courage to indulge their natural predilection for combining movement and words. And Poan, Quill and Sampson are ideal kindred spirits.


Candoco Dance Company, CounterActs

Posted: November 5th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Candoco Dance Company, CounterActs

Candoco Dance Company, CounterActs, Laban Theatre, October 8

Candoco dancers in Alexander Whitley's Beheld (photo: Hugo Glendinning)

Candoco dancers in Alexander Whitley’s Beheld (photo: Hugo Glendinning)

There is something remarkable in the way Candoco’s dancers bring out the best in the choreographers they work with and how the choreographers bring out the best in the dancers. CounterActs is no exception, a chance to see again Hetain Patel’s witty Let’s Talk About Dis and to see a new work, Beheld, by Alexander Whitley. It is the latter that catches my attention immediately as I arrive late to see the end of a duet between Joel Brown and Adam Gain. Its virtuosity — especially from Brown in his wheelchair — and spatial ingenuity set the tone for the solo by Tanja Erhart that follows. Whitley does not so much create steps for Erhart as carve dynamic space around her; she is often in silhouette like a shadow puppet with her supports, revealing shapes that are starkly beautiful. The screen behind her, conceived by Jean-Marc Puissant and realised by Jessica Dixon and Amanda Barrow, is made up of four panels of stretched elastic material that looks like a silver metal barrier under Jackie Shemesh’s cool lighting but the dancers behind it bring it alive by pressing their faces and hands into it and lure Erhart towards them. As she approaches in a dream-like state — a quality the music of Nils Frahm conjures up beautifully — she abandons her crutches and presses herself into the material, invisibly supported on its vertical surface as if on water. Erhart shines in this subtle transference of weight and strength until the surface tension eventually gives way and the whole thing comes rippling down around her.

Whitley writes about his current interest in ‘how choreographic ideas can be extended into material forms beyond the body.’ The material the dancers handle in the opening (which thanks to the company I later saw on video) and later sections is a metaphor for bringing out not their differences but what binds them together; in their handling of the material they are all on the same footing and Whitley weaves this equality into playful, complex choreographic patterns.

Another achievement in Whitley’s work is its virtuosity, particularly in Brown’s duet with Gain where he spins on to his back in his wheelchair with a speed and precision that matches Gain; when the latter raises his legs over his head, Brown does the same effortlessly with his wheelchair. With his powerful torso and arms Brown makes his wheelchair subservient to his virtuosity until it becomes almost invisible. Beheld is a work that brings the company together in ways I haven’t seen before in Candoco’s repertoire and in doing so Whitley makes the company look brilliant.

In Let’s Talk About Dis (a witty reference perhaps to DV8’s Can We Talk About This?) Patel talks about attitudes to disability with an openness and humour that was missing from Lloyd Newson’s choreographic sermon on attitudes to multiculturalism. Patel’s idea of Let’s Talk About Dis is to throw all our preconceptions about disability up in the air, play with them, redefine them and let them fall back to the ground of our understanding. He takes his time to set the scene as the dancers wander on, take off their shoes and carefully mark out a square with white tape, a space in which a game of political correctness will be played by the home team on its home ground. Patel’s text, like all his works, is meticulously scripted and shaped (Eva Martinez helped with the dramaturgy); he loves voices both for what they say about the world and for what they say about the person. In his own solo shows he takes on any number of voices himself but here he has gifted his voice to the dancers and, like Whitley’s material, it allows them to compete on equal terms. As a gifted mimic Patel knows his way into the life behind the voice and by listening to the dancers’ stories and their banter he brings out their lives through their words, filtering their offerings through a sense of humour that verges on the absurd. The masterful trio of Toke Broni Strandby mis-translating into English Laura Patay’s story in French about what children have said about her missing arm with Andrew Graham signing in BSL is a like a Mozart aria in its witty complexity and beauty while Erhart relating her sex education in vocal harmony with Strandby is both poignant and gives the signers some hilarious moments. Patel succeeds in talking about dis, or more importantly getting the dancers to talk about dis, in a way that demystifies it, that breaks down barriers. The dancers look relaxed in Valentina Golfieri’s costumes and under Shemesh’s lighting as if their personalities have come dancing into the light, but as Gain says at the end, ‘We’re going to keep talking about it until we don’t need to keep talking about it.’

 

CounterActs at Dance East in Ipswich next week is sold out, but the company will be performing it again at the Bristol Old Vic on February 12, 2016


Touch Wood 1 at The Place

Posted: September 19th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Touch Wood 1 at The Place

Touch Wood, The Place, September 3

Three women relax, stretch and gaze out at the audience as we come into the studio. On stage there is a wooden platform with two tiny, coloured beach chairs on it and a long wire hanging above it with a light fitting at one end but no bulb. This is Touch Wood, in which ‘four choreographers straight out of the studio seek out the audiences’ reaction as they try out fragments of their latest work.’ Or as the director of theatre and artist development, Eddie Nixon, points out in his introduction, ‘What unites all these works is that nothing is yet finished.’

Dog Kennel Hill has been working on Etudes in Tension and Cries, which Rachel Lopez de la Nieta introduces. It is the outcome of five days of work ‘appropriating scenes of high drama and conflict to see how we find ourselves in relation to them.’ ‘Appropriating’ is the operative word here; despite the gravity of the material the result is ambivalent, coming across as almost parodic. The melodramatic title could be a clue. There are four tableaux in which aggressor and victim change roles. In the first Lopez de la Nieta is a parade ground sergeant barking at a choreographer (Heni Hale) who is gently punching out a movement motif and answering back in army parlance about the duality of mind and body. The second frames a face-off between Lopez de la Nieta as a domineering director and Hale as her terrified, speechless assistant. The director wants her to talk about the work. Lopez de la Nieta’s languorous gyrations betray her pleasure at inflicting discomfort, while Hale is petrified and withers under the scrutiny. Finally, she stammers, ‘I think we should show it to some people and get some feedback.’ In the third tableau, Hale is the bullying aggressor pushing Lopez de la Nieta to her physical limits in a comic book treatment of boot camp with American accents, and the fourth portrays a sexual aggressor (a gyrating Hale this time) whose victim places a length of rope on her own lap, tapes her own mouth and puts her hands behind her chair. Neither Lopez de la Nieta nor Hale hold back in their performance but the treatment of violence remains enigmatic. Annie Loc is on stage to manage the lights — Guy Hoare’s lightprint is in the work already — but has no role in the action.

I had misread the title of William Collins’ work, Untied States, as United States, thinking he was an American in London. As soon as he begins to talk in a broad Scottish accent, I realize my mistake. In his introduction, Collins compares a dance in which the act disappears as soon as it is performed to the written word that can be left and picked up again at any time. I don’t remember what else he said, but his performance remains indelibly imprinted on my memory. Collins shares Untied States with Airen Koopmans and Eleanor Sikorski, but his quirky, angular choreographic style is so idiosyncratic that they wear it rather than inhabit it. As soon as Collins takes the stage, not unlike an Egon Schiele drawing in motion, it is clear he is totally committed to what he is doing; it’s in the eyes which are as engaged as the rest of his body. Collins is someone (he explains later) who can read a book in no particular order, and his choreography borrows from this propensity, though remaining (and this is what dance has over the written word) rivetingly in the moment. When we see emerge from his gestures the image of a long-haired girl throwing her hair around (he has no hair), and fanning herself before taking a refreshing shower, we are not sure if it’s the end of the story or the beginning, but he has fixed it in our minds with his wry sense of humour and inimitable mime, giving meaning to what has gone before. While he is rinsing his hair, Nixon calls ‘time out’ and the work steps out of its frame. In a revealing session of questions and answers with the choreographer afterwards (part of the Touch Wood format), Collins speaks about the beginning of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves in which she describes in minute detail all the elements of a sunrise before the reader can put all the micro elements together to see the bigger picture. Collins seems to have pulled off a similar accomplishment in his choreography.

Valentina Golfieri walks on clutching her Mac, sets up a screen on the side, beams some images on to it and introduces her work, Strange and Unproductive Thinking to David Lynch’s track of the same name. Golfieri says she is not working towards making a product as much as she wants to create a means to an end. The images on the screen are a record of her influences. Standing centre stage, without moving her feet, her arms pull her neck and back down to her feet, again and again, faster, like peeling off a jumper or taking off layers to see what is left. What is left? Golfieri is not sure; her dark and lively eyes wear an expression of uncertainty as the unpeeling gets out of control. She pulls it back from chaos and her face relaxes; she is enjoying the process, circling her body now with raised arm gestures, until a sense of worry and despair returns. As the music stops she is left holding her head. In the silence she repeats a phrase ‘What if I speak now’ quietly, somewhere between a prayer and an incantation. Golfieri’s bold process reminds me of Paul Taylor’s early choreographic experiments in which he deliberately used everyday gestures (walking, queuing, standing) in an effort to rid himself of the influences of his past on any present or future choreography. To some it was strange and unproductive, but it gave him a platform (and the confidence) on which to build. Golfieri’s process is also one of divestment but we shall have to wait to see if it is the stimulus she wants.

Joseph Mercier lugs on his Mac connected to a keyboard. Tess Letham rolls on a suitcase and Leila McMillan and Jordan Lennie drag on large crash pad. Mercier and his Panic Lab colleagues introduce the concept of Toxic as a comic strip: how we might be superheroes, using a movement vocabulary of characterization with little bits of a story. Letham takes her suitcase with her to the microphone to set the story’s context; she has just the right intonation and delivery. The show begins with city sounds; Joseph is a man reading the Daily Mail (with the headline Pupils packed in like sardines) waiting for a bus with two others. Letham herself is, we are to imagine, dressed in a yellow leather biker suit, ‘like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.’ Mercier picks a fight with her in which the other two join, but Letham makes quick work of his attack and defends herself convincingly in slow motion combat circling the stage, beating them all. She is the only one left standing. ‘It was not my intention to do that in front of you’ she demurs heroically into the microphone.

In the second clip, Lennie is locked up in jail. Mercier the interrogator asks him his name. ‘T-Cell’. We hear the sound of a whip (thanks to sound designer Dinah Mullen). What’s your real name? asks Mercier, trying hard to look menacing. Whip. What do you know about the one they call Canary? McMillan walks down the stage provocatively, arms rising, looking at each of us, a femme fatale. Letham provokes her by saying, ‘I’m the Iron Lady, the world’s most powerful.’ McMillan tells us that the girl wearing the yellow suit is a whole world of trouble. They strut around each other. McMillan zaps her with her fingers: round one to the femme fatale. Mercier moves the crash pad to meet Letham’s next knockout. Meanwhile Lennie wakes up and tangles with her but McMillan steps in to destroy them both while Mercier looks on wide-eyed.

He warns us that the next scene is a little violent. He and Lennie are walking around in another slow motion fight scene, punctuated by violent contact blows or lifts that send Lennie flying while the two girls look on. Letham concludes in a bubble of speech that she knows exactly what she needs to do. They all do. To be continued.

 

 


Protein: xoxo

Posted: April 5th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Protein: xoxo, Pavilion Dance, March 22

Sarah aloft in xoxo rehearsal

Sarah aloft in xoxo rehearsal

XOXO is the written equivalent of kisses and hugs but there isn’t much time for the relationship to develop: Luca Silvestrini and his three dancers from Protein have just three weeks to create a work with specially picked students from The Quay School in Poole and Hamworthy. It is part of Protein’s Real Life Real Dance participatory program, supported by The Monument Trust, Pavilion Dance South West, wave arts education agency and The Quay School. The students, Jamie, Rhys, Jordan, Holly and Sarah are the second group this year, after a partnership between Protein and artsdepot in London in January.

Silvestrini has derived xoxo from LOL (Lots of Love), his company’s very successful work about love and communications in the online social media age. He adapts parts of it to the students, but keeps the thread of LOL going with his own dancers, Valentina Golfieri, Jon Beney and Parsifal James Hurst (PJ).

I arrive for the second week of rehearsals. The first week apparently went really well but week two begins slightly differently. The Quay School supports young people who are at risk of exclusion from mainstream schools. Some disruptive behavior manifests in the studio, so that at any one time there is a charge of both creativity and negativity among the students; when the latter cancels out the former, the two accompanying teachers take time out to encourage the students back in to the studio. This takes its toll, as one person’s outburst affects everyone else, and in the meantime choreography has to be learned. The atmosphere can be fragile on both sides, but the goal of performance remains, which is why the project is so important. Silvestrini and his dancers manage to keep the project on track with pep talks, encouragement, and vast amounts of patience and respect.

The second day I attend, the atmosphere has improved dramatically; the studio is full of energy and drive, although one of the students wasn’t able to come in on that day due to illness. One of the Protein dancers takes his place and new sections are learned. As well as choreography, the students are asked to talk about their online experiences, to offer their brand of chatter to be recorded and used in the performance. By the end of the day a lot has been accomplished and all seems well.

I return the following week to see the show, but am sad to learn that one of the students who had shown so much promise couldn’t be involved with the performance at the last minute. She cannot be replaced at short notice so Silvestrini adapts the piece again. I can’t imagine too many choreographers who can deal with this kind of instability and uncertainty, but he does, brilliantly, as do his dancers and the remaining students.

The theatre is full of family, friends and school staff. There is lots of chatter and laughter. PJ wanders on to the stage from the audience with a tangle of red and yellow computer cables over his shoulder. There is a loud short-circuit, a flash of light and all goes black. Out of the darkness each student appears on a screen at the back of the stage; they are each at a keyboard looking into the camera so it looks as if we are watching them from the screen. Rhys, Sarah, Jamie and Jordan gather in a group at the front of the stage as we hear Valentina’s voice reading their online messages, chats and status updates. They then watch PJ and Valentina’s keyboard duet from LOL. It is movement that communicates immediately, and with the score of computer and keyboard sounds (it’s clearly not a Mac), it’s witty and accessible. Online dating goes livid with Valentina having a fit in computer time when Jon intervenes between the two. Gradually the students shed their nerves and take their places with the company members in movement and text. There is a sofa at the back where Jamie takes a rest. A couple of teachers appear on the screen with anecdotes from a day in the life at school. Rhys and Sarah dance a duet, PJ runs fast around the stage with Valentina and Jon to form two teams with the students on either side of the stage. Jumping over each other (with PJ’s extraordinary elevation he could jump easily over two people at a time), the performers circle Jamie in the centre, while Jordan takes a moment to smile at his Mum. PJ brings more cables into the centre on which Jordan rests. His mother, who we see talking on screen, says she’s still on his friends list while Jordan mimes gaming on stage. Xoxo is all about communicating in the internet age, but is also about social values: the students agree they don’t want a friend that judges a book by its cover.

Very soon it is all over. Cheers and applause from a proud and appreciative audience. Jamie whistles his relief. PJ and Jon bring the sofa to the front of the stage on which the students relax as if they own it. Valentina brings flowers for each, and Luca a present. Sarah and Rhys look so confident: trust and confidence are the rewards of this project.  Jordan has learned teamwork and more capabilities. Jamie puts what he has learned into one word: skillage.

At the backstage reception afterwards the sense of pride, achievement and relief is palpable. Sarah and Rhys want to continue dance classes. But more than that: in an age of online chatter, non-verbal dance has found a way to bring out the characters and personalities of these students. It has not always been easy, but Silvestrini and his dancers have showed what is possible with patience, persistence and the right kind of moves. xoxo