Tilted Productions: SEASAW at the seaside

Posted: May 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Tilted Productions: SEASAW at the seaside

Presented at the Brighton Festival, May 20 at 3pm, SEASAW is a trail of contemporary dance, performance art and physical theatre vignettes inspired by the relationship between humans and water.

I had been to see Motor Show at Black Rock the week before and thought I would be able to park in the adjacent lot, as I had done then. I arrived with five minutes to spare but there was a London to Brighton Mini rally this morning, with 3,000 minis parked along the promenade, so no possibility of getting anywhere near Black Rock unless you are driving a Mini. Parking up on Marine Parade and rushing down the steps, I arrive at the meeting point just in time. It is a free event, and there is a loose crowd of about fourty people on the lawn, wondering what to expect. A festival steward gathers us within hearing distance and warns us that this is what is called a promenade event and that as a result we will have to contend with steep slopes, rubbish and any other natural hazard of a beachside venue. First aid is available.

There are so many Minis around that the director of Tilted Productions and creator of SEASAW, Maresa von Stockert, decides to change the place of the opening picnic from the lawn to the beach. This is the kind of last-minute decision-making that site-specific work can entail. We move past the Minis to the promenade. No engines are roaring or car radios blaring. Standing at the railings, we see a couple walking up towards us from the sea, each with a hamper and a stool, towards a picnic table on the beach in front of us. John Williams’ Jaws theme plays from a portable sound system on a trolley as the surreal picnic begins. The picnic basket has a life of its own, as the couple struggles to get their food (a tin of sardines) on to the table and ready to eat. They are evidently ravenous. Plates, knives and forks are also animated and take some controlling, but the couple finally manages to finish the meal, licked sauce and all, with not a little detritus left on the beach. In a second hamper are glasses and the man pours the wine. They drink with abandon, the wine spilling down their chins and clothing. Replete, they walk off back towards the sea, disappearing from view over the pebbly ridge. A beach attendant (we are not sure at first if he is a health and safety official from the festival) comes to clear up the mess with a litter picker and a plastic bag. The litter picker then takes on a life of its own, pulling the official (now we know he is part of the performance) and us to the next event across the promenade and inside the building site.

A soundtrack by Jeremy Cox plays from a second portable sound system. A plastic sheet is laid out and pegged to a makeshift stage with rocks and stones. The surface is wet, and so are the four dancers, in a mixture of water and grey paint. They are gulls on an oily beach at low tide, unable to fly. The plastic sheet is slippery and conducive to the splashing and struggling antics of panicked birds. The dancers are on their knees and all fours, articulating their arms as oily wings and sliding on to their shoulders with legs flailing, their headstands falling perilously close to the stones on the perimeter of the stage. The beach cleaner picks up the front edges of the plastic sheet and folds it back over the gulls, who dance ever slower to their last suffocated gesture. A marine ecologist’s nightmare.

Back on the seafront the beach cleaner has put on a track by Art Zoyd as he picks up an abandoned plastic bottle that also takes on an animated life of its own, getting up his sleeve where it looks like a continuation of his arm. There is a rubbish bin on wheels nearby, and he tries to get rid of the bottle into the rubbish, but his free sleeve gets caught and when he finally withdraws it, there is another bottle implanted in that sleeve. This is something you can try when you next go beachcombing. Another man with similarly extended arms climbs up over the railings to join his comrade. The long arms of their tee-shirts resemble straight jackets, especially when the arms are wrapped and interlocked around their backs, which happens when the two fight together. One triumphs and slips his rival into the rubbish bin, at which point another bottle man emerges feet first from the same bin. Fantastic. The triumphant fighter slopes off over the rail on to the beach. Rubbish man is a mutant with bottles in his trouser legs as well as in his sleeves. A fourth contestant pushes through the legs of the crowd on all fours. He has a bottle fin, comprised of five plastic bottles sticking up from his back under his tee shirt. The mutant escapes over the railing for a moment, leaving fin man to test his balance on two legs. The mutant returns for a slow-motion wrestle according to the natural law of the seaside plastic bottle chain. Fin man is evidently lower down and the mutant throws him gently over the railings.

Over to the right of the beach a mermaid and a swashbuckling pirate are embracing to music by Michel Rodolfi, but the mermaid is difficult to handle. She is thrashing around and somersaulting over the pebbles. How else does a mermaid move on dry land? He tries to keep her in his arms, but she is too slippery. They eventually disappear over the ridge of the beach, her fin still visibly thrashing. We turn around to face the building site to watch a girl wearing half a dozen lifebelts struggling to keep afloat and a girl playing music through a megaphone. It is like a recitative in an opera on a seaside theme, though the story is not clear. It is here on the promenade that the site-specific nature of the performance comes into its own. A group of three men walk by and one is fascinated by the girl with the megaphone. As she sidles towards him on her planned beat, he retreats just enough, keeping his eyes on her. We are not sure if he realizes she is performing or is just a beautiful girl in high heels who has lost her earphones.

Festival stewards guide us to the sea rail again where a number of conch shells are hanging from string. Picking them up and putting them to our ear (what else to do with a conch shell?) we hear not the tides but a poem by Stevie Smith, Not Waving But Drowning:

“Nobody heard him, the dead man.

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought

And I was not waving but drowning.


Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he’s dead.

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,

They said.


Oh, no no no. It was too cold always

(Still the dead one lay moaning)

I was much too far out all my life.

And not waving but drowning.”

This leads naturally to the sight of a deep-sea diver in ancient kit and helmet lurching down the little point towards the lookout. His mask is on backwards, then turns as he dives imaginatively into the concrete, but disappearing more effectively over the wall. Turning around, we see a man with a deckchair on a large rectangle of green artificial turf. I had seen this act in rehearsal quite by chance the day before, and it is worth saying that this is a standard issue deckchair. I saw only one person rehearse then, but today it is an epic duet of deckchair acrobats to a score by Polar Bear. Ingenious, dangerous, hilarious, these two men battle it out with their deck chairs, performing somersaults, headstands, balances and jousting on the basis of whatever-you-can-do-I-can-do-better. Towards the end one plays some dirty tricks on the other and ends up sitting on his chair atop his rival.

Back at the railings, looking out over the beach and a calm sea and sky, we hear a score by Jeremy Cox and see a small iceberg. Two dancers, who might be polar bears in human form, climb on and try to maintain their place on the tiny, uneven, slippery surface with balances and counterbalances. Another couple replace the first one on the floe, with a more bravura, almost capoeira display of interdependence. The male eventually rolls off, leaving the female alone for a moment but she has to cling to the extremes of the floe as it is upended and sinks into the beach. A line of dancers appears from below the ridge carrying lifebelts, staggering up towards us. As we move back, they climb over and through the railings. Stewards keep the crowd (which has burgeoned to about 100) and any unsuspecting promenaders from walking through the performance space. To music by Michel Rodolfi, the dancers put on a display of everything you can do with a lifebelt: a synchronized lifebelt show with rolling, balancing, getting in, getting out, and whirling around like a dervish before they fall to the ground. Like shipwrecked ghosts they climb back over the railing towards the sea and place their lifebelts on mounds of sand in a line on the beach. I watched a man digging those holes the day before. The dancers place the lifebelt over the hole, and scoop out the sand over their shoulders, like dogs digging for a bone. Then they place their heads in the hole and raise their legs skyward. The line of heads in the sand, with a background of a calm sea and sky is as magical as it is symbolic.

A fish tank sits on another ice floe to the right of this head-standing ritual and a girl climbs up on the floe and on to the tank. We see her through the tank so it looks as if she is in it. She balances on the edges and splashes the water with her hand and foot, dips her head in repeatedly and finally, to the shivering shock of the spectators, immerses herself completely: a dancer in a fish tank or a mini deluge? It is the end of the afternoon, and we are suddenly aware of our desire to keep warm, dry and safe. The dream is over, but the images persist.