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.

Lîla Dance: A Readiness, The Incredible Presence Of A Remarkable Absence

Posted: January 16th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Lîla Dance: A Readiness, The Incredible Presence Of A Remarkable Absence

Lîla Dance, A Readiness, The Incredible Presence Of A Remarkable Absence, Pavilion Dance, November 29

Before Lîla Dance begins their own program, hoards of young children in orange costumes erupt on to the stage in two lines to form two circles. Their performance is neatly choreographed by Lîla Dance as part of their outreach program, but what I see is the children bumping, laughing, copying, wondering where to go, finding their places, seeing who’s in the audience, pulling up trousers, jumping, reaching, giggling, and stamping. As the little ones exit, their places are taken by slightly older children. Some are tentative, others have a natural presence on stage. Counting the beat with their heads, they keep in line, form and reform what could be one giant, moving school picture and keep their infectious energy bubbling until they all leave in enthusiastic disorder.

Lîla Dance is presenting two works of their own: a duet for — and created by — co-artistic directors Abi Mortimer and Carrie Whitaker called A Readiness and a new, longer piece based on Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot choreographed by Mortimer: The Incredible Presence Of A Remarkable Absence.

A Readiness sees both dancers at ease in a style of contact improvisation that has pace, skill, nerve and humour. The set looks as if it is inspired by an IKEA lighting catalogue: a variety of anglepoise and desk lamps, with one naked light bulb suspended on a long cord. There is no plot but rather a series of games in which one performer dares the other to join in. They support each other, knock each other over, bump each other as if attached by elastic, take each other’s weight, hold on to each other like hooks, catch each other from running, embrace, change impulsively from pose into movement like two clowns playing a skillfully choreographed game of follow-the-leader. The score is a collage of recorded sounds by Dougie Evans (a third co-artistic director of Lîla Dance): tram bells, doorbells, foghorns and falling water, played forward and backward, that work their way subtly into the improvisation. Whitaker is like the water and Mortimer like the resultant electric current; together they form a seamless, continuous, mutual support framework. At one point Whitaker crawls like a crab under one of the lamps to take a breather, but Mortimer is not having any of it. ‘Ready?’ she asks. ‘Yep’, answers Whitaker, jumping up to start another game, as they push and needle each other. Mortimer and Whitaker play on their differences; Mortimer the driver is the more frenetic and needy, while Whitaker appears the stronger and more phlegmatic of the two. The movement celebrates those differences and the two characters are fully developed here in what is on one level a very casual, playful interaction but one that comes alive through rigorous execution.

The Incredible Presence Of A Remarkable Absence sees Mortimer stepping out of the action and creating choreography on a quartet of dancers: Aya Kobayashi, Joe Darby, Kai Downham and Whitaker. Inspired by working with Simona Bertozzi, it is the first time the company is incorporating text and theatre into the dance element. The score is again by Dougie Evans, providing an eclectic mix of sourced sound, some rather mournful strains of mandolin and brass against the soft crackle of campfires with snatches of birdsong, Jimmy Rogers singing Waiting for a train and a lovely passage by Evans himself on slide guitar.

I saw The Incredible Presence Of A Remarkable Absence twice; the first on opening night at The Point in Eastleigh, and the second here at Pavilion Dance. There was something that didn’t work for me on the opening night though I couldn’t put my finger on it; I wanted to see it again to clarify or refute my original reservations.

There are advantages and disadvantages to relating the piece to such a milestone of theatre  as Waiting for Godot, but they are not central to an appreciation of the work itself. What is central is the way it is played. My first impression was that Mortimer and the cast had made Beckett too cuddly, too soft; the images are of a comfortable desperation, a bearable absurdity. On my second viewing this feeling remained, but it was related to something more essential. The defining moment for me was when the clean-cut, elegantly-costumed Downham blurts out the line “All my lousy life I’ve crawled about in the mud” with nothing in his appearance, behaviour or demeanour to suggest the truth of his statement. Suddenly the discomfort I had felt about the piece clarified: the four characters are simply not sufficiently defined for the performers to develop them. The cast members, who have no lack of spirit and no inability to move, are thus confined to playing themselves with standardised tropes instead of getting inside their characters. Without the development of character, their actions tend to meander to the end at the same level with which they start and although there is a comic element, it comes across as incidental and disembodied because it has no character or action to support it. A Readiness has no such problem because of its abstract nature, and as such there is an integrity between choreography and performers. The Incredible Presence Of A Remarkable Absence derives from A Readiness but fails to metamorphose into theatre.