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.

Vuong 10

Posted: January 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Vuong 10

Vuong 10, JW3, January 14

Kenny Wing Tao Ho and Maren Fidje Bjørneseth in Vuong 10 (photo ©Carole Edrich - ceimages.co.uk)

Kenny Wing Tao Ho and Maren Fidje Bjørneseth in Vuong 10 (photo ©Carole Edrich – ceimages.co.uk)

Vuong 10 is the creation of a core of choreographers and dancers who came together at King’s Place in 2013 on the occasion of the first evening of Randomworks curated by Wayne McGregor: Catarina Carvalho, Michael John Harper (both dancers with Wayne McGregor|Random Dance) and Nina Kov. They presented a short piece to music composed by Leafcutter John and violist Max Baillie called Vuong 10 and what we see this evening at JV3 is a development of that auspicious beginning with dancers Kenny Wing Tao Ho and Maren Fidje Bjørneseth. Of course in hindsight one could say that from this particular group something fascinating would surely evolve, but the process was probably not so clear (neither, if we discount the role of God, was the creation of the world). Seeing Vuong 10 on only its second outing (it premiered at Rich Mix in December) it is now evident that something rather remarkable did emerge from this collaboration, a kind of spark-made-flesh that thrills the imagination and challenges the ephemeral nature of dance. Given the primeval — rather than the proposed futuristic — content I feel the costumes by Bella Gonshorovitz are a little fussy; costumes that aim for a naked look can sometimes distract more than nakedness itself. The stage also appears too clean and the lighting by Karl Oskar Sørdall is constrained by this neutral staging, but there is no doubt about the movement language as interpreted by Bjørneseth and Wing Tao Ho: it has a visceral sense of entanglement and intrusion that is enthralling.

Vuong 10 is an intimate work both in subject matter — an exploration of the sense of touch at a time when it has been lost — and in its details: malleable facial gestures and frail, tendril-like fingernails like Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter. If you’re not up close you miss it. It is a work that is nevertheless complex in form, the overall arch of experience torn into fragments of intense physical exploration that may be movement or sound or both. As the publicity states, Vuong 10 is a contemporary music concert as well as a contemporary dance piece.

It is also a disquieting work, perhaps intentionally. From the very first image of the two dancers facing each other across the stage in silent, animated communication, we are not clear what relation they have. They could be Adam and Eve arguing or the last two beings left alive coming across one another by chance, trying to grapple with the unaccustomed act of meeting. Their physical vocabulary evolves in part from this contorted attempt at speech and in part from the windswept landscape of the score that acts as the exegetic soundtrack of their minds. Not knowing exactly how the task of creation was shared between the three choreographers, it is remarkable they found a coherent physical language to embody the score. Their courage to explore the musical language and the uncompromising presentation of their findings combine to make Vuong 10 an intoxicating, at times erotic experience, not least because Bjørneseth and Wing Tao Ho remove their own boundaries and inhibitions to express the rawness of the choreography. Wing Tao Ho’s solo, in particular, is the spark that lights the entire production. The conflagration from that spark would be, to put it mildly, mind-blowing. It doesn’t quite happen here, but Vuong 10 is pointing in a very exciting direction.

The Place Prize semi-final 3

Posted: September 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Place Prize semi-final 3

photo: Benedict Johnson

The Place Prize semi-final 3 (Nina Kov, Neil Paris, Ben Wright, Darren Ellis), The Place, September 20

There’s a buzz of excitement in the front row as we notice a model helicopter on the very front of the stage. The copter’s blades flutter briefly in response, perhaps, to the stage manager calling ‘places’ just before the lights go down. Nina Kov, choreographer and the other performer in Copter, settles down on the floor in the dark. The first flood of light projects a silhouette of the copter on to the backdrop, to a suitably throbbing, reverberating soundscape by Paul Child that sounds as if it was recorded in the depths of a real copter. Then our little star whirs into action within its own spotlight. Copter is essentially a duet and solo variations between Kov and the copter, thanks to the pilot and battery charger, Jack Bishop, (who remains in the wings throughout). Lucy Hansom lights the stage perfectly to keep the diminutive, buzzing copter visible at all times as it flies its missions. Bishop can land the copter on Kov’s hand, fly it between her legs and fly it just out of reach when Kov tries to retrieve it. As you may have guessed, all the attention is on the copter, which Kov imbues with character by virtue of her interaction with it. At one point Kov rescues the copter, sets it on its skids for it to make its escape, and at another she blows it from her hand, like a bird. At times her arms appear to command the copter, and at others the trajectory of the copter influences hers. We easily forget that it is Jack Bishop in the pilot’s seat. The closest we get to being inside the copter’s eye is when Bishop pilots a sturdier model to carry a tiny camera that projects images on to the screen. So much for the copter; but what of the participation of Kov herself? If her final, heroic image of whirling around a large blade above her head is meant to suggest a transference of life from the copter to the human, Kov’s movements have not prepared us sufficiently to make this jump of the imagination. Her movement phrases bear little relation to any evolutionary process, and her costume (by Alice Hoult) belongs more in the studio than on the airfield. There is something, however, in the interaction between Kov and the copter that works; Bishop is a skilled pilot, but can he teach Kov how to fly?

In the pause, the stagehands place lots of milky-white conical paper hats on the stage with seemingly random precision. It’s like a designer moonscape, lit by Aideen Malone. The backdrop is a light red digital projection by Dan Tombs with a floating amoeba-like image at the top that makes me feel I’m looking up at the surface of the water from inside the tank. It’s the last time I notice it. Carly Best creeps in wearing an identical conical hat with a big letter D. None of the other hats on the stage seem to have letters. Best surveys the hats, crouching down to examine them as if visiting a graveyard. Sarah Lewis enters from the other side; she has a G on her hat. Dolce and Gabanna? No, the Devil and God, for this is Neil Paris’s The Devil’s Mischief, based on the book of the same name by Ed Marquand.

There is an obvious tendency to see the two women as punished schoolchildren sent to sit on their stools in their respective corners, but their identities suggest a broader scenario: instead of being the dunces, they are the progenitors of this sea of ignorance and common misunderstandings that divide them. Having arrived in their separate roles, in similar styles and colours of clothes (by Kate Rigby), they now realise, rather sheepishly, that it’s time to resolve their differences and act in unity. With palms up, Best steps among the cones, carefully at first, but as her confidence and assurance grow her limbs start to dislodge the cones in jabbing, fleeting spasms of emotion that have the quality of a human puppet – Petrouchka comes to mind. The more phlegmatic Lewis, overcoming an initial hesitation, joins forces with her erstwhile rival and they manage to overturn many, but not all the cones. There is very little physical contact between the two, but at the close of The Devil’s Mischief, the caps of G and D touch in a gesture of solidarity and embrace.

Paris’s choreography and the accompanying music – the beatless soundscape of Stars of the Lid’s Apreludes (in C Sharp Major) and Jolie Holland singing the hauntingly beautiful ballad Rex’s Blues – together create a dream-like meditation on the nature of good and evil (how closely those words resemble god and devil), too open-ended to go through to the final of The Place Prize, but a lovely essay on form that will, I am sure, resurface somewhere else in SMITH dancetheatre’s work.

Ben Wright’s bgroup entry is another essay, Short Lived Alteration of an Existing Situation, on a theme of the common ephemerality of dance and music, according to Wright’s entry video. He talks of ‘playing with the moment where sound and movement respectively move away from and into the constancy of silence and stillness.’ The stage has no edges, apart from the light that Guy Hoare provides, which is soft at its circumference, suggesting infinity beyond. The inside of this circle of light is an arena, in which Sam Denton and Lise Manavit perform. To begin with, a red curtain of light (suggested by Alan Stones’ sound with Hoare’s dramatic lighting) cuts off our visibility of the interior, and as it fades we see Denton on all fours crawling forward, animal-like, then running backwards in his circle of light and coming to an upside down stasis on his shoulders and head. The primitive imagery continues with Manavit’s beating her chest, rippling through her torso, and rather dispassionately engaging with Denton as they test and extend each other’s limits. There is a moment when Manavit picks Denton up from flat on the ground to rest on her lap, an amazonian feat that, for sheer power and fluidity, takes the breath away.

It is difficult to avoid ascribing a narrative to the action, and it is probably not what Wright is interested in here. For ten minutes he creates a flow of movement that ‘defies the inevitable pull of gravity and immobility’, just as a musical phrase defies silence. There is very little movement for movement’s sake in Wright’s duet; one phrase flows thoughtfully into another, without the use of choreographic prepositions, creating a flowing, sculptural dynamic which he sustains in silence. Then there is a magical moment when John Byrn’s playing of the opening chords of Rachmaninov’s Prelude (in B Minor, op 32 No. 10) merges with the movement like a swimmer entering water. The emotional quality of the Prelude seems to affect the two dancers, or, to be more accurate, to affect my interpretation of the relationship of the two dancers. What is clear is that the music and dance are mutually reinforcing. This change is perhaps the short-lived alteration of an existing situation in the title, which continues until the repeated, sonorous note at the end of the Prelude after which the curtain of light comes down once again and the duet fades into oblivion. I feel Wright still has ideas he wants to develop in this work; he will, but for now he has left us with a miniature gem of pure dance that needs an appropriate setting.

Darren Ellis’s Revolver (from the Spanish, not the wild west) is just that, a sequence of turning motifs, always clockwise (I read that; I wouldn’t have noticed) by two unstoppable dancers, Hannah Kidd and Joanna Wenger to a rock guitar accompaniment by The Turbulent Eddies. The two guitars provide the constant (read relentless) rhythmic patterns, within which Kidd and Wenger perform their variations. Costumed in white phosphorescent dresses and tops (an in-house collaboration between Ellis and Kidd) and lit by Lee Curran, they begin a first, accelerated sequence in strobe lights (to slow it down) followed by three more sequences that get gradually smaller and quieter. They then extend the first sequence, and with a change in the music, they each move to their respective circles of light, executing sequences in harmony, in counterpoint, adding to them, varying them, and changing direction, but always in a clockwise direction. That and the guitar thrust are the two constants, apart from the energy of Kidd and Wenger that flows out from the stage into the audience. Ellis suggested in his original submission that the two women would transform and morph into one another, a concept taken from Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, but the psychological nature of the idea has been dropped in favour of a purely physical treatment within a mathematical framework. Impressive as Kidd and Wenger are, one wonders what Revolver might become with a Bergman treatment.