Interview: Tim Casson

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Tim Casson and Dani B Larsen in 'Tamed', part of Flock at the InTRANSIT Festival.
Photo: Lee Faircloth / Cleverprime Photography.

Choreographer, dancer and company director Tim Casson is a rising talent on the British dance scene. Formally a regular performer with Jasmin Vardimon Company (and also the Director of JV2, Jasmin Vardimon’s youth company) Casson has earned a reputation for creating quirky and unconventional work in surprising spaces. In 2012 he broke the world record for the largest number of choreographers in a single dance work – 152 – for his innovative, interactive work The Dance WE Made, and more recently his ongoing, site specific series, Selling Secrets, has been performed in a hotel and a pub. Casson’s most recent work, which will be premiered at The Louise Blouin Gallery in West London as part of the InTRANSIT Festival, has been the result of the year of collaboration and development with award-winning composer and London Symphony Orchestra Soundhub artist Maxim Boon. We caught up with Tim to find out more about his experience of working with live music…

Music and dance are inextricably linked. How do you usually select the music that accompanies your work?
I love finding new artists and tracks that I can use in my work, but it has mostly been the case that I create the movement first, then find music that meets the work’s needs. This means that it then becomes more of a soundtrack to the work which helps to create a certain kind of atmosphere. I never played any instruments growing-up so I’m really interested in how music is composed and performed. In both Tamed (the new work I have been creating with composer Maxim Boon) and Chapter One (created for Jasmin Vardimon 2 in 2013 using music by The Books) I was looking into the processes that the composers used in creative practice and trying to transpose those methods into the studio. Using other artist’s techniques, particularly artists from other disciplines to dance, has allowed me to explore some really interesting and unusual creative approaches.

How did the collaboration with composer Maxim Boon come about?
I have known Maxim for a few years and although we worked together in other capacities on various projects this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to work with Max’s music. He has been following and supporting my work since I started, and approached me about the collaboration last year when he was commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra and the InTRANSIT Festival to develop a production. I was thrilled when he asked. Maxim has been working with design and production team O’Neill/Ross, who were formally the creative team behind Secret Cinema to develop this evening of new work, so the chance to work with a new composition, live musicians and a brilliant creative team was too good to turn down! Unusually for me, the music was produced before the movement, and was the starting point in the creative process. I really didn’t know what to expect with the music, but despite going in blind I was really excited by the challenge of the unknown!

Having the opportunity to work with live music is increasingly rare these days. How has working with live music influenced your approach?
Being honest, it’s a bit of an unknown quantity as it’s my first time working with live music, so I’m excited and slightly nervous. Max’s music is incredibly complex and textural, so my duet partner, Dani Larsen and I have been working with some signposts within the music that help keep the piece consistent. We have been working with a recording of the score during the rehearsal process, and will finally work with the musicians a few days before the show. Flock Murmur, the piece of music we’re working with is very dynamic and kaleidoscopic, so I expect the experience of hearing it from live musicians will be very different to the recording.

The ideas explored in your new piece, Tamed. have come from the subject matter behind Boon’s string quintet Flock Murmur, which was inspired by murmurations of starlings. Tell us about the piece…
These configurations are such powerful images, but with it being a duet we decided it was difficult to try and replicate these patterns with a flock of only two people! Instead we looked at the process that Max used to create the work. In an early conversation, he shared an observation that the act of composition moves at a glacial pace compared to the time a work takes to perform. When composing, he often works by creating graphic scores to help him develop the gestures used in the piece, so in order to create this 15 minute work, he sketched his score out in real time, using a stop watch. In the studio we mirrored this process, using our first 15 minute improvisation as our structure for the work. Once we had our material, characters began to emerge and we came back to the idea of flocks or swarms, focussing on what happens when you remove a creature from it’s collective: can it be tamed or can it only exist as part of its collective?

You have created a number of works in unusual locations, such as your record breaking piece The Dance WE Made, which was created at various locations around London or the Selling Secrets series which has been created and staged in a hotel and pub. Tamed is being presented as part of an evening of immersive dance at the Louise Blouin Gallery in West London. What are the most important aspects to consider when creating a piece like this?
Each piece is slightly different, with Selling Secrets for example, the material has to stand on its own in the studio first before we put it into the space. During the process, I have an awareness of the performance location, which provides some parameters, but then we have to mould the material to the environment and that’s the exciting bit! I love putting dance where you wouldn’t usually see it, especially in public places like the middle of a market or in a hotel. Theatres are still places of magic, but its fun to readdress what these spaces are used for, and it can really make you see places differently; why can’t you put dance in the middle of a train station or in a pub? I guess my hope is that if we bring dance to people serendipitously, perhaps they might be inspired to see it on purpose sometime!

You’ve recently launched a new company, Casson and Friends, who are making a name for creating work in surprising locations. What space would you most like to work with and why?
I was never very good at sport so maybe a leisure centre, and I’ve never worked in an office before so maybe there… I like the idea that you can put dance in any context.

Creative collaboration is clearly a very important part of your choreographic process, such as your recent piece Fiend which was created with video artist Tom Butterworth. What are the most important elements of a successful collaboration?
I think it’s fundamentally about communication, having interesting conversations with interesting people and creating out of that. The company name was also chosen as a sort-of disclaimer; I didn’t want to set up a company where I was dictating all the creative decisions. I wanted to be transparent about the fact that there’s always more than one person responsible for the work that is created. As a result, the process and final product must always come from these dialogues, whether I’m collaborating with other dancers, other artists or members of the public or artists from other fields. Only through communication can we really understand each other and develop something important.

Tim Casson’s Tamed receives its world premiere as part of Flock: an evening of new music and immersive dance, 21 July at the Louise Blouin Gallery, W11
Performances at 7:00pm and 9:00pm. Tickets:

Photo: Tim Casson and Dani B Larsen in Tamed , part of Flock at the InTRANSIT Festival by Lee Faircloth / Cleverprime Photography

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