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            2nd September 2011

Bringing an outdoor, site-specific dance spectacle to life is no mean feat, but Tilted Productions has done just that with its latest offering of Seasaw. Kevin Berry talks to the show’s artistic director Maresa von Stockert and production manager Robin Shephard-Blandy.

An outdoor dance event is difficult enough to arrange but an outdoor, site-specific promenade dance extravaganza is quite something. Seasaw is all of that, as well as being a touring show.

Holidaymakers in Cromer have already seen Seasaw – a walkabout, trail event with dance, performance art, physical theatre and installations along the way – from the Norwich-based Tilted Productions company.

The show was first seen in its developmental stage last year in Cromer. One year on and the ‘complete’ version has been premiered in the town and seen at various English seaside resorts. It has also been taken to France and has been seen on Watford High Street. And there have been many enquiries about possible dates next year.

Maresa von Stockert, artistic director at Tilted Productions, has long been interested in site-specific performances, having packed Wapping Power Station for four weeks with performances of Grim(m) Desires in 2004. Her productions always have witty props of a striking size.

“I searched for sites and someone suggested, ‘try outdoors, use the landscape’. It’s worked wonderfully,” she says. “I have been interested, for a long time, in themes to do with water and sea; the relationship between humans and water. I’ve used bits from previous stage shows and it’s almost as if they’ve finally found their perfect setting outdoors. I wouldn’t mind going further south with it – Spain, Tunisia maybe?”

Von Stockert planned for dancing on unusual surfaces rather than seek out temporary solutions: “I made it in a way that it could be performed wherever. We used kneepads and shoes for most scenes and there’s something nice about working on a surface you don’t normally dance on. Sand gives you different possibilities. It’s softer. You can fall in different ways. The biggest challenge was getting permission to perform in certain areas.”

Robin Shephard-Blandy, of Illuminate Design Ltd, was the production manager for Seasaw. Illuminate Design is a Colchester-based company providing production solutions for dance companies and festivals, such as LIFT and the Mayor’s Thames Festival, as well as offering training in various technical disciplines. Henry Oguike, Jasmin Vardimon and the Protein, Intoto and Yorke dance companies are regular clients.

The company came into being when Shephard-Blandy and two colleagues were driving from Exeter to Huddersfield, and was formally launched at the British Dance Edition in Birmingham last year.

“We felt there was a gap in the market for a production management service for dance companies,” says Shephard-Blandy. “We’re all technical managers – we were looking at working for dance companies that wanted to have a bit more stability, wanted to increase their budgeting power by using a company.”

In the research and development stage of Seasaw, audiences could see a film excerpt from a previous Tilted performance through opera glasses. These were mounted in a wooden wall, halfway down a cliff but happily on a path.

“It was very nice to be able to get back to Cromer, as a known quantity, this year, to finish off the entire production,” Shephard-Blandy says. “Some elements were true to the R&D, some were changed, some were totally new.”

Two large ice flows were commissioned from Matt Gardner, a scenic prop artist based in Colchester. He discussed with von Stockert how these were to react, feel and look, and where they needed footholds. One of the ice flows had to have an aquarium on it for a dancer to sit in at the end of that performance section.

“We had to enable the performance to happen in a rugged coastal location by making sure the audience could flow from space to space,” adds Shephard-Blandy. “Sometimes it was less a production element and more a site facilitation sort of thing – anything from building ramps so that people could get down on to the beach, to a vain attempt at minimising the number of stones in the sand so that performers didn’t have to worry about anything under their feet.”

Watford High Street was all about creative crowd management without resorting to barriers or ropes. The solution was simple chalk lines or lines of sand. And for the record, the Watford performances had the best attendances.

The R&D filmed sequence was dropped this year in favour of a live piece with three dancers, as seabirds, being covered in ‘crude oil’. This meant dancers had to be showered and changed away from prying eyes and then given a discreet route to the next location. The fake crude oil is a mix of water, a gelling agent (as found in face cream or food), and a food dye. The mix had been used in a previous Tilted show.

At the end of the Seasaw performances in Cromer, and at other seaside locations, the dancers were choreographed returning to the sea, tracing their steps back in time to become water creatures. They were, of course, clad in wetsuits.