Features Q&A and Interviews Published 17 October 2015

Tim Casson: “Letters give you insights into someone’s psyche”

London dancer-choreographer Tim Casson is up in Aberdeen to turn correspondence into dance.
Andrew Youngson

As Tim Casson and I speak, the dancer-choreographer is surrounded by nearly 100 handwritten letters, each offering beautifully eclectic suggestions for original performance pieces for him to breathe life into.

“It’s so interesting because all the letters give you insights into someone’s psyche. I can imagine someone in their kitchen, a coffee shop, or in their bedroom playing this imaginary show in their mind and then trying to send that to me. It’s a wonderful and quite an intimate thing,” Tim says.

The usually London-based artist is currently up in Aberdeen where his latest collaborative dance project, Choreospondance, is being performed. Or rather, where the project’s four original dance pieces are being devised, rehearsed and performed. Each piece is being given a day-and-a-half prep time, and will be performed once each across a stretch of 10 days during DanceLive, Scotland’s leading dance festival which is held in and around the Granite City. Since September, when the Choreospondance website went live, people from across UK and wider have been responding to Tim’s call for ideas for the specially commissioned project. What sounds and music should be playing? What kind of movements should the dancers be making? What’s the best bit of the performance? Such questions have been thrown open to the public, and their responses have flown back to Tim via snail mail.

“It’s lovely to receive a letter. The only letters people receive today are bank statements and other official documents. There’s something nice about reading a letter that someone’s handwritten,” the 30-year-old explains.

This kind of project, he adds, “offers me an amazing chance to refine my practice and craft”.

“Essentially I get given a disparate set of ideas, from images to sounds and even costume ideas, and then try to make them make sense in some way. But also, if they don’t make sense, there’s joy in that too, because it can be quite eclectic. I thoroughly enjoy the skein of having to weave together this material,” he says.

Collaboration and interactivity have always been at the heart of Tim’s work ever since forming his company, Casson & Friends – the ‘friends’ being everyone from fellow dancers, to the members of public he seeks to involve in the creative process. His maiden project, The Dance We Made, which launched in 2012 and continues in various forms today, set the tone of his oeuvre. An interactive dance project in which we the audience are put front and centre, The Dance We Made project has popped up throughout the world, including 35 locations across London and New York. And its core mission can be seen reflected in his work since, such as in the piece he did at Sadler’s Wells as part of its Wild Card project, and in his recent Selling Secrets series (the site-specific performances Hotel, Pub, Office) – all of which sprung out of collaboration with local communities.

Choreospondance follows very much in this vision, only the community is both globe spanning (letters have come from as far as France and Australia, and all performances will be videoed and posted online), and local (the pieces will be performed in four Aberdeen locations, the performers are largely Scottish, and a consequent exhibition of all letters will soon be held at the city’s Suttie Centre).

Tim says: “The concept is the same as the other projects, it’s just using the letter as a way of getting people involved in the creative process – a way that is unintimidating. So in many ways it’s The Dance We Made by Post.”

Taking a virtual wander through Tim’s portfolio (there are heaps of videos online), you quickly realise that his love of eclecticism is also expressed in the variety of dance forms and styles he draws on. While some of the suggestions arriving by post for Choreospondance are quite frankly bizarre – from a sheepdog ballet to a flamingo-focused piece – a lot of Tim’s dances and innovative moves have their basis in everyday body language and ordinary experiences.

“Rather than create fiction, I enjoy playing with reality. Life is funny enough as it is,” he says.

The project’s short turnaround time is also characteristic of Tim’s approach. Why so quick?

“The advantage of that for me is, there’s no time to dwell on it. It helps you distil, be more intuitive and not judge yourself too much. With traditional, longer rehearsed pieces, it can be great for things to be so fully formed. But I wonder sometimes if having an enormous time to create work, you can over-conceptualise it and it can become more complicated, and so perhaps more inaccessible.”

When Aberdonian audience members attend or happen upon the four public performances of Choreospondance, one or two may recognise their handwriting transposed into flesh and blood by Tim and his troupe. Above all, Tim’s hope is to break down the barrier between artist and audience by sharing authorship of creativity.

“I’m keen that it’s not just about creating polished performances, but also showing the bones of how a performance gets created,” he says. “I understand it’s important not to reveal the magician’s secrets, but it’s quite nice to give people insights into what’s happening. It’s about bringing it to the people and making that process more visible.”

Choreoseospondance is currently being performed in Aberdeen on Monday 12, Wednesday 14, Friday 16 and Sunday 18 October as part of the Dancelive 2015 festival. Tom is still accepting letters for the project. To download a letter form, or for performance times, dates and locations, visit the Choreospondance website.

Dancelive runs in and around Aberdeen until 20 October. More info here

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Andrew Youngson

Andrew recently escaped the crazy world of newspaper journalism, but hasn’t quite shaken his love of interviewing interesting characters and whiling away many happy hours writing them up

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