The bright sunlight and whipping breeze were the perfect setting for Tilted Productions' staging of Seasaw at the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival this weekend.
In this 80-minute promenade performance, Maresa Von Stockert's company of seven performers lead their audience from place to place around Canary Wharf, where at each point we come across bodies - sometimes still, sometimes moving - all referencing the sea, its inhabitants or the traditions of the seaside.
We first of all see a couple meeting for a picnic. Set to an epic, Hollywoodesque score, the meeting seems fraught and urgent, an interesting contradiction to the idealistic picnic hamper and thermos, the contents of which are consumed hungrily.The piece goes on to lead its audience to a number of large, open spaces which are inhabited by the dancers, and the water of the wharf provides a wonderfully appropriate thematic setting for this work.
We see deepsea creatures, with plastic bottle spines and extended arms, performing slow-motion, underwater, almost cartoonlike duels in and around dustbins. There is a mournful and eerie duet between a man and a mermaid, with the female dancer's legs bound in water-soaked netting, to great effect.
There are moments when the piece is notably sinister, and highlights man's destructive influence on nature. This is particularly clear at our third stop, where we see three dancers as sea birds, covered in oil and moving in a distressed, fragmented way, sometimes together, sometimes apart, but never still. The epic sound score, along with the sound of bird cries and oil slipping on skin, and the ending of this section, where two 'humans' cover and suffocate the struggling birds with plastic sheeting, make this one of the more memorable moments of the work.
Billed as performance and installation, I was hoping for more to be able to interact with. We only had this opportunity once, when, signalled to do so by a sunbathing body on the pavement with the words written in sun cream on his back, we 'Listen(ed) To Shells'. The shells hanging on fencing emitted not the sound of waves crashing (as we all know they usually do), but the sound of a man reciting 'Not Waving but Drowning' by Stevie Smith, a further layer to the mournful tone of Stockert’s current work.
A more colourful part of Seasaw comes in the form of a man duetting with a striped deck chair. The quintessential symbol of British holiday-making is folded, climbed on, walked like a dog, struggled against and befriended, until finally, resolutely being sat in. The playfulness and almost slapstick elements here make for enjoyable, easy watching.
Our final stop is at another open, sweeping space along the wharf. Six dancers 'float' in life rings (not waving, but drowning?) in movement which sometimes feels contrived, but continues with a strong image of the dancers hurling earth from the immaculate lawn, and head-standing in the holes which they create. They remain there, and we move through them to a single female dancer, a rock and a water tank. She moves over, around and in the water, continuously ducking her head, birdlike, and whipping her head out, soaking the braver, closer audience members.
The image we are left with is her curled up, contortioned in the tank - a striking final image that I wanted to last longer.
Tilted Productions put on a great show, there is no doubt about that. The familiar images and bite-sized sections make the work very audience-friendly, although I felt that some sense of intimacy or connection was lost in the albeit beautiful, large open spaces in which the work was staged. But oh, I do like to be beside the seaside, and, along with some food for moral thought, Tilted do a great job of reminding me why.