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Charlotte Vincent on dealing with beauty, boob-jobs, Botox and motherhood

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Charlotte Vincent has been Artistic Director of Vincent Dance Company since 1994 and has directed all of the company's projects to date, including the current tour of Motherland. Paul Lucas-Scott spoke to her.

What can you tell me about the Vincent Dance Theatre’s new work?
Well, Motherland is a bit of an exploration of where women find themselves today really. It deals with the kind of internal and external relationships that women have with their bodies, with themselves and with men.

I didn’t want to create a separatist piece of work with women only, because I am not a separatist, so it has a mixed cast of five males and five females. One of the women who perform in the piece is 78 and another is a girl of twelve and a half and the other three are in their mid-30s and we look at the kind of archetypes and stereotypes that make it difficult to manage your expectations of yourself as a woman.

We are sort of breathing life into the stereotypes and poking the archetypes around in order to make a provocation and the women in the piece are very different, as it touches on pregnancy, motherhood, childlessness, men and basically the little girl who threads through the piece is presented with lots of different images of men and women to try to make some sense of it.

Are we talking of media images and expectations?
Oh yes. One of the women Aurora Lubos is more of an earthy presence; one of the women just keeps sort of falling over and Patrycja Kujawska, who is one of my company’s core members, is certainly dealing with an over-sexualised notion of what a woman should be and, throughout the piece, she increasingly becomes a sort of slightly grotesque version of a woman.

Leah, the little twelve-year-old, threads her way through the piece, trying to make sense of it all. At times we see her subtly copying some of the behaviour. It’s sort of an expose and a comment on how the next generation of girls process the spectrum of what it means to be a woman.

The different visual images that we present in the show offer an insight into the choices and the difficulties that we, as adult women, are facing every day, how we present ourselves to the world, how we behave and how we exist in relation to men and with each other.

Is this presented as one piece or as a series of scenes?
Ah, that’s an interesting question. It’s a two hour “epic” this one that I’ve managed to make and we’ve worked quite hard to present fragments of ideas and very few fully “fleshed-out” scenes and the relationship between the live work and the music is quite unusual too, in that quite a bit of it is in silence.

There is some fantastic music in it that ranges from some beautifully poetic stuff to really quite hardcore “noise”. There’s a section which we lovingly call Pussy Riot in which three women are really going for it with guitars, but in between that the more conventional duets or solos are often done in silence because we wanted to avoid that contemporary dance thing of: “there’s a scene that says this and there’s a really nice piece of music that goes with it” and we’re kind of subverting form a lot instead.

We’ve done a lot of work on making an entrance with purpose and then kind of parenthesising the act or the scene that happens after you’ve made that entrance and then marking it with a full stop and exiting so it’s very clear that the performers are trying stuff on rather than becoming it and that’s quite different from my previous work.

I think my work is usually quite emotionally driven and this is quite practical and quite formal and we really desired that but we’ve also struggled, at times, with that because we’re used to emoting a lot more as a company so it feels quite different and, I have to say, I think it’s great.

So is this piece a new challenge for you?
I think I challenge myself every time that I make a new big piece of work because, what is the point if you don’t? The last piece I made, some people really loved it and some people really didn’t – and that was a real marker for me. When you take experimental risks with the work you almost guarantee, if it’s a provocation which the last piece and this piece certainly are, that you know it will split an audience but, at least when it does that, you know it’s having an impact.

Our “tag-line” is moving people and making them think and I think that’s what drives me to make new work really. I want to be challenged and provoked by a piece of work I don’t just want to watch moving wallpaper.

We only just premiered this piece and lots of people have already said that it’s really beautiful. It’s very visually stark as the colour scheme is a big white set with black and white costumes and the only colour that’s introduced is red. So it’s very much more in the realms of a live art/performance art style of work and yet there’s a real range of live music, dance, text, sound and, as I’ve said, a huge age range in the performers so Motherland is very visually rich as a piece of work.

It has a very different aesthetic to a “black box” and it’s a bit more like watching human beings in a gallery performing certain things and some of it is really moving, I mean I do allow some of the scenes to become more conventional but a lot of it, as I said, is cut short or abruptly stopped or doesn’t accumulate.

So you’ve already had some reaction to the piece then?
Yes, the audience at our première gave a very strong reaction which was overwhelmingly positive and, obviously, I hope that it continues like that, but I’m not setting out to shock with this piece like I did with my last big work, I think this is much more subtle than that. It’s very layered, it’s very beautiful and there’s a real range of interests in it. I think there really is something for everyone and its cut through with a dark humour that is always in my work so there’s a bit of a giggle in there as well.

It's multi-layered and I’m very pleased with how it looks quite simple and stark but, actually, the content is intricately layered and it’s been a really interesting process of distillation making it. That’s always how I work, we generate a lot of material and then distil it down and, with this piece, we’ve all tried to simplify and distil in a way that we haven’t quite achieved before which, I think, is why the piece feels so fresh to me.

I also think that when you’ve been going for years, you can repeat yourself quite easily and I’m just not willing or interested for that to happen at my age, and with my experience. I want to keep pushing my own boundaries with what I do.

Motherland, by the Vincent Dance Theatre, is commissioned by Brighton Dome and Festival, South East Dance, Corn Exchange Newbury, The Point Eastleigh and Peak Performances @ Montclair State University, USA. It can be seen at the Junction, Cambridge (17 October) and at the Brighton Dome (23 October).


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