Written In The Body – Sadler’s Wells, London

Reviewer: John Cutler

Concept and Direction: Charlotte Spencer

Choreographer and performer Charlotte Spencer’s most recent performance pieces have been outdoor immersive events. In Written In The Body she makes a welcome return to a more traditional theatrical environment with a 60-minute interrogation of the nature of touch, physical and metaphorical, through dance duet, verbatim monologue, and music. Although not specifically designed as a comment on the longing for physical contact that marked so many people’s experience of pandemic lockdown, the impact of the work is certainly heightened by recent history.

There is no perceivable narrative to Written In The Body, but three broad themes are explored in sequence. The first is an exploration of positive memories of physical contact with friends, families, strangers, and lovers. From the joyous recollection of a brother’s playful touch in the warmth of an Italian summer, to the bewildering experience of being asked to hold the hand of a nervous stranger on a plane, to a teenager’s first sexual contact, to the final caress of a dying parent.

The second is around unwelcome touch, particularly issues of sexual consent, expressed through discordant pulsating music (part of a tremendous original soundtrack from Alberto Ruiz Soler) and the struggle of one performer to physically free herself from the threatening and uninvited presence of the other. The final, least successful, theme is a more abstract take on emotional touch, specifically the impressions we leave on others through our actions and omissions. There is a meditation here too on the touch that dance leaves on both performer and audience, one that feels generic and jars with the studied intimacy of the earlier elements.

Performers Petra Söör and Louise Tanoto spend much of the piece with their bodies entangled in one form or another, sometimes to offer the solace and support of a welcome embrace, sometimes in a struggle to free themselves. The interplay is a stark and dramatic evocation of the visceral power of physical connection as both a source of affection and of potential threat. The message is that the line between welcome and unwelcome physical encounters with others shifts continuously, according to time, context, and intent.

Spencer’s choreography is most effective in the tiniest of gestures, such as the stroke of a face or the touch of one hand on another, but Söör and Tanoto’s contrasting (although complementary) styles of movement are a consistent joy to watch. The monologue elements which are partly recorded and partly spoken live occasionally verge on the solemn, but never feel intrusive. An evocative, thoughtful, and original piece.

Reviewed on 4 November 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Evocative, thoughtful, and original

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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