Charlotte Spencer: ‘We’ll be harnessing a more feral part of ourselves’

Charlotte Spencer, 35, is a choreographer whose work explores our relationship with landscape and the environment. In 2015, she made Walking Stories, which took place in four London parks, as part of that year’s Dance Umbrella. This year, Spencer is presenting Is This a Waste Land?, an immersive piece for up to 80 participants set on disused land in east London.

How did you start working on this kind of project?
I trained as a dancer at The Place, in London, graduated in 2003, and spent the next few years trying to be a performer. In 2007, I moved to County Limerick and spent a year with Daghdha Dance Company, where I started to develop my choreography. In 2012, I made a piece called Land for Siobhan Davies Dance, which was set in Morden Hall Park in south London. It was quite lovely, actually. And then there was Walking Stories, an audio journey with headphones and MP3 players, which took place in Greenwich Park, Brockwell Park, Springfield Park and Waterlow Park.

Where will Is This a Waste Land? take us?
The piece is set on disused land between London City Airport and a former flour mill. I like to search out places awaiting redevelopment. Demolished places – where you might find holes in the ground and mounds of rubble. The performances are timed to coincide with dusk. There will be six live performers and up to 80 participants, wearing headphones. They’ll be hearing a series of instructions and a soundtrack of various field recordings. The choreography occurs in the space between instruction and interpretation.

Charlotte Spencer’s Is This a Waste Land? ‘The choreography occurs in the space between instruction and interpretation.’

So the participants are both performers and spectators?
Spectators of each other, yes. Ultimately, it’s out of our control. Unlike in a stage performance, the audience has agency. So there’s a precariousness and a delicacy about the event and we can’t know what it looks like until it happens. The piece is an invitation to the participants to have a physical experience. Hopefully, we’ll be harnessing a wilder, more feral part of ourselves. I have a rule: no phones. Otherwise, there’s nothing to say about how you should behave in these spaces.

Is it difficult gaining access?
There are always complex political issues. For developers, there are all sorts of reasons to keep these empty packets of land out of bounds. There’s health and safety, obviously. They don’t want any kind of liability for anyone injuring themselves. But there are also issues of control. There are times, just prior to sale, when developers like to have artists around to give properties an edge. But most of the time they very much don’t want them there.

Why do you think you have this affinity for landscape?
I grew up in near Canterbury and loved spending time outdoors, climbing trees and scrambling about. My mum used to tease me about holidays. I used to say: “I’m only going if there are pointy mountains.” We went to the Swiss-Italian Alps, the Picos de Europa in Spain and the Pyrenees and I got a lot of energy from those landscapes. In 2010, I made a piece called Mountain Dialogues. I was interested in the way we hold time in our bodies and the way this relates to the imperceptible movement of mountains. In any place I work I can’t help but be informed by the particularities, the history and how and whether it’s been peopled.

What can those taking part expect to experience?
Connecting to these landscapes leads to a wildness, and a chaotic experience, that I think is beautiful. You say to yourself: “What the fuck is going on?” In that sense, it’s like life.

Is This a Waste Land? by Charlotte Spencer is part of Dance Umbrella. Performances 13-15, 20-22 October, Silvertown Quays, London E16. Details:

Source link