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Charlotte Vincent on ‘Straight Talking’

By Sally-Anne Donaldson

1 February 2009

What was your starting point?  How do you like to work with your performers?
Working on a solo you get the chance to work much closer with the performer. I started by asking dancer Robert Clark some questions, via email, about the privileges and disadvantages of being a straight man working in the dance world, which is an environment that I sense to be predominantly gay, and often male dominated.  We talked about gender in the dance world, sexuality in performance and the conventions and codes that choreographers often work with.

Once we got into the studio we began by creating a movement vocabulary, looking for a language that wasn’t conventional, that was ‘extra’ ordinary and not usual to the image of a strong ‘straight male dancer’.  We played with the idea of ‘anti-dance’ creating contortion in place of beauty, ugliness instead of line, howling without sound – an attempt to rage against convention.

We tried containing space and containing movement.  We tried disabling movement by limiting the capacity for the dancer to move, restricting his choices.  So the language became twisted, contorted, painful, difficult, constricting, sharp and impulsive.  We engaged facial expression as a way of making effort visible.  All part of this anti-dance statement. Revealing the effort behind movement and highlighting the possibility of failure is not a usual aesthetic in the dance world.

Here’s to making out
Here’s to the first time
Here’s to losing it
Here’s to scars and wounds and big mistakes
Here’s to comfort
to sweet dreams
to taking the first step
Here’s to laughter
to neat endings
And better futures
Here’s to sweat
to passion
to drawn out kisses
Here’s to missed flights
To one-night stands.
To trust
Here’s to the here and now
Here’s to flux
Here’s to checking in and checking out.
Here’s to peace
And here’s stillness
and here’s to wild rage
and silence

Here’s to the final moment.

We wrote text and lists, we wrote about what Rob, the dancer and the person, ‘can’t’ do.  The movement language we developed together came out of an attempt by Rob to ‘not’ do what he usually does. Writing helped to form the structure of the solo (text-dance-text), a ‘what am I going to do for you, then an attempt to do it followed by a kind of apology for it failure to achieve Rob’s ‘Big Ideas’.

I cannot feel you.
I cannot see you
I cannot hear you
I cannot touch you
I cannot smell you
I cannot meet you half way
I cannot talk to you
I cannot think like you
I am like you on the inside.
Quiet. Still. Sitting in the dark.
I am like you, looking for the answers.
I am like you in ways you cant see yet.
I am like you, filled up with choices and chance.
I am like you, bloated and full of hot air.
I am like you, floating face down, with no more breath.
I am like you warm, fed and captive.
I am like you.

Dancers need a structure to help them pin down what they are doing.  A good structure holds the concept in place and makes it clear.  I directed and conceived the idea, and really the dancer devises the movement.  My making processes are always collaborative and personal to the people I am working with. We try to choose themes that we are both interested in and this is made more intense in solo form.

Can you explain your costume choice?
A £3 pair of underpants?  Rob has just escaped from the dressing room, he is escaping the group to try something different, branching out into solo work, but it doesn’t quite go to plan.  I guess the costume offers an implied narrative as well as a sense of vulnerability.  Like the lighting, we wanted a bare aesthetic.

So what is the piece about?
It’s a personal expose.  It’s about crossing the line, it’s about the boundaries we set ourselves and our attempts to break through them. It’s a risk he is willing to take. It’s about limitations and male presence on stage.  It’s trying too hard to show something new.  It’s about failure in an attempt to behave differently.  It’s about not trying to look beautiful, and yet we hope people watching will find some beauty in it or in Robert for at least putting himself on the line in this way.

How did you select your music or sound? How would you explain the relationship between music and dance?

I have been wanting to use a piece of solo by Coco Rosie for a while. Their music is haunting and knowingly naïve.

Their child-like music reflects our concept that Rob is trying to  ‘do something different’ which is really hard to achieve in dance terms. In this particular track, Candy Land, from Coco Rosie’s Album La Maison de Mon Reve (The House of My Dream) there are sound of toy farm animals howling alongside a kind of  ‘music box’ sound. Rob positions himself in the middle of the dance floor in a box made of electrical tape to limit the possibilities of his movement. He contains himself like a dancer in a music box and like those plastic figures, he only turns and dances when the music is on. When it stops he stops. Rob’s is simple and playful  in his approach to dancing and the simplicity of the musical choice reflects this. I wanted something musically delicate to support his solo, and the sweetness of the music also contrasts his grotesque movement. Its important that music doesn’t do the same job as the dance or overwhelm the movement. It should add something new into the mix and in this case it is an allusion to childhood sounds, a wistful, repeated track that underscores the delicacy of what Rob is attempting to do.