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Straight Talking

By John Highfield

Danceworks UK's website, 25 March 2009

THE clue should come with the name, Vincent Dance Theatre, and surely everybody would agree that, in the world of dance, actions speak louder than words.

Yet here is Charlotte Vincent, the woman behind one of Sheffield’s most successful and enduring contemporary dance organisations, about to present not one but two new pieces in which the spoken word is at the centre of the work.

As if sensing that people might be surprised at this sudden and rather vocal turn, she insists: ‘I have always used text as a trigger in my work.”

‘Sometimes the text is hidden, sometimes there is a hidden language that only the dancers are following – and we have always talked a lot in our improvisation!’

And so we come to Double Vision and An Audience With Liz Aggiss and Charlotte Vincent, the new works coming to The Foundry at the University of Sheffield Students’ Union on April 1 in which Charlotte takes to the stage herself, alongside performer Liz Aggiss to create an evening of art, dance and discussion presented in the style of what the publicity material describes as ‘a kind of female Morecambe and Wise doing a bit of self-penned Beckett.’

It might be hard to imagine the usually serious Charlotte Vincent as part of any sort of comedy double act but she agrees that this is very much what Double Vision, an exploration, among other things, of the relationship between director and performer, is about.

‘I’m basically the straight guy, the least manic of the two,’ she explains. ‘I’m like a school marm and I do behave like one in real life to be honest – it’s quite close to the bone perhaps.”

The pair met at a workshop and knew almost instantly that they would eventually want to work together.  ‘We share the same sense of humour and for me that has been very interesting,’ Charlotte says. ‘I would say Liz is an anarchist and I think I’m a repressed anarchist, I’ve always been dutiful and developed things at a set rate but, of course, all double acts are about that tension.’

They were also, she adds two women at crossroads moments in their lives, looking for new challenges and out of that grew the piece that developed through a series of performances in Brighton and Bristol and now comes to Sheffield.

‘One of the themes running through it is that Liz doesn’t want to be told what to do and I can’t help it because I can’t let go of my directorial voice.”

‘It’s playing with that thin line between our real dynamic and our roles on stage and the comedy comes out of that.”

‘I am Liz’s foil, Liz is more flamboyant and I am the grounded one, the one that keeps trying to pull it back to being a little calmer.’

It sounds like the classic double act format – think of Ernie’s intellectual aspirations constantly undermined by Eric’s anarchic humour or Oliver’s pomposity thwarted by Stan’s childlike chaos – but then there’s also the more challenging element, the element that has been compared to Beckett.

‘It’s two women stuck in a performance place that they choose to keep going back to, they make considered choices about entering the place but when they are there they display patterns of behaviour that universal.”

‘What happens in this piece is structured and repetitive in a way that Beckett’s work returns to motifs and lines and structures.”

‘At the end of the day, it’s quite funny so even if people don’t get all this stuff will at least see Liz looking crazy and all the tension between us – and we know that works.

Double Vision also forced Charlotte to leave the security of being a choreographer and become a performer again.

And she sounds almost surprised as she admits: ‘I’m enjoying the performance though I suppose the directorial role I am playing in the show is an extension of what I do in my everyday life.’

It’s back to direction though for Straight Talking, one of the four pieces that make up Bare Bones 6, the evening of dance that comes to Sheffield’s City Hall Ballroom on April 6.

And now that she has found a voice, it seems like Charlotte wants to make the most of it as she has dancer Robert Clark expressing himself not through movement alone but also with words.

‘It’s basically a rebellion by Robert against the rest of the programme and against dance itself really,’ Charlotte says. ‘It’s anti-dance.”

‘It’s like he breaks away from the rest of the company but then finds it doesn’t go quite according to plan.”

‘I suppose he’s asking what is movement about, where does it come from and what happens if you don’t want to dance any more? It exposes the effort it takes to move.’

Maybe there’s just an element of how Charlotte feels herself what Robert goes through in Straight Talking.

‘I’m 41 now and I’ve seen a lot of new things that are celebrated but which I find myself thinking are not much different to the things that were new ten years ago,’ she says, which is perhaps why in 2009 she is experimenting with new ways of expression and embracing the idea that words can mean as much as movement.

‘I know I can make people laugh and I know I can make people cry,’ she says.  ‘Now it’s more about pushing the aesthetic and the form – I’m not interested in line, I’m interested in humanity.’

“What I was doing in my twenties I thought was great but I am 20 years older now and I don’t want to be doing the same things.’