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Motherland, The Place London

By Judith Mackrell

The Guardian, 11 November 2012

Charlotte Vincent’s new work about physical and sexual politics revolves around the anxious, quizzical presence of a 12-year-old girl. As Leah Yeger observes the behaviour of the nine adults around her, we can see her sharp-featured, haunting little face pondering what it will feel like when she is grown up, too.

This is the unique strength of Motherland. Much of its material addresses obvious issues of sexual stereotyping, but it’s tethered to the flesh and blood experience of the individual. Vincent might deliver a comic riff on the cheap sexualisation of women’s bodies – three women in cripplingly high heels, contorted into cartoon displays of provocation – but she counters it with moving references to real life. As 78-year-old Benita Oakley talks quietly about giving birth or Aurora Lubos crouches over splatters of dark red gore, Vincent asks the implicit question of how women can be free, between the two extremes of botox and blood.

It’s the men who appear more effortlessly liberated: their dancing a mix of rough housing camaraderie and joshing high fives. But Vincent shows us their conflicts and contradictions, too: Januz Orlik trying to channel his feminine impulses through a parodic drag act, Robert Clark scaling his machismo down for a dad-and-daughter duet with Yeger, his movements a beautifully observed mix of glancing tenderness and awkward hesitation.

The emotional richness of the material is underscored by the music that’s played live by members of Vincent’s immensely gifted cast. At its best, Motherland delivers moments of extraordinary intimacy, reminiscent of the late Pina Bausch. What it lacks, however, is Bausch’s magical timing. There’s a sameness in the pacing and rhythm of the work that not only makes it feel overlong but diminishes the special power of its insights.