top of page
  • Writer's pictureMaygan Forbes

Maygan's Reel Interviews Charlotte Spencer for Sadler's Wells Written in the Body

Maygan's Reel was invited to interview award winning artistic director Charlotte Spencer ahead of Charlotte Spencer Project's performance at Sadler's Wells Theatre: Written in the Body. Charlotte is a choreographer, teacher, curator, mentor and performer. Her performing arts company Charlotte Spencer Projects, is supported by creative producer, Pip Sayers and project specific teams of brilliant collaborators. Charlotte initiates all projects for Charlotte Spencer Projects, often working across art forms and in outdoor environmental contexts.

"Written in the Body addresses the full spectrum of touch encounters, but in the end I hope

that audiences are left with soft receptive bodies, that feel more optimistic, more confident,

more connected to themselves and to others" - Charlotte Spencer, Concept and Artistic Director for Written in the Body

How instrumental was the use of sound in helping you to develop the concept for

Written in the Body?

Sound wasn’t the starting place for developing the concept of the piece, but along with the lighting design, set and costumes, it was always a critical ingredient in the creative process. We were interested to work with sound as something that is also tactile and full of texture. I worked a lot with the sound designer, Alberto Ruiz Soler to develop sound worlds that place the audience in the environment or atmosphere that the dancers are evoking with their personal stories.

What was the intimacy process like when ensuring you found the right two dancers to

perform the piece?

Finding the right performers for any new work is always a delicate process. I began developing the ideas for this piece in 2019/2020 with Louise Tanoto and Dan Daw. We entered an intimate (although physically distant) online process of research throughout the various lockdowns and some time together in the studio in 2021. When it became clear that Dan’s schedule wasn’t compatible with our creation period for Brighton Festival I knew that I had to find another dancer. For those of you who know Dan, he is not easy to replace and it took me some months to land on the ‘right’ person! I put out an open call for applications and invited a small selection of dancers to each spend two days (paid) in the studio with myself and Louise. It was a beautiful and very intimate experience with each person. In the end I had a very clear vision of how the work could manifest with Petra and Louise. Both performers worked with me on Is this a Waste Land?, but they had never worked together in such an intimate way. It was an absolute privilege to witness them working and dancing and supporting each other with such sensitivity and care through this intense process.

Location in your previous pieces have been incredibly vital to the narrative, how does

location play a part in Written in the Body? Especially when tracing body movements

and the idea of drifting through locations in your body to source memory and pain.

I am very aware of the location of the theatre in this show. In the creation process I thought a lot about what it is to be in a theatre; to sit in a seat and watch a show; to be a performer on the stage and try to close the space between stage and audience. I was interested to work within the conventions and limitations of the theatre, and not to literally undo it e.g. take out the seats, invite audiences onto the stage etc. In previous outdoor works I have been very interested to find ways to draw audiences into the midst of a performance with their bodies - to do and make the work rather than to watch it. With Written in the Body, I was also interested to create a performance where audiences feel like they are in the midst of the performance, with their bodies, whilst also simply sitting and watching. I liked the challenge of that.

The specificity of the words and movement in Written in the Body aim to locate us in particular experiences and locations - e.g the sensation of lying in wet grass at dawn, the uncomfortable feeling of being heavily pregnant on the hottest day of the year. How we work with sound and lighting aim to enhance that sense of being located in a very particular time and place: we approached light and sound almost like trying to create weather - heavy, humid, sun drenched, thunderstorms are all images that we worked with. So although we are in the theatre, I think the performance still transports us to a variety of landscapes and locations.

What were some of the main influences for this piece? Did you draw upon past

reflections to vision this for the stage?

Written in the Body, had many starting points. At the centre of each was a curiosity connected with touch. Through the process of pregnancy, birth and the early years of motherhood, I experienced very little separation between my body and another. This witnessing of the literal physical necessity of touch for survival has been in striking contrast to the general lack of touch in the rest of (my) life. As #metoo erupted I moved between feelings of outrage, recognition and deep sadness: touch as fundamental to human

communication and connection; touch as exploitation, violation, something to fear. Consent (or lack of) is always in the mix. Whilst I acknowledge the slippery nature of touch and that relationships with touch have been distorted, removed, damaged, I was keen to create a performance that is ultimately an uplifting experience: one that offers audiences space to process their own joy, sense of aliveness and collective healing in an increasingly divided, disembodied world.

I have an immense sense of gratitude and privilege in my experiences training and working

in dance - spaces where I get to practice giving and receiving touch outside of familial or

romantic relationships; spaces where there is time and importance given to noticing how

my body meets with the ground, the air, another body.

Written in the Body addresses the full spectrum of touch encounters, but in the end I hope

that audiences are left with soft receptive bodies, that feel more optimistic, more confident,

more connected to themselves and to others.

I absolutely loved the trailer, what stood out was the contorting of the body to create

shapes. As someone who has a faced a lifelong battle with my body and found

myself doing a similar contortion dance when I face discomfort, are you able to talk

me through some of the ways you went about choreographing this piece?

To begin with we tried to break down the different modes, intentions and qualities of touch -

both to give and to receive. We looked at the actions of different kinds of touch, and the

residue that they might leave in the body. We spent a lot of time working with the web like

nature of memory and association to locate tactile experiences imprinted in our bodies - can

we recall the details of what those moments felt like? Or not? Can we find the language to

evoke the experience of sensation - as if the listener/audience member is right there with

you? I set up lots of tasks and experiments - some were very physical, others were much

more focused on speaking and searching for language. The more we worked, the more we

also realised that consent in relation to touch is often not black and white, but rather

something that is constantly shifting - what felt good yesterday, might not feel good right now

etc. and we tried to also work with those qualities within the piece. The structure of the piece

was woven together later in the process.

What is the best piece of advice you can offer to up and coming performance artists?

Find ways to cultivate curiosity through all aspects of your life - this offers an abundance of

creative ideas to last you a lifetime! There is no magic formula for choreography. Not

knowing is an important part of any process - it is often the bit just before being cracked

open and new knowledge emerging.

This is a bit of a wacky question but when was your favourite time of day to create

this piece?

I like the possibility of early morning, and the quiet space for evening reflection once

everyone else is in bed. Our studio schedule was very much prescribed around childcare

logistics, so there wasn’t much room for ‘favourite’ time! This was the first time that I’ve ever

been able to make a show close to where I live - I really appreciated that and the pleasure of

a simple, short commute each day during springtime, watching the trees coming into leaf

and feeling the days lengthening. Part of the backdrop for this creation is that I was also in

the midst of building a house with my husband and living in a small caravan on a building

site with our young child. The combination of this intense (very small and somewhat chaotic)

living environment throughout all the pandemic lockdowns meant that being able to go to a

studio each day for the creation felt like an incredible luxury of space, community and


What emotion do you hope to leave the audience with?


Photo Credit: Rosie Powell

bottom of page