For the past 10 years, the choreographer Charlotte Spencer has been making work outdoors, asking audiences to look carefully at the world and feel the place of their bodies within it. I have loved the delicacy and thoughtfulness of her journeys; they have altered my own perceptions.
Written in the Body, presented as part of the Brighton festival, marks her return to indoor theatre. A duet for two remarkable dancers – Petra Söör and Louise Tanoto – it has all the qualities associated with Spencer’s work: a quiet introspection expressed in tiny gestures; a swooping sense of dance filling a space; a heightened awareness of tactility and texture.
It also has a rather beautiful design of fabrics dividing a bare stage (by Bethany Wells), evocative lighting by Marty Langthorne and a rich score by Alberto Ruiz Soler. But its examination of memory and the body, of contact and consent, using both movement and monologues spoken by the dancers, feels slightly under-formed.
It’s full of striking images and insights. One section, repeated in variations throughout, where one dancer places her weight over the other in a motion of affection that quickly becomes constricting, until the body underneath squirms away, is a powerful depiction of the shifting balance within relationships. The moment when both women remember sunshine – Söör lying on her back, legs in the air in a reminiscence of childhood; Tanoto recalling the heaviness of pregnancy on a hot summer’s day – has a specificity that makes a universal point about the imprint of sensation on our minds.
When it becomes a more general study of movement, and the script becomes more portentously generic, it has less impact. Yet the deep wonder of Söör and Tanoto, the sheer pleasure of watching their contrasting styles of movement ebb and flow together, lends it constant interest.