The first time I encountered the work of the dance-maker Charlotte Spencer was in 2015 when her audio-guided Walking Stories took me on a walk round my local park. I set off in a very ho-hum, this sounds pretentious kind of mood and ended up feeling it was revelatory. I still think about the close attention her choreography asked of me when I visit the park today.
Is This a Waste Land? is in a similar vein. The version I experienced – the last incarnation of a piece that has been in creation and performance for a Covid-interrupted four years – took place at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, on a piece of land once used by athletes to warm up for the summer of hope in 2012. Now it is blighted, with buddleia poking through the concrete, and nearby allotments threatened by ongoing high-rise development that has betrayed many promises to the people of east London.
Through the headphones we are all wearing, Spencer and her team of dancers invite about 80 of us to walk into the space, and to look at it closely, to see its potential as well as its desolation. We are performers as well as spectators, and over the next 90 minutes, with the help of props provided, we build structures from waste wood and rubbish, from the scraps society discards that still prove usable.
Later we juggle poles in circular waves, or play games where we are bound together by rope, our movements conditioned by those of the people around us. It’s simple but devastatingly effective, and – as the light falls – surprisingly beautiful. At the close, with hot chocolate to drink and thoughts of the homeless people who often inhabit these disused spaces ringing in our ears, we have been transported. Once again, the uniqueness of Spencer’s vision creates an unforgettable event.
Charlotte Spencer Projects: Is This a Waste Land? runs until Sunday 26 September