Celebrating life and belonging: And by Charlotte McLean

The Place, London
September 10, 2022

“And being a woman with a body with a vulva. And being a woman with a body without a vulva” is the proposition that Charlotte Mclean dances around in her solo work And. Highland tradition, embodied rhythm, and personal memoir interlace in this cerebral exploration of Mclean’s 28 years on this planet: her Scottish homeland and the persuasive (at times invasive) aura of tradition; “and bold and brave and bleak and beautiful and bodies;” and her body producing a baby and her not being ready.

This beautifully choreographed celebration of life and belonging begins with a neatly organised Scottish sword dance. Struggling to catch her breath, McLean casually greets the audience, reminding us that it was historically a dance of war. For the next 50 minutes, her movement leaps and hinges across twirled configurations of brightly coloured chords spread across the black floor of the stage. Using her somatic instinct to navigate and rewire life’s conflicting experiences And amalgamates the cultural memories and performances that have both enlivened and diminished her soul.

As her body turns and turns around new corners, the evenly timed rhythms of the highland dances incarnated in McLean’s memory start to transform. Now her limbs stutter and swirl inside sensuous patterns of movement that respond to new ideas. Her body softens and she finds herself into a dance studio in London where she has deflected from her Scottish roots to study ballet. Then on a street in Switzerland her body turns back on itself, rebounding from the thought of a drink at the pub because it is far more expensive than the UK.

Charlotte McLean in And
Photo Maria Falconer

But finding the courage to turn and embrace new emotional landscapes is not as unforced as the seamless choreography that interlocks Mclean’s disparate cultural and emotional worlds. Although each new turn provides this classically trained highland body with new ways to think and move, in Mclean’s world freedom is also a vulnerable act. Turning and shedding her clothes with an almost hysteric fragility, her naked body falls conflicted to the floor, limbs tender and flayed beneath the awkwardly crossed swords that she had once bravely leapt across on her way to war. “And witches, and feminists and sluts,” she convulses. Now her slow and fragmented thoughts and movements are haunted by the traditions that she has turned away from as well as toward.

What moves my body during this courageous unfolding of history and time and change is its immersive and opening tone. “It has been a while since I called my gran,” she tells us, eagerly dialling the number. Walking into the audience she asks somebody to hold her phone, confirming that this is an authentic gesture. In a thick Scottish accent, her grandmother tells us that she has been watching the preparations for the Queen’s funeral. Listening to her voice, which feels both close and far away, is a stark reminder that even the most courageous turns of independence are always connected to other times and other places and other stories and other beings.