A British company's dance work finds both the pain and the dark humor in an emotional trauma. | Dance | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A British company's dance work finds both the pain and the dark humor in an emotional trauma.

"Shit happens when you party naked," says Charlotte Vincent, succinctly summing up one of the most devastating times in her life. 

The choreographer/director of Yorkshire, England-based Vincent Dance Theatre is now at peace with the event that nearly cost her sanity and her life. The episode was the basis for the 2005 dance-theater work Broken Chords, which her company performs on Sat., May 1, at the Byham Theater, courtesy of Pittsburgh Dance Council.

The trauma was the sudden dissolution of her marriage, when her husband left her for another woman.

"The piece carries in it the loss and the grief of that time," says Vincent, by phone from the road, in New Jersey. "But it also has a very British dark humor within it that says, 'Come on, pull yourself together; we can't be this sad all the time forever.'"

Vincent says Broken Chords is really two pieces in one. A sort of miserable, romantically tragic piece is followed by an uprising by the work's performers, who can no longer take the emotional self-indulgence the director is asking them to participate in. The two halves represent Vincent's inner emotional battle, between wallowing in self-pity and maintaining the proverbial British "stiff upper lip."

The 85-minute work is set to original music -- some of it performed live -- by Alex CatonaColin Elliot and John Avery, as well as Bach and Heinrich von Biber. It employs spoken word, along with liberal doses of Vincent's characteristically dark sense of humor.

In one sequence, for instance, an unstable central female character tries to commit suicide several times. But her attempts are all a bit ludicrous, says Vincent: At one point, the character attempts to suffocate herself by shoving rolled-up napkins up her nose.

"It is quite funny to still be touring a piece that's about that time in my life, but I think the piece is a strong one and has a universal appeal," says Vincent. "It is not really about me so much as it is about breakups and relationships coming together and falling apart."

Broken Chords is laced with such metaphors: One section involves six rows of eight chairs that represent a transition from order to chaos -- and then to a kind of emptiness, as the chairs are tussled over then removed. It's a lush work that finds beauty in pain. 

Vincent's sense of perspective is no doubt informed by her early career, which was focused on creating dance work to be performed for victims of domestic violence, HIV-positive people and prison inmates.

Meanwhile, though Broken Chords itself doesn't necessarily have a happy ending, real life sometimes does: Vincent says she's very happy in her current relationship.


Vincent Dance Theatre performs Broken Chords 8 p.m. Sat., May 1. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $19.50-42.50. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org

click to enlarge Vincent Dance Theatre performs Broken Chords.
Vincent Dance Theatre performs Broken Chords.

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