how did we get here? ★★★★

How did we get here? sees Melanie C making her contemporary dance debut on the prestigious Sadler’s Wells stage.

Any new commission by Jules Cunningham is always an event in the dance calendar, but the presence of “Spice Up Your Life” sweatshirts and “Northern Star” T-shirts in the Sadler’s Wells audience revealed an extra reason for the excitement surrounding how did we get here?

Melanie Chisholm (Mel C of Sporty Spice fame) is making her contemporary dance debut at Sadler’s Wells. Chisholm is no stranger to dance. She trained in ballet, jazz and tap as a youngster. She was the most confident dancer within the Spice Girls with her penchant for backflips and karate kicks delighting Spice fans across the globe. She even competed on the American Strictly, Dancing With The Stars.

All images by Camilla Greenwell

Having never danced contemporary before, working with Jules Cunningham is quite the jumping on point. Their work is known for its precise detail and subtlety. With an emphasis on defined limb lines and carefully modulated balance, Cunningham’s demanding choreography leaves nowhere to hide.

As if that were not exposing enough, how did we get here is staged in a square area with the stalls on one side and audiences right there on the stage on the remaining three sides. Such an intimate setting would give pause to highly experienced dancers but Chisholm clearly relishes a challenge.

Chisholm completes a trio, performing alongside Cunningham and their long-time collaborator, dancer Harry Alexander. The three move throughout the piece from relative isolation and individuality along a journey of interaction towards one of support and community between them. 

The performance begins with Nina Simone’s evocative 1976 cover of the song Stars. A track written about the transience and pitfalls of fame, you cannot help consider some of the lyrics without a biographical nod to the Spice Girl in front of you. “Some make it when they’re young” leads to “But they’ll never know the pain of living with a name you never owned.”

Even under the sparkle of the mirror ball, it’s a sombre and serious track and sets the tone for the thoughtful, reflective and sober dance piece. While the Simone track insists “we always have a story“, any narrative threads of how did we get here? are elliptical and abstruse. We glimpse moments and tableaux within the dance where feeling emerges. A sequence where each of the three holds the next dancer’s wrists and is rejected speaks of aggressive resistance. Later, the dancers are only supported by the counterbalance of the other indicating the growing sense of trust between them. 

The gleamingly shiny dark flooring, like a ripple-free lake at midnight, is used for literal self-reflection  of the performers. Crouching and doubling their bodies over, you feel that the dancer might dissolve completely into seemingly fluid surface. 

You have to admire Melanie Chisholm for her commendable ambition in making her contemporary debut with this piece. She conveys great strength and poise with her body. She has wonderfully expressive arms and deploys her toned musculature to great advantage. One of the thrills offered by the intimacy of this production is to watch Chisholm perform a stunning assisted arabesque just feet away from you. 

This proximity however also exposes her occasional weaknesses. There were points of unsteadiness when attempting the formidable acts of balance required by Cunningham’s choreography. It seems churlish to say she lacks Cunningham’s footwork precision or Alexander’s breathtaking postural control considering this is her debut and her fellow performers have 33 years of profession dance experience between them. 

Given Melanie C’s determination, demonstrable application and dance talent, there is certainly reason for her to continue her contemporary dance journey beyond this piece.

While the Spice Girl certainly has broken down some of the intimidation of the contemporary dance scene and has introduced a new audience to Sadler’s Wells, we’re not so sure that such a measured, recondite, inwardly-looking piece as how did we get here? is necessarily the most accessible starting point for newcomers. 

An ambitious and sporting contemporary debut for Dance Spice – ★★★★

how did we get here Tickets

how did we get here? performs at Sadler's Wells until 29 January

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