Julie Cunningham & Company, Sadlers Wells
I’ll give ya what ya want, what ya really really want… and if that is a space-age experimental dance piece with the famous Jules Cunningham and sporty (dancy) spice Mel C, then that is what you’ll get. But how does this happen? Celeb cameos are a staple in musical theatre land, as Nicole Scherzinger seems to be in every musical I go and see. Is it time for dance to follow in these slightly gimmicky gilded footsteps?
The link here is Cunningham and C’s Merseyside roots, and C’s dreams of becoming a dancer before she made it big with Spice Girls fame. Certainly, she is a perfect candidate with a body crafted like an Olympian, toned to within an inch of its life… it’s hard to imagine posh being quite so capable.
Nevertheless, the whole thing is odd, for other reasons than just star power. A dark lake of black reflective plastic cut out into a square sits in the centre of Sadlers Well’s main stage. Seating ranges on all four sides, with 3 of them actually on the stage itself (so I can finally say I have made it onto the hallowed plateau one more thing to tick off the bucket list). We gaze out at the traditional stalls of audience seating, catching the rare view the dancers get. Peaking up we glimpse the layered metal lattice of the rig above us and the various lights ready to descend.
On marches our trio, Jules Cunningham, Melanie Chisholm, and Harry Alexander, serious looking but clad in some of the laziest costumes known to dance. Stevie Stewart’s odd choice to put them in what looks like Lululemon active wear in various shades of dreadful. An inexplicable edition of a mesh crop top over the leotards halfway through doesn’t help either.
A mirrorball dazzles, Nina Simone wails and the softer, and sweeter sections of the piece enthral early on. Very much what Cunningham calls “movement research” the piece has all the personality of a devised show and all the thematic chaos. Surely the dancers knows what the impetus was, but we the audience are left to play catch up, and at points enjoy the effort. The triangle is repeated as the dancers grip one another, pushing, grasping, putting weight and leading each other in a child-like world of make-believe. One magnetic section sees all of them facing outwards, tracing their fingers over the features of their faces in an act of self-exploration and wonder. There is much floor-work, as they pull one another down onto the mirrored surface, giving the impression of doubled dancers in an inverted world. This also makes every solo section feel like a duet with a ghostly shadow attached to their feet. Clever use of space indeed from both Cunningham’s intimate choreography and Joyce Henderson’s close-knit dramaturgy. A world is crafted of care, consideration and joint exploration.
But this isn’t just dancing, ohhhhh no no….. there is almost everything you could think of shoved into this odd little show. Jazzy (in reality pretty painful) live on stage guitar playing by Cunningham and live singing (much less arduous) by Sporty and Cunningham. Solos by all, and projections of galaxies over the top. We have Henry Purcell – Dido & Aeneas operatic warbling at one point (sadly not live). Finally, warm little lights like stars drop slowly (to Janis Ian Stars) over the panting performers as they sit back, and stare up at the universe in miniature twinkling around them. Any show that tries to answer the question of how did we get here? Is always going to end up an eclectic mess, but what an enjoyable mess to witness.
Mel C holds her own, more athletic than balletic, she is uncertain in some of her positions but emotive and genuine throughout. Book ended by such glowing talents (Cunningham and Alexander) this piece is much more nuanced than it seems on paper. After its success maybe ballet will move with the times? Maybe dancy-spice has started a new trend? Who will we see next? Lulu in Swan Lake? Gemma Collins in Giselle? Liz Truss in Tchaikovsky’s Pas de Deux? The possibilities really are endless…
For more information on this distinct show, click here!