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Wild Card: Christopher Matthews –Sadler’s Wells, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Curator: Christopher Matthews

While the subtitle of this show is my body’s an exhibition, choreographer and dancer Christopher Matthews has curated a show not of a body, but of a building. But when that building is the hallowed Sadler’s Wells, buildings and bodies can often be confused. Who can tell the dancer from the dance?

Sadler’s Wells has handed over the keys to Matthews, who has devised a route taking the audience, one at time, from the usual entrance, the foyer, to backstage corridors, dressing rooms and, gloriously, to the stage itself. Around every corner and in each room is a video or a collage, some created by Matthews or some by other dancers and artists. At three pivotal locations live dancers are discovered caught, it would seem, in an endless cycle of movement.

Two female dancers languorously practise their ballet steps using the foyer’s staircase bannister as their barre, while in the Lilian Baylis Studio two dancers dressed in Adidas trackies take pictures of each other writhing and peacocking on the floor in Matthews’ piece Lads. But the heart of these live performances takes place on the main stage, where two young men dance atop white plinths in slow motion. One man keeps perfect time, hardly changing his movement at all while the other man is more expressive; drinking shots, coming up, waving his hands in the air. They dance in near silence. Even though music is being pumped into the auditorium the safety curtain is down, and it, amazingly, muffles all but the most persistent beats. It’s a breath-taking scene.

Other highlights include Myrid Carten’s film Star Factory, a tightly choreographed piece showing women touching up their make-up in the ladies of a Wetherspoon’s pub. It only lasts two minutes, but the image of a woman leaving her refection behind in the mirror is searing. Matthews’ own Look At That Body invites the audience member to become a dancer, as a wall lit by two spotlights begs for their shadow while Janet Jackson sings ‘Look at that body’ in an endless loop.

Dressing rooms are turned into discos and mirrors are daubed with lipstick slogans. Sadler’s Wells permanent collection, including the miniature sculpture of Adam Cooper, is seen in a new light when every wall seems part of the exhibition. In the auditorium a huge screen shows Songhay Toldon dancing, but the rows and rows of empty seats are what catches the eye. The building seems vast; sometimes it feels like being in a giant and deserted spaceship or a mausoleum, where only the vestiges of dance remain.

If we ever have another lockdown in which live performance is stopped, then let’s open theatres as installations where a single person can roam the space and mourn what is missing. The corridors would be full of ghosts.

Reviewed on 25 June 2021

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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