Friday, 2 July 2021

REVIEW: Wild Card: Christopher Matthews formed view — my body's an exhibition at the Sadlers Wells

Nothing is completely stationary, in fact, the entire universe is in a constant state of flux with the collision of particles billions of lightyears away affecting every other atom in existence. Here on earth, the power of movement extends itself further as an anthropological encyclopaedia for the past while simultaneously pushing notions about identity forward. Movement can be distilled or all consuming and the job of a dancer is to work with it as their medium. Ambitious in scale and sentiment, Wild Card: Christopher Matthews formed view — my body's an exhibition, by American-born, London-based choreographer and performance artist Christopher Matthews, is a multi sensory, visceral and immersive movement- based experience celebrating this and more! 

The title of the work pays homage to cultural pop icon Janet Jackson’s lyrics “my body’s an exhibition baby” from her 2008 single Feedback and right from the beginning this experience is made to feel unapologetically camp, accessible and provocative. Themes of gender, the the body as object, spectatorship and dance’s historical position and relationship to pop culture, tangles into moments of pure joy and self contemplation through video, site specific installations, visual works and live performance.

It’s curated in a way to invite audiences on a self-guided journey that weaves through all sorts of spaces around the iconic Saddlers Wells theatre. Areas generally reserved for production staff and performers such as change rooms, backstage, rehearsal studios, the labyrinth of corridors and more becomes a privilege to walk through. It is a raw and honest experience positioning the magic associated with a performance in a surreal yet tangible context. There is a feeling of familiarity and delirium in this design. Disco lights and music in the change rooms evoke a dance, dream like fantasy shared by a performer preparing a performance and the audience about to receive it. From the grandeur of the auditorium to all the mundane spaces that play a part in the ritual of a performers life have their soul exposed. 

At the start of the journey, the visitor is made to walk through a bright spotlight which creates a silhouette of them on the wall. Simply and evocatively seeing your projected image lets you know that you are part of the work too. How you play with it is up to you. This sentiment is carried successfully throughout the entire event. 

All the sections are not equally as stimulating as each other but that is not to say its an issue. The live performance pieces in particular do not tend to have a definitive ending, which gives agency to the spectator to decide how long they wish to engage with it. This can be confronting and questions the intimate act of watching and being watched. 

A highlight for me was walking onto the first circle balcony of the near empty auditorium where I had the freedom to take any seat I liked. Projected onto the back wall of the stage was a video of Dance Triptych (1/3) performed by Songhay Toldon, courtesy of Schauspielhaus Zurich. The pice embodies a joy of dance and a longing to get back to the clubs which have been cruelly taken away from society during this time of isolation. Toldon’s humble and energised performance coupled with the the club music booming and vibrating in the vacant space, offeres a moment of pure escapism.

Another powerful moment came from This dance has no end by Fenia Kotsopoulou, streamed in one of the backstage studios. Drawing from Middle Eastern Modern Dance and made in in response to the passing of drag king and gender activist Diane Torr, in a trance like state and filmed in black and white explores gender through the dances wight, power and aesthetics. It is insular yet explosive. 

The capacity of this event is strictly limited due to COVID safely regulations, however, this works in its favour. Smaller crowds than what you might normally find in a theatre or exhibition allows for a far more intimate relationship with the work to develop.

Mathew’s asks the question “How can we experience dance instead of watching dance?” all I can say to that is visit my body’s an exhibition baby and you will begin to understand how.

Review by Stephanie Osztreicher

Rating: ★★★★★

Price of Ticket: £20

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