Mel C shows poise and strength in her dance debut

Mel C, Julie Cunningham and Company - Camilla Greenwell
Mel C, Julie Cunningham and Company - Camilla Greenwell

I was entirely the wrong demographic in the 90s for the Spice Girls to get under my skin. But they were a colossal phenomenon, and, of the quintet, the high-kicking Melanie Chisholm – aka Mel C, aka Sporty Spice – always seemed the smartest and most sympathetic. She was also a dancer before she was a singer, and has since moulded herself into a noted amateur triathlete. All of which conspired to make her Sadler’s Wells debut, a week or so after her 49th birthday, a decidedly intriguing prospect.

Created by choreographer Jules Cunningham (also from England’s North West), how did we get here? is a three-hander, an hour straight through and presented in the round. You can sit in the stalls or, far better, in any of the three specially set-up tiers of seats on the sides and rear of the stage itself – choose one of the front rows, and you will at times find yourself barely three feet from a genuine pop icon.

The show plays out to a smattering of songs (the lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and both Nina Simone’s and Janice Ian’s version of Ian’s Stars), but mainly to a plinky-plonk electronic score by Wibke Tiarks, the sort beloved of contemporary choreographers since time immemorial. On the agenda are nostalgia, loneliness, togetherness – all the things we “hold in our bodies”, and how we do that. Mostly slow and correspondingly tense, with the occasional cathartic release of energy, the evening emerges as an arm-wrestle between the light and dark of the human experience, and is full of challenging cantilevered lifts and holds for the trio (Chisholm, along with Cunningham and dancer Harry Alexander), suggesting the crucial importance of mutual support.

In all this it is, then, considered but hardly ground-breaking stuff, yet Chisholm acquits herself with great dignity. Trim and buff, wearing a skin-tight unitard and endearingly nervous at the very start, she moves with no little poise. She really does seem to be trying to “say” something with her body, and the knowledge of her overnight rise from obscurity to global fame – and the subsequent mental-health mill she went through – lends the whole thing an extra emotional heft. A word too, for the climax, a final, beautifully lit assertion that only in solidarity can we ever hope to be looking at the stars.

It would feel over-excited to award the show the same “score” as Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell – arguably the finest dance couple in the world – giving their three-hour masterclass at Covent Garden earlier in the week. But Chisholm should leave this project with her head held high. And, in daring to enter this challenging fray on a world-renowned stage, when nudging 50, she may well prove inspirational all over again.

Until Jan 29. Tickets: 020 7863 8000;