Review: Wild Card: Fernanda Muñoz-Newsome, Sadler's Wells

Dancing between hard and soft; audience and performer; noise and words; lovers and strangers; consenting and preventing; Fernanda Muñoz-Newsome’s multi-sensory Wild Card is an adventurous and beautifully curated, but confusing and overly cautious choreography of boundaries. 

As part of their artist development programme, Sadler’s Wells invites artists and dance-makers to curate Wild Card evenings: spaces designed to create and navigate new choreographic territories. Muñoz-Newsome’s event, an expanded version of her collaborative, multi-sensory work, INCHOATE BUZZ, aims to readdress the visual primacy of conventional dance viewership, whilst repositioning artist and audience agency in a queer, non-conventional dance space. A space of rules, respect, and bodily recklessness. 

After shoes, coats and expectations are stripped and left in a makeshift cloakroom at the top of the studio, we are softly coaxed down to the stage floor by a calm Muñoz-Newsome, who strolls between four separate clusters of soft sculpture, encouraging us to touch, play and own what India Harvey’s design offered the senses. Although my hands, my feet and I thoroughly enjoy this warm and weighty sensory invitation into the work, I cannot help but feel that my first movements and moments here would feel a little less daring and a little more inviting if it weren’t for Josh Anio Grigg’s consistently heavy and often quite frightening electronic music and sound design. 

Following an uneasy start including a confusing performance of whispered stream of consciousness, touch is also instigated between spectators and most performers throughout the evening’s genuinely innovative choreographic offerings (in respect of the evening’s careful attitude towards consent); all exploring the boundaries of body and performance in varying but all very human territories. 

For instance, Rukeya invites audiences to pull on her clothes, to lie on an inflating air mattress with her, to straddle her on a wheeled board, but only after performing these activities solo first; a welcoming and critical navigation of trans embodiment by setting out the rules of her experience first, and then inviting her audience into her bodily narrative. 

Eve Stainton uses bodies as energetic apparatus, gyrating between us and softly but decisively latching onto different bodies with different creative powers with which she can play and dance. Ending each encounter with a smile, a thank you and a shared nervous laugh, she reminds us of her humanness.

For someone attending an evening geared away from visual supremacy, I experience an awful lot of visual FOMO. Encouraged to close my eyes and enjoy music and ASMR from Keira Coward-Deyell and Isabel Muñoz-Newsome, I often reopen them to a changed physical environment and a hundred possibilities of what I may have missed. This frustration seems inevitable, though, of a dance theatre curiously navigating away from the seen body and towards the felt body. 

The performers filter out, leaving the cast of spectators alone in the jungle of plush props and confused boundaries and, with that, the illusion of shared intimacy awkwardly crashes and burns through the fog of essential oil mist as people file out separately. 

But wait, an encore: friends bundle onto the air-mattress, hit each other with stuffed shapes, and tumble into an episode of true, cathartic play. In the absence of Wild Card’s framing, and with an explosion of giggly relief, a playground finally fulfills its purpose, and proves that true intimacy (beyond the performance of provisionally lowered boundaries) only comes with history, and when we think that no one is watching. 

“Oops, sorry” says the polite woman who asked to touch my hip under the show’s instruction not two hours ago, as she barely bumps into me in the hallway.

Wild Card: Fernanda Muñoz-Newsome played Sadler’s Wells until 15 November. For more information and tickets, visit the Sadler’s Wells website.