How Did We Get Here? review – Mel C’s dance debut delivers poise and intimacy

You couldn’t get further from Spice Up Your Life than this. Former Spice Girl Mel C makes her contemporary dance debut in a low-key, slow-burn leftfield trio. It’s the work of choreographer Jules Cunningham, devised with Chisholm (to give Melanie her full name) and dancer Harry Alexander.

Can Chisholm hold her own against these two very experienced dancers? Yes, she can. Always one of the stronger dancers in the Spice Girls, she trained in ballet in childhood. She has a performer’s instinct: chin lifted, elegant poise, steps cleanly finessed. There’s a strength in her presence. This is not virtuoso dancing, but it’s exacting in its geometric lines and balances. Cunningham has designed the dance to make everyone look good. Just as well since they’re all so exposed. Half the audience is on stage, around three sides of the dancefloor, the rest at the front of the auditorium, a closeup view on the unitard-clad bodies.

But they’re not just bodies. Cunningham is interested in the dynamic of three, and in among the slow, contemplative, minimal sequences come very human interactions: the three of them looking at each other, locking eyes and smiling; or when they hold each other in long embraces, Cunningham gently scratching Alexander’s back with touching intimacy.

Related: ‘I look like a hot mama in my catsuit!’ – Spice Girl Mel C leaps into modern dance

The measured simplicity of the steps – walking, low balances, geometric patterns – is enhanced by the music of German electronic composer Wibke Tiarks, which offers a thick warm cushion of an atmosphere to sink into. More pointed is the inclusion of two versions of the Janis Ian song Stars, one sung by Ian herself, the other by Nina Simone. It’s a song about fame and its discontents, the line about “living with a name you never owned” must resonate with Sporty Spice, whose nickname was given to her by a music magazine and then used by the press to judge her for years after. It’s a clever way of acknowledging the fame in the room, while stripping it back to show three people on a quiet mission with a great sense of togetherness.

• At Sadler’s Wells, London, until 29 January.