Wild Card: Laura Dajao – Take a Closer Look

Image credit: Laura Dajao, photo © Sadler's WellsImage credit: Laura Dajao, photo © Sadler's Wells

I dive in on the verge of lateness. The audience is set in the round – calm, together. I hadn’t thought about this spatial configuration of audience and performer/s as a gesture of inclusion before, but on this occasion, Laura Dajao’s Wild Card, with the tiered seating stacked away and everyone on a plane surrounding the stage, the floor plan feels like it functions distinctly in this way.

There is generosity in Dajao’s offer to others, “to express their voice, opinion or interpretation of what Multiple Sclerosis or disability means for them…” One galvanising stimulus for the artists invited to contribute to the evening, besides the varied personal experiences of those who have MS (Dajao or others), is a map: An holistic approach to MS. The audience is given this map with the programme. A little like The Great Bear, Simon Patterson’s appropriated tube map, this map is colour-coded with a key and labels. It is categorical yet relational. It encompasses familiar ‘stops’ or elements: Blood Tests, Genetics, Vaccination, Diet, Travel – and unfamiliar ones: Tremor, Oscillopsia, Evoked Potentials, DMT (Disease Modifying Therapy).

It is quite a thing to take in.

As was Dajao’s presence, which has left a lasting impression on me. I think it has a lot to do with the personal acuity she bears and shares in Take a Closer Look. Dajao emanates such a warm, mature presence. I felt so addressed. She is the antithesis of the performer who hides – in demeanor as well as in practice (she dances in four of the seven pieces we see).

The pieces were like vignettes in the way they softened at the edges and bowed to the framing of an evening that encompassed interactive spaces and video as well as live performance. The choreography ranged from a peppy, power-wrestle starring a Mr Invincible-esque BBoy contending with an agile double agent to a tempestuous quintet that built towards a mercurial, multi-contrapuntal apex. A bolshy character-based duet sat alongside more gestural trios and solos. Live music and voice was interspersed in the programme and sign language was also incorporated into one piece. This made for a somewhat overwhelming experience, perhaps fittingly redolent of the maze of the map.

Laura Dajao and Charlene Low’s parody of the hyperbolic nature of much animated and film combat in Me, Me, Me… and You?! is etched in my memory. Seemingly suspended atop the ‘mini stage’ of Dajao’s wheelchair, the two of them executed an intricately choreographed slow motion fight sequence. I sat transfixed by the pair pivoting, whirling and rolling in to and out of one another, compressing and expanding epically as they mutely gave one another blows and took hits and bites. Their exquisite slow motion faces piqued my attention – committed and fantastically believable.

There was a lovely overriding of the primary theme of the dance, ‘we are fighting’, with the in the cooperation inherent in dancing the dance. This is always the way with staged antagonism when it is designed to be safe rather than genuinely dangerous, but it was rendered especially visible to me by this piece.

In the interval, my attention turned to the wheelchair course assembled by designers Ruta Ibrite and Nia Morris in the Khan Lecture Theatre. Steering myself around corners and over ramps, the challenge was to get to the end and transport some crockery from one corner to another along the way. One of the designers stayed with me to assist where necessary and I felt a flush of self-induced pressure to do it well, to not require help. It was refreshing to be put on the spot, give it a go, and experience the difficulty for myself directly. Next, I took up an invitation to put on boxing gloves and try to tie my shoelaces, which was exasperating when I really applied myself to the task in vain. Spotted glasses were another experience on the table, obscuring my vision. All these offerings put various detrimental effects that MS can have in the limelight in a way I could experience on a tacit level, turning the information into a kind of knowing that felt much more powerful because it went beyond intellectual explication.

Different coloured tapes tracked routes around the lecture theatre but also out into the foyer, where two pathways diverged: one veered right into the main public entrance to the Lilian Baylis and the other proceeded to a doorway leading into the annals of Sadler’s Wells – but more specifically, the lift, the backstage area into the studio theatre. This divergence of stair-users and lift-users… A further track led outside, echoing a pre-show and interval video of Dajao making a normal journey into the building. It records her travelling in real time, capturing the nuanced quotidian choreography of waiting and doing, negotiation and effort, Dajao’s reach to swipe her electronic pass on the sensor.

Dajao’s Wild Card, as the map used as a departure point would suggest, was holistic in its scope; there was a bleeding of activity and statements across different formats and spheres.


Wild Card Production Manager: Antony Hateley
Wild Card Project Manager, Sadler’s Wells: Emily Jameson
Design Team for the Interactive Spaces: Ruta Irbite, Nia Morris
British Sign Language Interpreter: Jeni Draper

Choreographer: Hakeem Onibudo
Music: New Legs – Daniel Llcht; Reprise (featuring Lovesong) – 14KT
Music Edited: Hakeem Onibudo
Dancers: Keanu Wilson, Laura Dajao
Spoken Word: Laura Dajao

Sweet Sunrise
Choreographer: Jeni Draper, Laura Dajao
Performers: Jeni Draper, Jazz Bailey, Laura Dajao
Music: Sweet Sunrise – lyrics by Jazz Bailey, music by Simon Marsh

Be Yourself
Choreographer: Chi-Lin Nim
Performers: Chanelle Hall, Chin-Lin Nim, Oktawia Petronella
Music: Swimmings Pools – lyrics by Chanelle Hall, music by Kendrick Lamar; Be Yourself – music by Black Pharaoh
Spoken Word written by: Channelle Hall, Chi-Lin Nim, Oktawia Petronella
Violin: Oktawia Petronella

12 Months On
Choreographer: Nikki Watson
Performers: Stephanie Vezmar, Hayley Ovens, Naomi Turner, Martina Tavella, Tomomi Kosano
Music: Score composed by Francis Western-Smith

Dear Madame Myelin
Choreographer: Jole Pasquale aka PJ
Director/Storyboard: Ten K Mega Productions (Kaveh Khatiri)
Performers: Antonio Aguado aka BBoy Shyno, Jole Pasquale aka PJ, Xena Gusthart
Music: Autumn Keaves – Sonitus
Band Members: Arron Sturrock, Dein Moore, Nathan Can, Russell Balogun

Me, Me, Me… and You?!
Choreography and Dancers: Sardines Dance Collective – Charlene Low and Laura Dajao
Music: Becoming Jerome – Michael Nyman; Summer Wind – Frank Sinatra; Single Ladies – Beyoncé; In Gods Hands – Michael Nyman; Lucky Man – The Verve
Music edits: Charlene Low

Choreographer and dancer: Laura Dajao
Music: Uberhang – Manu Delago; Marionette – The Civil Wars

With thanks to the Rich Mix Cultural Foundation, Gloucestershire Dance, Newham Sixth Form College and The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation.