Rick Guest’s What Lies Beneath strips away the glamour from the dancer’s life and yet this exhibition in the gleaming white gallery at the Hospital Club is magnificently glamorous. Guest captures his subjects against luminous blue backgrounds in larger than life portraits that show the physical and psychological strain that lies behind every performance. He has allowed the dancers to reveal themselves as they wish, whether that is confident and in control, hesitant and uncertain or contemplative. They wear battered old practice clothes, their skin is scratched and bruised, and they have bunions, moles and body hair. There is a tension between the perfection and yet imperfection of their extraordinarily beautiful bodies.

The pictures hint at stories, written on their bodies and also in what they wear: Olivia Cowley looks cautiously backwards over her shoulder, wearing a leotard with a badly mended seam and a hand-me-down practice skirt that has a previous wearer’s name written on the waist band. In one photograph, Edward Watson seems caught unexpectedly, sitting for a moment hugging his knees and about to say something, in another, Eric Underwood springs high in the air and we can see that the elastic of his left shoe is knotted under the sole (did it snap off, or was it never sewn?). Nicholas Bodych wears shorts and T-shirt, almost as if he is going to the gym or football practice, while Hikaru Kobayashi, using a pair of fishnet tights with the crotch ripped out as an off-the-shoulder top, withdraws behind her closed eyelids.

Some of the most assertive poses hint at paradoxical vulnerabilities. Sergei Polunin, strong and tattooed frowns suspiciously; Melissa Hamilton in a pink body suit darned at the right hip, shoulders back, firmly planted on both legs looks us in the eye as if preparing for battle. We see Marianela Nuñez from behind, her arms in an outstretched swan position, the muscles in her back and shoulders working hard and clearly visible, and Sarah Lamb shows her slender physique in profile, her pose conjuring up the image of a child gymnast.

Tamara Rojo, also in profile and perfectly balanced on pointe, is calmly contemplative, clearly in control, and looks as though she could stay on balance for hours. Two pictures of dancers from the Semperoper Ballett stand out for their cool and authoritative engagement with the camera: Zarina Stahnke, in classical pose, her arms in demi bras with subtle épaulement, and Julia Weiss, who gazes out enigmatically with a hint of a lopsided smile.

The exhibition continues until the end of January. If you can’t get to London, the images on the website give some sense of the experience, and a beautiful publication is available; but the impact of actually standing in the gallery surrounded by Guest’s beautiful, stylish, novel and monumental work is unforgettable.

Maggie Watson

22 January 2016

Venue:  Hospital Club Gallery, 24 Endell Street London WC2,

http://www.thehospitalclub.com/exhibition-shop/online_gallery_artist/rick-guest-2-1

Buy Rick Guest’s book of the photographs here

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