Wonderland.

METTE TOWLEY

The buzz cut beauty turned viral dancer.

(LEFT) Dress OFF-WHITE and Mette’s own sneakers
(RIGHT) Bonnet PREEN by THORNTON BREGAZZI

Dress OFF-WHITE and Mette’s own sneakers
Bonnet PREEN by THORNTON BREGAZZI

Mid-summer 2004 and I’m at a house party in Lewisham, doing my best to emulate the Alesha Dixon of “She Wants to Move” in someone’s back yard. There’s no silver mini-dress and none of that Mis-Teeq sass, but a stereo is pumping N.E.R.D and Smirnoff Ice provides a confidence that belies the rhythmic skill of my 15-year-old hips.

Fast forward 13 years and the collective return of Pharrell, Shay and Chad is announced with a new video. Sat on a hotel bed, clippers in hand shaving the head of a female subject below, Rihanna opens the short and a bold new routine follows. Reading the mood shift in contemporary culture, it possesses the same cosmic power of Solange’s ASATT choreography a year earlier, simultaneously relaying something more in tune with Teyana Taylor’s “Fade” turn.

Two months later an invitation reaches my inbox: “learn Mette Towley’s infamous dance to N.E.R.D’s ‘Lemon.” A moment has been fuelled.

(LEFT) Dress OFF-WHITE and Mette’s own sneakers
(RIGHT) Jacket and skirt UNRAVEL and Mette’s own sneakers

Dress OFF-WHITE and Mette’s own sneakers
Jacket and skirt UNRAVEL and Mette’s own sneakers

“As only the best hairdressers do, she struck all the chords of precision and emotional support,” the owner of the Riri endorsed buzz cut recalls via email from LA. Recently returned from a short stint in Japan teaching the dance, transatlantic timing and a heavy rehearsal schedule have brought us here.

A core member of Pharrell Williams’ dance posse The Baes (and sometimes PA, creative assistant; intermittently movement director) since 2014 – “Super Bowl Sunday: I got an email that in two hours there would be an audition. There wasn’t time for me to strategise, just enough to show up and dance” – Mette’s initial field inspiration was the result of another, controversial Super Bowl half-timer. “I saw Justin Timberlake’s Future Sex Love Sounds tour when I was a teenager and cried for half of it,” she shares.

“The live performance of the female dancers, their endurance, their physicality was so moving. Then, in college I attended my first modern dance conference. I saw works that used dance as a political force, watched dancers so well mimic the nuances of human experience, and physically expend themselves in a way that left me inspired.”

(LEFT) Dress PREEN by THORNTON BREGAZZI and Mette’s own necklaces
(RIGHT) All clothing SAINT LAURENT by ANTHONY VACCARELLO

Dress PREEN by THORNTON BREGAZZI and Mette’s own necklaces
All clothing SAINT LAURENT by ANTHONY VACCARELLO

An advocate for the performer, choreographer and feminist scholar, Ann Cooper Albright’s Choreographing Difference – 216 pages marrying thoughts on dance, cultural and women’s studies, published in 1997 – she describes the book like “a rubric as I navigate my career. Ann’s prose reminds me that I’m actively engaging with cultural production every time I perform… How dance shifts conventions of identity, politics and representation through the bodies that perform it.”

Quickly following “Lemon”, N.E.R.D’s second new album cut provided a similarly empowering space for Mette: “1000” shapes the dancer as a kinetic force in red, her footage interlaced with scenes from anti-fascism rallies. “I have so much respect for artists who choose to take their celebrity out of their visuals,” she says. “The N.E.R.D album itself came at the perfect time; the band is chiming into social activism. As a fan, whenever I see artists bringing their work to the table as means of protest I really sense they understand their stake in the world… They aren’t just here to entertain, they’re here to help transcend our darkest histories.”

Like its predecessor, the motions for “1000” were set out by JaQuel Knight, the 28-year-old choreographer who gave Beyoncé, and consequently the world, “Single Ladies”. “Knight and his team crafted the masterpiece,” is how Mette tells it. “JaQuel is a living legend in the dance world; he strives for excellence. During the rehearsal process, I started writing the lyrics to ‘Lemon’ and ‘1000’ on mirrors in my apartment. There were arrows and bubbles everywhere; to and from the lyrics to the names of people in my life, excerpts of experience, or my own poetry. It was under that rigour that my performance quality for ‘Lemon’ was born.” Teens, take note.

(LEFT) Swimsuit, cape and earrings CHANEL, shoes PUMA and Mette’s own trousers
(CENTRE) Skirt MOSCHINO and Mette’s own jumper and earrings
(RIGHT) Jacket and skirt UNRAVEL and Mette’s own hat, boots and earrings

Swimsuit, cape and earrings CHANEL, shoes PUMA and Mette’s own trousers
Skirt MOSCHINO and Mette’s own jumper and earrings
Jacket and skirt UNRAVEL and Mette’s own hat, boots and earrings

Taken from the Spring 2018 Issue; out now and available to buy here.

Photography
Jacqueline Harriet
Fashion
Sean Knight
Words
Zoe Whitfield
Makeup
Kali Kennedy at Forward Artists using Giorgio Armani Beauty
Music
Johannes Klahr
METTE TOWLEY