15 Women who shaped dance at Sadler’s Wells

In the week marking HeForShe Arts Week and following on from International Women’s Day, we look at some of the inspirational women who have shaped Sadler’s Wells’ history and continue to influence the world of dance today.

1. Lilian Baylis (pictured above)
Lilian Baylis is one of the most important figures in the history of Sadler’s Wells and British theatre, whose legacy continues to be felt today. Having been the driving force behind the development of the Old Vic as the home of high-quality accessible drama and opera, in 1925 Lilian Baylis began fundraising to rebuild Sadler’s Wells, where she envisaged “tickets affordable by artisans and labourers” in North London. The fifth Sadler’s Wells building (since the original theatre was founded in 1683) opened in January 1931. Her direction enabled the creation of what later became some of the UK’s top performing companies, including The Royal Ballet, English National Opera and Birmingham Royal Ballet, as well as the renowned Royal Ballet School. A second space on the site of Sadler’s Wells was named the Lilian Baylis Studio in recognition of her, and provides a home to smaller scale work and work by emerging artists.


2. Dame Ninette de Valois
Dame Ninette de Valois (Edris Stannus) was a ballerina, choreographer, ballet company director and teacher who founded The Royal Ballet. Born in 1898, her career had a huge impact on the world of classical ballet and she lived to the incredible age of 102. Lilian Baylis, who at the time was director of the Old Vic, was a great supporter of her work. The pair established an agreement for de Valois to create dances in support of the theatre, which – after the reopening of Sadler’s Wells in 1931 – led to the founding of Sadler’s Wells Ballet, later The Royal Ballet, making her one of the most influential figures in our history.


3. Dame Marie Rambert
Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1888, Marie Rambert became the founder of Ballet Rambert, later known as Rambert Dance Company. She trained under the Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev and danced with Ballet Russes early in her career before moving to London at the outbreak of the First World War and eventually establishing her own company. Rambert was the first company to perform on our new stage when Sadler’s Wells current building opened in October 1998. Their latest piece, Life’s a Dream, premieres here in May.


4. Martha Graham
American dancer and choreographer Martha Graham is highly regarded as one of the most important faces of modern dance in the 20th Century. A trailblazer of her art form, Graham collaborated with the leading fashion designers, visual artists and musicians of her day and established the Graham Technique – a style of movement which is taught worldwide. Her legacy lives on through The Martha Graham Center based in New York, which houses the Martha Graham Dance Company and School of Contemporary Dance.


5. Pina Bausch
Pina Bausch was artistic director of Tanztheater Wuppertal for over 35 years and remains one of the greatest choreographers of our time. During her directorship, she created over 40 productions for the company. We have presented many of them on the Sadler’s Wells stage and developed a close relationship with Tanztheater Wuppertal, which considers us their London home. Throughout her career, Bausch had an interest in film-making and collaborated with Federico Fellini on And the Ship Goes, as well as creating her own film The Complaint of the Empress and appearing in Pedro Almodóvar’s film Talk To Her. Her untimely death in 2009 shook the world of dance. “She was an artist of the kind that the world is only blessed with from time to time,” said Sadler’s Wells’ Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding. “Her repertoire of works has inspired generations of audiences and artists, with an impact that is hard to overestimate. She was a dear friend to me and I will miss her greatly. There is now a big hole in my life, and that of countless others.” Pina, a documentary film by Wim Wenders, was released in her memory shortly after her death. The company continues to present her work in theatres around the world. In 2015, it became an International Associate Company at Sadler’s Wells.


6. Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker
Belgian choreographer Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker is an innovative leader in contemporary dance. Her bold and uncompromising choreography explores the relationship between music and movement and is influenced by subjects such as geometry, numerical patterns, the natural world and social structures. Based in Brussels, her world-renowned company Rosas has performed many times on our stage and is an International Associate Company at Sadler’s Wells. In 1995, De Keersmaeker established P.A.R.T.S. (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios) in Brussels, one of the world’s leading choreographic schools. Our Associate Artist Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui spent a year there as part of his dance training, while our other Associate Artist Akram Khan took part in the school’s X-Group project, a creative programme for young choreographers.


7. Siobhan Davies
Siobhan Davies trained at London Contemporary Dance School and started her own company in 1981, also joining with Ian Spink and Richard Alston to found Second Stride, and launched her own company again in 1988. She has twice received the Laurence Olivier Award for outstanding achievement in dance.
She came regularly to Sadler’s Wells with innovative and iconic works throughout the 90’s, gradually moving away from making work for the stage in favour of other contexts such as gallery, evolving from a national touring dance company into a ground-breaking investigative contemporary arts organisation based in a bespoke building since 2006 in Elephant & Castle.


8. Nilda Guerra
At the heart of Cuban dance maker Nilda Guerra’s choreographic style and vibrant shows are the exploration and fusion of diverse dance styles and trends: Cuban popular and traditional, classical and contemporary, jazz and folkloric. Her hit Havana Rakatan, produced by Sadler’s Wells, premiered at The Peacock in summer 2007. Since then, it has enjoyed many successful West End seasons and toured extensively around the world to audiences of over 221,000. Her company Ballet Rakatan has performed at prestigious international venues such as the New York City Center Theater, Sydney Opera House, Amsterdam’s Carré Theatre, Rome’s Teatro Sistina, Oslo Opera House and Tokyo City Hall among many others. Nilda’s latest show Vamos Cuba! – a “high energy celebration of Cuban culture”premiered at Sadler’s Wells in 2016.


9. Sasha Waltz
The Berlin-based choreographer, whose birthday falls on International Women’s Day on 8 March, recently returned to Sadler’s Wells with her company Sasha Waltz & Guests to present Körper, the first in a choreographic trilogy focused on the human body. The piece premiered in January 2000 at the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz in Berlin, where Waltz was co-director for five years. Our Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding describes the production as a “modern classic”.


10. Sylvie Guillem
French ballet dancer Sylvie Guillem began as an aspiring gymnast with Olympic hopes, but changed career path when she arrived at the Paris Opera Ballet School on a year’s exchange. In 1984, aged 19, she became the youngest dancer in the history of the Paris Opéra Ballet at that time to be made an étoile (star), the highest rank within a ballet company. As a Principal Guest Artist of The Royal Ballet between 1988 and 2007, she gained international fame for her roles in the classical repertoire. As an independent artist, her curiosity and desire to experiment with, and inhabit, different movement languages led to rich creative collaborations with leading modern choreographers and theatre directors including William Forsythe, Mats Ek, Jiri Kylian, our Associate Artists Russell Maliphant and Akram Khan, and Robert Lepage. She was appointed a Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist in 2006 and, since the end of her dancing career in 2015, has become our first Associate Artist Emeritus.


11. Sara Baras
Flamenco superstar Sara Baras has been performing for over 30 years and leading her own company since 1998. “It has given me the freedom to show the world how I feel and to learn how I can best present my flamenco productions. I have been able to do shows both with and without narrative, and to develop the work with dance and music in a very positive way. I’ve had to take a lot of risks – if you run your own company, you can stray from the familiar path to present something new,” she told The Guardian. Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras has performed at Sadler’s Wells’ on numerous occasions, both as part of our annual Flamenco Festival and the broader programme. Her prodigious stomping footwork, curving torso and powerful expressiveness have captivated audiences the world over.


12. Crystal Pite
Canadian dance maker Crystal Pite is a Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist and one of the most original choreographic voices working today.  A former company member of William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt and Ballet British Columbia, she established her own company, Kidd Pivot, in Vancouver in 2002. Her distinct style integrates classical elements with structured improvisation. Her work Betroffenheit, a collaboration with playwright and actor Jonathan Young, sensitively explored the themes of trauma and suffering, earning great public and critical acclaim as well as multiple awards, including an Olivier for Best Dance production. A five-star review in The Guardian praised the work as “human suffering transformed into heroic brilliance”.


13. Jasmin Vardimon
Jasmin Vardimon is a leading force in British dance theatre. Born and raised on a Kibbutz in central Israel, she joined the Kibbutz Dance Company and, in 1995, won a British Council On the Way to London Choreography Award. She moved to London in 1997, where she founded Jasmin Vardimon Company (previously Zbang). She has been an Associate Artist at Sadler’s Wells since 2006 and presented many of her works on our stage, including Freedom, 7734, Justitia, PARK and, most recently, her retelling of Pinocchio, “a show of dazzling imagination”.  Jasmin was the first Guest Artistic Director of National Youth Dance Company in 2012-13.


14. Kate Prince
Kate Prince is the Artistic Director of ZooNation, which she founded in 2002. Three years later, we commissioned the company’s first first full-length work, Into the Hoods, conceived and directed by Prince. The production premiered in 2006 to huge critical acclaim. It became the first hip-hop dance show to transfer to the West End and the longest running dance show in West End history. We presented another of her most popular works,  Some Like it Hip Hop, three times at The Peacock theatre, our West End venue. In May 2010, Kate became an Associate Artist at Sadler’s Wells and ZooNation became a Resident Company. An Old Vic, Sadler’s Wells and ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company production, co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, her latest work Sylvia is a modern musical celebrating the life of suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst and will premiere in September.


15. Liv Lorent
As Artistic Director of balletLORENT, Liv Lorent’s choreography has taken classic fairy tales and reinterpreted them for modern audiences in innovative dance theatre productions. Her production of Rumpelstiltskin, will be presented as part of Family Weekend this March before embarking on a UK tour. She has received many awards for her work, including the Jerwood Choreography Award and an MBE for Services to Dance in 2014. She has been commissioned by leading dance companies, including BalletBoyz, Scottish Dance Theatre and Singapore Dance Theatre. Newcastle-based balletLORENT is a National Strategic Partner of Sadler’s Wells.