20 moments for 20 years

2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the current Sadler’s Wells building – a place where artists and audiences come together to create and experience dance; to take part, learn, experiment and be inspired. As we embark on our next chapter, we reflect on some of the highlights of an eventful two decades, and the moments that have helped to define what Sadler’s Wells is today.

1. The new Sadler’s Wells opens (1998)

In October 1998, after two years of construction, the new Sadler’s Wells theatre opened its doors to the community. The building was brought to life with performances from Rambert, the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, as audiences were invited to look around and experience first-hand the sixth incarnation of this historic Islington institution. The redesign ensured the technical and stage equipment was modernised, the auditorium and stage more spacious, and incorporated a public café and what was then known as a Community and Education Centre. This was in keeping with the modern vision for the theatre – an organisation rooted in the community, with a cultural programme extending far beyond the main stage.

“It happened. They made it. The new Sadler’s Wells opened on time. And London’s theatrical landscape, as of last Monday, is changed for good. In the face of nay-sayers and gloom-mongers, and some unaccountably spiteful press, the curtain rose on the first major project to be funded by the National Lottery. And it’s magnificent. The deed is greater than the word” – The Independent, 18 October 1998

2. Sadler’s Wells becomes a producing house and appoints first Associate Artists (2005)

At a press conference in March 2005, recently appointed Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding announced that Sadler’s Wells was to become a producing house with artists creating new work at its heart. He appointed the first group of Associate Artists, which included BalletBoyz,  Jonzi D, Wayne McGregor, Matthew Bourne and Akram Khan (whose short film XEN, which we commissioned earlier this year, can be viewed above). To date, we have helped bring to the stage over 160 new productions and our family of Associate Artists has grown to 16 (plus an Associate Artist Emeritus, Sylvie Guillem, who retired at the end of 2015).

“It was like signing the entire England team in a single afternoon” – The Times, 11 December 2006

3. Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch World Cities series (2012)

Ruth Amarante in Viktor (c) Maarten Vanden Abeele.

The late Pina Bausch, one of the most significant choreographers of our time, redefined what dance could be. Known as the inventor of tanztheater, the German dance maker has inspired generations of audiences and artists all over the world, nurturing an ensemble of vivid imagination and grand scale – Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, a Sadler’s Wells International Associate Company. In 2012, to celebrate the Cultural Olympiad, Sadler’s Wells and the Barbican presented all 10 of Bausch’s iconic World Series productions – epic travelogues inspired by cities around the world, created between 1986 and Bausch’s death in 2009. First up was the extraordinary Viktor, inspired by Rome.

4. Sadler’s Wells announces plans to open a new venue (2013)

Pupils from Mossbourne Riverside Academy take part in a dance workshop.

In November 2013, we announced our ambition to build a 550-seat theatre to support dance talent wanting to up-scale their work, and to present the best international work made for the mid-scale, plugging a gap in London’s dance infrastructure. Not long afterwards, the then Mayor of London and the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) invited Sadler’s Wells to consider being one of a number of cultural organisations to occupy the Stratford Waterfront site within the redevelopment of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London, as part of the ongoing legacy of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Sadler’s Wells East will be part of a new cultural and education district, the East Bank project, alongside the BBC, UAL’s London College of Fashion, UCL and the V&A in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. Ahead of opening our doors in Stratford in 2022, we are working closely with our East Bank partners and local community and cultural organisations in east London to plan and deliver joint events and activities. These include the Open Doors: Vote 100 held at Here East in July and an ongoing pilot project at Mossbourne Riverside Academy, a primary school on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, to embed dance within local children’s education. Weekly dance classes in different styles, an after-school club, sessions for teachers and workshops for parents are delivered by dance professionals working in collaboration on the project, including East London Dance, our Associate Company English National Ballet and Studio Wayne McGregor.

5. Sylvie Guillem’s last London performances (2015)

Sylvie Guillem in Mats Ek’s Bye.

After an unparalleled career that spanned almost 35 years, Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Sylvie Guillem – one of the greatest dancers of her generation – performed her farewell programme on our main stage in 2015. Our production Life in Progress featured work by choreographers who influenced Guillem’s contemporary career, including technê by Akram Khan; Here & After, a duet with Italian dancer Emanuela Montanari choreographed by Russell Maliphant, and Mats Ek’s poignant Bye. Due to extraordinary public demand – the performances sold out in just five days – additional UK tour dates were added. “I have loved every moment of the last 39 years, and today, I am still loving it in the same way”, wrote Guillem in 2015. “So why stop? Very simply, because I want to end while I am still happy doing what I do with pride and passion.”

Guillem’s first contemporary performances on our stage were in 2004 for Broken Fall – a collaboration with fellow Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Russell Maliphant, and Michael Nunn and William Trevitt. It was followed by PUSH, a duet with Maliphant, which premiered here in 2005 (see no.9). She collaborated with Akram Khan for Sacred Monsters, which also premiered here in 2006, the same year she became an Associate Artist. In 2009, she collaborated with Robert Lepage and Maliphant for our production Eonnagata, with costumes by Alexander McQueen, while in 2011 she devised and performed in 6000 miles away, which we produced. It featured works by three of today’s most important choreographers; Mats Ek, William Forsythe, and Jiří Kylián. All these productions toured internationally to full houses and critical acclaim.

6. First Breakin’ Convention festival (2004)

Breakin’ Convention is the critically acclaimed powerhouse behind a hip hop theatre revolution. It all started in 2003, when artistic director Jonzi D had an idea that would shake up the UK theatre scene forever – a festival that brought together the best hip hop dance theatre performers from around the world on London’s doorstep. On 15 May 2004, Sadler’s Wells helped to make that dream a reality and Breakin’ Convention, the international festival of hip hop dance theatre, was born. The groundbreaking line-up saw artists such as Rennie Harris, Benji Reid, ZooNation, Boy Blue and the Electric Boogaloos performing to a sell-out audience hungry for a dance form that had been missing from the UK landscape. Today, Breakin’ Convention continues to push boundaries through its world-renowned festivals, international tours and education projects.

7. Hofesh Shechter: Uprising/ In Your Rooms (2007)

Hofesh Shechter Company: In Your Rooms (c) Ben Rudick.

Pulsating rhythms, exhilarating energy and excited audiences – we always know when Hofesh Shechter is in the building. One of the most exciting dance artists working today, Shechter’s talent was spotted early on by Artistic Director Alistair Spalding, who programmed his choreographic debut for the Sadler’s Wells stage, Uprising/ In your rooms, to much acclaim. A year later, Shechter established his own company and Sadler’s Wells commissioned Uprising/ In your rooms: The Choreographer’s Cut, a reworking of Shechter’s acclaimed double bill featuring a band of 20 musicians alongside a company of 17 dancers, which stormed London’s Roundhouse with two sold-out performances in March 2009.

8. New Adventures: Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands (2005)

Richard Winsor as Edward in New Adventures’ Edward Scissorhands (c) Bill Cooper.

Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures has produced some of the most successful dance shows of the last two decades. This game-changing company first came to Sadler’s Wells in 1993 with its Nutcracker!. In 1995, Matthew Bourne’s now-iconic production of Swan Lake premiered on our stage. But it was in 2005, as a newly-appointed Sadler’s Wells Resident Company, that New Adventures first brought its theatrical magic to our current theatre, with its unique twist on the bittersweet story of an outsider, Edward Scissorhands. While the company has occasionally appeared on our stage in the summer months, for example with The Car Man in 2015 and Dorian Gray in 2008, New Adventures productions have long been a regular and much-loved feature of our Christmas season – Swan Lake returns to our theatre in December.

9. Russell Maliphant and Sylvie Guillem: PUSH (2005)

Russell Maliphant and Sylvie Guillem in PUSH (c) Johan Persson.

PUSH was the very first Sadler’s Wells production and signalled the beginning of an exciting new chapter: Sadler’s Wells as a producing house. Choreographed by Russell Maliphant for himself and Sylvie Guillem (“a pairing made in heaven”, The Times), this modern-day classic went on to enjoy a 10-year tour across four continents – Europe, North America, Asia and Australia – with sold-out performances in cities from Paris to New York, Melbourne and Taipei, winning major awards including an Olivier. Since the premiere of PUSH, Sadler’s Wells has regularly produced new works, including major collaborations such as Sutra (Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui & Antony Gormley), Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake and Natalia Osipova’s Pure Dance. And, of course, there’s more to come – this season we’re excited to bring Reckonings and Dystopian Dream to our stage.

10. Crystal Pite: Polaris (2014)

Crystal Pite’s Polaris (c) Andrew Lang.

This extraordinary work choreographed by our Associate Artist Crystal Pite in 2014 involved 64 dancers drawn from her company, Kidd Pivot, as well as the London Contemporary Dance School and the Central School of Ballet. Part of See the Music, Hear the Dance, a mixed bill of dance works set to the music of composer Thomas Adès, Polaris saw Crystal orchestrate an organic mass of bodies, morphing and pulsating to the Adès piece of the same name.

11. Lucy Carter / Michael Hulls / Nitin Sawhney: No Body (2016)

This was a first for Sadler’s Wells. No Body was an immersive, multi-part and multi-room series of installations combining elements of a dance performance – lighting, design, sound and projection – while removing the physical presence of dancers. Different installations were dotted throughout the building, including in behind-the-scenes spaces not normally open to the public such as the stage, rehearsal studios and even our light store. Beginning with Michael Hulls’ visual installation LightSpace, audiences then embarked on a trail, including Nitin Sawhney’s sound and visual installation Indelible, spread across three of the foyers, lighting expert Lucy Carter’s three-part Hidden, and films by dance artists Siobhan Davies and Russell Maliphant.

12. National Youth Dance Company awarded to Sadler’s Wells (2012)

National Youth Dance Company present (in between) by Jasmin Vardimon (c) Tony Nandi 2013.

In February 2012, the Department for Education and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport published an independent review by Darren Henley with a key recommendation: ‘a new permanent National Youth Dance Company should be created and funded.’ Following an open application process, Sadler’s Wells was awarded the contract and formed the National Youth Dance Company in September 2012. Since then, every year dancers aged between 16 and 18, or up to 24 if deaf or disabled, work with a Guest Artistic Director during the school holidays to create a full-length dance piece that premieres and then goes on tour across the country each summer. In 2013, the first cohort premiered (in between), choreographed by Jasmin Vardimon. The 2018-19 company will work with Guest Artistic Director Botis Seva and are set to premiere their new work in spring 2019.

13. Company of Elders at Venice Biennale (2006)

Company of Elders, our resident company for the over-60s, has been challenging assumptions about dancing and age longer than our current building has been standing – it was established in 1989. A landmark moment came in 2006, when the company performed Natural, choreographed by Clara Andermatt, at the Venice Biennale in Italy. Increasingly in demand, the company performs regularly, including at our Elixir Festival, established in 2014 as a unique celebration of lifelong creativity. More recently, the ensemble performed in Japan last month as part of the Saitama Arts Festival.

14. Get into Dance launches (2015)

We want to share the best dance with the largest possible audience. As part of our commitment to access and inclusion, in 2015 we launched a new community engagement scheme to reach wider audiences within Islington, our borough. Working in partnership with local organisations, housing associations and community centres, the Get into Dance initiative offers local residents access to specially subsidised tickets. Earlier this year, a pilot Ambassadors’ scheme was launched to deepen the participants’ engagement with dance, with activities including skills training in dance writing, talks from dance specialists and invitations to behind-the-scenes experiences. Two of our Dance Ambassadors – local residents Janice and Kate – came to see Ballet British Columbia in March. Watch our film to find out what they thought.

15. Acosta Danza: Debut (2017)

Founded by Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta, Acosta Danza made its UK debut on our main stage in September 2017 as an International Associate Company of Sadler’s Wells. Acosta set up the company in Havana after retiring from The Royal Ballet. “Acosta Danza has been founded with the intention of paying tribute to the wealth of Cuban culture”, he said at the time of the launch. “It is an aspiration that has grown out of my vision as an artist, incorporating all that I have learned during the past 25 years of my professional career.” Acosta himself made a guest appearance as part of the Debut programme, which featured the UK premieres of works by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Goyo Montero, Jorge Crecis, Justin Peck and Marianela Boán.

16. Fashion, dance and film unite in MOVEment (2015)

Sadler’s Wells collaborated with AnOther Magazine to create a unique series of short films uniting fashion, dance and cinema in a radical new way. The series, titled MOVEment, saw seven of the biggest names in fashion create bespoke costumes for seven specially choreographed performances, interpreted for the screen by seven pioneering directors. The collaborations included dancers of our International Associate Company Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch with Prada (film by Kevin Frilet) and a performance by Nevena Jovanovic choreographed by our Associate Artist Jasmin Vardimon with costumes by Stephen Jones Millinery (film by Matthew Donaldson). MOVEment premiered in the Lilian Baylis Studio on 18 April 2015, and all the films are available to watch on the Sadler’s Wells website.

17. Dance in the open air

In 2008 we took to the fields of Suffolk for the first time as part of Latitude Festival. Our Sadler’s Wells Presents stage saw performances from Boy Blue Entertainment, Guari Sharma Tripathi and Wayne McGregor/ Random Dance. We’ve been back every year since, as part of an extensive programme of outdoor events, including regular appearances at Latitude and Wilderness, the Big Lunch/ Great Get Together in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Cally Fest in Islington, right on our doorstep. This summer was a first for us in programming a weekend takeover of the National Theatre’s River Stage.

18. Launch of Young Associates (2018)

Sadler’s Wells’ Young Associate Ruby Portus.

Nurturing artistic talent is an integral part of what we do. Recognising the need for more support to be given to those at the very outset of their dance-making careers, in February 2018 we welcomed our first Young Associates: Anthony Matsena, Wilhelmina Ojanen, Ruby Portus and Christopher Thomas. The Young Associate programme supports talented 18 to 24-year-olds, providing a crucial first step into their career as choreographers with a tailored programme of professional development, including the opportunity to present their work as part of our artistic programme. The initiative is the newest addition to our artist development programmes, supporting dance artists at every stage in their career. Our Young Associates premiered four new works as part of a Mixed Bill in the Lilian Baylis Studio this week.

19. A new visual identity to reflect a revitalised organization (2014)

Posters in the new Sadler’s Wells visual identity, spring 2015.

By 2014, Sadler’s Wells had evolved so much from the organisation it was when the theatre was rebuilt, but its visual identity had stayed the same. We commissioned design agency Red&White to give our brand a makeover, to reflect our increased role in supporting dance makers and in commissioning and producing new work. The brand refresh integrated Sadler’s Wells’ visual identity with the striking dance imagery of our productions and presentations. We were delighted that our new visual identity and communications materials won Silver in the Media category of the Design Business Association’s Design Effectiveness Awards 2018 in February.

20. Putting our community centre stage

Full Circle was premiered as part of the Destino triple bill on 12 March 2009. This was an ambitious and ground-breaking work involving 120 dancers, from primary school children to pensioners, choreographed by Dance United and accompanied by the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra. They were led by Addisu Demissie and Junaid Jemal Sendi, both born into poverty in Ethiopia, trained in contemporary dance by the Adugna dance project and connected to Sadler’s Wells via our Learning & Engagement team. More recent community productions have been similarly determined in scale. 2011’s Sum of Parts featured a huge cast of 150 dancers of all ages, choreographed by six Sadler’s Wells Associate Companies. Home Turf (video above) in 2016, a collaboration with West Ham United Foundation, explored the relationship between football and dance and was performed by a diverse cast of over 100 dancers.