Monthly Archives: May 2018

What do you think of the arts today? Please help us with some research

Do you sometimes see a dance show and wonder ‘what did that mean?’. Or maybe you’ve visited a modern art gallery and thought ‘I could have done that!’?

Sadler’s Wells is a partner in a research project aiming to better understand audiences for the contemporary arts – and we are looking for audience members to take part in an interview with the project’s researcher, Dr Sarah Price.

The interview will last around 45 minutes at a time to suit you, between Wednesday 18th to Sunday 22nd July, and Sarah will ask questions such as: what kind of arts events do you go to? How did you become interested in the arts? What do the arts mean to you?

There are no right or wrong answers and there is no need to prepare anything. We just want to hear your thoughts and experiences. As a thank you, anyone taking part in an interview will receive a £10 voucher.

For more information, and to apply, visit the research website page and just scroll down to fill in the form, which should only take a few minutes to complete.

‘Understanding Audiences for the Contemporary Arts’ is a 2.5 year research project undertaken by researchers at the University of Sheffield and Newcastle University, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to explore how people engage with contemporary dance, theatre, music, visual art and everything in between. This project is being run in partnership with arts organisations in Birmingham, London, Liverpool, Bristol and Sheffield.

The final research will help all the partners understand our current and potential audiences better, and we’ll be able to use the findings to test our audience development initiatives, so that we can recruit new audiences and enhance the experiences of attenders.

Watch Akram Khan in new digital art film XEN

Sadler’s Wells has commissioned Associate Artist Akram Khan to create a short film, XEN, inspired by XENOS, his final new full-length solo which receives its UK premiere at Sadler’s Wells on 29 May 2018.

Watch the full film below:

Created especially for the screen, XEN is a reimagined version of Akram Khan’s live performance, and is a response to XENOS’ evocation of the shell-shocked dream of a colonial soldier in the context of the First World War.

Meaning ‘stranger’ or ‘foreigner’, XENOS takes place where humanity stands in wonder and disarray, on the border between East and West, past and present, mythology and technology. The live production of XENOS reveals the beauty and horror of the human condition and seeks to express tales of loss, hope and redemption, through a movement language that shifts between classical kathak and contemporary dance.

XEN is produced by Illuminations for Sadler’s Wells, and is part of Sadler’s Wells’ commitment to developing new forms of dance which reach new audiences.

Akram Khan is one of the most celebrated and highly regarded dance makers working today. He has collaborated with artists including actress Juliette Binoche, ballerina Sylvie Guillem, choreographers/dancers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Israel Galván, singer Kylie Minogue, visual artists Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley and Tim Yip, writer Hanif Kureishi and composers Steve Reich, Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook and Ben Frost. A career highlight was the creation of a section of the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, set to Emeli Sandé’s rendition of Abide with Me.

Akram Khan became a Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist in 2005. Sadler’s Wells has co-produced many works with Akram Khan Company, including his acclaimed solo work DESH.

XENOS was commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary. It is part of Sadler’s Wells’ 20th anniversary celebrations, and is among 20 commissions celebrating 20 years of the current building, which opened in 1998.

Roberta Jean on Movement, Mindfulness and Musical Collaborations

Poetry and intimacy can be found in Roberta Jean’s latest dance work, Brocade, performed by an all-female ensemble in our Lilian Baylis Studio this spring. Taking inspiration from historical and contemporary notions of craft and physical work, Roberta fuses sonic textures and catwalk style staging for her London debut. As a choreographer and dance artist, Roberta’s work is influenced by her practices in yoga and mindfulness, as well as fusing live music elements from her experience as a singer. We spoke to Roberta to find out more…

Tell us about your style of choreography.
This is born out of an exploratory process whereby the dancers and I collaborate to investigate what movement can be and how we collectively understand it. Development through repetition is also a key aspect of my work. My influences are drawn from many art forms and creative disciplines, which I think comes through strongly in my work, but I would note the work of Rosemary Butcher, Lucinda Childs, Meredith Monk and Meg Stuart in particular as having a deep impact on me.

Where did you draw inspiration for your latest work, Brocade?
The ambition for Brocade was initially born out of a desire to explore a certain kind of alchemy between movement and sound by bringing sound-based practitioners and dancers into the same space. In relation to the physicality of the work, I was interested in how we as dancers, can relate to different types of dexterous and physical labour/work. We aren’t trying to mimic these physical actions, but due to our research into these subjects, these actions become ghosted through our bodies in the performance.

For this latest work, the audience will be seated on two sides of the stage in our Lilian Baylis Studio. Why have you decided to configure the performance space in this way?
Brocade is choreographed as a loom of movement weaving by and around an audience. As an audience member, there is something joyous about experiencing these fleeting moments on a continual loop that stretches down a catwalk. You can feel us move the air around you.

The production features live music by Angharad Davies. What can we expect it to sound like?
Angharad is a violinist and improviser whose craft has had a huge impact on the way we worked as dancers. Her precision, attention to detail, the expressivity and range of sounds she can generate, and the way she gets to the core of an idea was incredibly inspiring for us. Having worked with Angharad for some time now, I’d like to think that we – the dancers – have in some small way informed aspects of her approach to music making. Collectively we have a shared language, which by degrees, reveals itself during the performance and includes my own looped vocalisations. I am a dancer and a singer and happy to be working with voice for Brocade. You can hear an example of this in our latest film work based around Brocade – Lace.

You are open about overcoming depression and anxiety. Do you think dance has a role to play in improving mental well-being?
Absolutely. I think there is a real value in dance practice for non-dancers, and strictly in terms of physical and mental well-being, I believe dance can offer people something similar to yoga. Although somatic based practice has mostly been experienced by a niche group of people to date (mainly dancers), I predict more spaces for movement exploration will open up alongside gyms and yoga studios. Gill Clarke’s call for traders of mindful motion is becoming a reality. Negotiation of a career as a dance artist can be difficult, especially if you struggle with anxiety and depression. Depression runs on my father’s side of the family. He was a contemporary/jazz dancer, we became estranged when I was a teenager, and he experienced depression and bouts of homelessness but kept it all hidden. I’m relieved to be living in a time where people can be more open about their emotional setbacks and afflictions. I think about the renowned photographer, Francesca Woodman. She committed suicide at the age of twenty-two, and it is believed that the depression she suffered from was exacerbated by a lack of recognition surrounding her work. One part of a complex recovery process for me was about learning how to cultivate a sense of peace outside of perceived notions of ‘success’ or ‘failure’.

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Rome, Italy, 1977-1978

You are also a trained yoga teacher! How does this influence your work as a choreographer?
There isn’t an alternative to sports psychology in professional dance, so incorporating mindfulness and yoga into my practice has been crucial for me to be able to continue as a professional. Practicing with empathy and care towards others and myself is really important to me. I don’t think about myself as some kind of ‘guru director’ with all the answers. I need to be able to be vulnerable in front of the people I work with in a studio, making mistakes and contradicting myself, just as a visual artist would do working in isolation.

There is a meditative quality to Brocade – we are practicing with mindfulness strategies, it’s an extremely cardiovascular focused work, and we’re close, vulnerable, and exhausting ourselves right in front of the audience.

Brocade runs in the Lilian Baylis Studio on 31 May & 1 June. Tickets are available now priced at £17. Call the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Grand Finale: Behind the Music

Music is an intrinsic part of the work of our Associate Artist, Hofesh Shechter. The Guardian describe his 2010 production of Political Mother as being, “more like a rock concert than a contemporary dance show.” His latest work, Grand Finale, like many other of his shows features an electrifying and atmospheric original score composed by Hofesh himself.

“I want the musicians to exist in their own bubble…” says Hofesh. “Whilst the chaos is happening around them, whilst the world is falling apart, whilst the titanic is sinking, they are the band, they are the ones that just keep the humanity, that keep the simplicity, that keep the beauty. No matter what happens on stage – people die, come back to life, go insane – you know there is beauty…”

Grand Finale is set to make a thundering return to Sadler’s Wells this July after receiving much acclaim when it premiered last autumn. Shechter created this apocalyptic vision of the world from a curiosity in observing the news, current world events and the cycle of chaos, crisis and calm which can be felt in his choreography.

Chris Allan, one of the musicians in Grand Finale says, “The idea that the ‘band plays on’ is a strong element – the show closes with the same material as the beginning, it is like a living breathing continuum….We are a living entity in the midst of chaos.”

Dancer Chien-Ming Chien joined the company in 2008 and describes Hofesh’s score for his latest work during the rehearsal period. “For me this piece has music that feels wide – some electronic, some classical, some voices. It doesn’t make me feel heavy. There is beauty and passion in the music he’s played us so far…”

Listen to some of the music featured in Grand Finale below:

Grand Finale returns to Sadler’s Wells from 4 – 7 July. Tickets are available now priced from £12 by calling the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Over-60s Tap into dancers’ knowledge

Australian dance company The Tap Pack enthused members of our over-60 Lilian Baylis Arts Club (LBAC) last week with a workshop inspired by the smash hit show they recently presented at The Peacock.  Three dancers from the troupe entertained 20 LBAC members, sharing their in-depth knowledge of tap with them and leading them in a practical dance session.

Cast member Jesse Rasmussen has previously toured with Beyoncé and ran two hip hop dance companies. He has a wide range of professional credits in live entertainment, commercial dance and within the film and television industry, including on Australia’s So You Think You Can Dance, the Australian tour of Hot Shoe Shuffle, Peter Jackson’s King Kong and George Millar’s Happy Feet.

Thomas J Egan, another of the The Tap Pack dancers, worked as a commercial dancer in Sydney with Kylie Minogue, Delta Goodrem, Timomatic, Jessica Mauboy, X-Factor, Australia’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance and Channel V. He also appeared in Baz Luhrmann’s film The Great Gatsby, landing his first world-wide tour with Tap Dogs in the same year.

Kevin Smith is Company Stage Manager with The Tap Pack and has over 18 years’ experience in the entertainment industry. Kevin has performed in worldwide venues including the Sydney Opera House, the Vaudeville Theatre, the National Theatre Wales, Wales Millennium Centre and Birmingham Hippodrome.

Jesse, Thomas and Kevin pooled their experience to offer a memorable and exciting session for all involved. See the video below for a glimpse of the infectious energy they brought to the LBAC.


From Tap workshops to behind the scenes talks with musical directors, LBAC is our weekly over-60s session. Running on an academic timetable (Sep – July), membership costs £20 which can be paid over the counter at our Ticket Office. To find out more – visit the Sadler’s Wells website


Portraits in Otherness: Meet the Artists

Four uniquely different dance artists will take to the stage in the Lilian Baylis Studio this June to perform a solo work as part of Portraits in Otherness. Mentored by Akram Khan Company Producer Farooq Chaudhry, they will each embody their distinctive dance styles to represent a new generation of dance artists in two double bills across four evenings.

In this blog, we meet the artists and discover more about their work…

Dickson Mbi
Street dance artist Dickson Mbi is renowned in the hip hip community for his popping skills, strong personality, powerful movement and positive attitude. For his latest work, entitled Duende, Dickson makes the transition to contemporary dance as captured in the BBC Four Danceworks documentary (watch here). Originally a term associated with Flamenco, Duende invites you to connect with the spirit of the artist, as he conquers the habit of concealment to reveal something of the soul’s living history. We are all visitors in the object world, stepping in and out of the light of reality. Through the ritual of dance, Duende reveals a fairy tale, animating a certain emotion from these moments of light.

Ching-Ying Chien
Initial inspiration for this piece came from an old myth about vultures. It is said that nobody ever sees the body of a deceased vulture. When a vulture knows its life is close to ending it will fly high up towards the sun and melt away into nothing. True or not, this has been the inspiration for Vulture by Ching-Ying Chien, who is originally from Taiwan. In 2017, she won the Outstanding Female Performance (Modern) award for her performance in Akram Khan Company’s Until the Lions at the UK National Dance Awards. As human beings, we feel a need to understand our surroundings and question our existence in a way that other creatures simply don’t/can’t. Vulture explores the life cycle, flaws and triumphs of the human, but from the eyes of an animal.

Joy Alpuerto Ritter
L.A. born dancer and choreographer Joy Alpuerto Ritter takes inspiration Mary Wigman’s Witch Dance in her piece BABAE. Combining roots in Philippine folk dance, classical training and vocabulary of hip hop & voguing, BABAE is a one-woman interplay between the animalistic and sensual qualities of ritual and mightiness. It examines inherited vocabularies and reconfigures the meaning of summoning the power and mystical practices of woman as witch. It’s set to this electro-orchestral sounds of Italian composer Vincenzo Lamagna who has worked with some of the most acclaimed choreographers of this generation.

Maya Jilan Dong
Whip takes its inspiration from the “Whip Dance”, one of the most popular folk dances of the Bai – an ethnic minority living in the Yunnan province in southwest of China. Amongst seventy-four other folk dances, the “Whip Dance” is charged and knitted with Bai’s history and customs. It represents their humor, primitive simplicity, elegance and energy. Only a few Bai people know the most primitive version and Whip is a modern and personal interpretation instilling a new breath into a secular dance tradition. It represents Maya Jilan Dong’s homeland and conveys the aspirations of many people. Whip is an international collaboration with the talented London based Hong Kong composer Joanne Clara.

Portraits in Otherness runs in the Lilian Baylis Studio from 5 – 8 June. Tickets are just £17 and available by calling the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Sadler’s Wells joins The Old Vic’s 200th birthday party

Today is The Old Vic’s 200th birthday and Sadler’s Wells, which shares historic links with the Waterloo-based theatre, will be taking part in the celebrations marking the milestone anniversary this weekend. As part of The Old Vic’s Bicentenary Open House event on Saturday 12 May, Sadler’s Wells staff will join a procession from the National Theatre to The Old Vic, with a marching band and special performances along the way – including a short opera performance celebrating The Old Vic’s historic connections with us, the National Theatre and English National Opera.

Sadler’s Wells shares part of its long and colourful history with The Old Vic. Our common thread is deeply entwined with the life of one extraordinary woman: Lilian Baylis. The theatrical entrepreneur’s belief that art should belong to everybody underpinned her management of both theatres. Baylis wanted tickets to be “affordable by artisans and labourers” and the fact that, like the Old Vic, Sadler’s Wells was surrounded by working-class communities appealed to her passion for social outreach.

At the turn of the 20th Century, both The Old Vic (then officially the Royal Victoria Hall and Coffee Tavern) and Sadler’s Wells were experiencing a dip in their popularity. After suffering conversion into a skating rink and then a cinema at the end of the 19th Century, Sadler’s Wells closed its doors in 1915 and was then neglected to the point of dereliction. After taking over management of The Old Vic in 1912, Baylis re-emphasised the Shakespearean repertoire – a welcome change after a period of temperance – and in 1931 re-opened Sadler’s Wells to great fanfare.

The two theatres acted as sister venues for a while. “For four years, drama productions, opera and ballet shuttled between the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells until Baylis decided to dedicate Sadler’s Wells to opera and ballet for eight months of the year and give the Vic-Wells Ballet a permanent base,” wrote dance critic Sarah Crompton.

“The new season opened on 27th September 1935 to great acclaim, with one critic noting ‘the splendid dancing of the young newcomer Miss Margot Fonteyn, who has a compelling personality and exceptional gifts, though only just 16.’

Whilst opera continued to be important (Peter Grimes premiered at the Wells in 1945), it was in this period that Sadler’s Wells became most strongly associated with dance. It was where De Valois founded British ballet here and built both a company of dancers and a repertory that included her own works and those of Frederick Ashton and Robert Helpmann. She also founded a school which remained throughout World War II, when the theatre was itself acting as a refuge for the homeless.

At the end of the war, De Valois took her fledging ballet company to Covent Garden to become the Royal Ballet. However, her touring ballet company, known first as the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, then the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, remained until 1955 and returned from 1970 to 1990 before moving permanently to Birmingham to become the Birmingham Royal Ballet.”

Lilian Baylis and her two pups; University of Bristol Theatre Collection. 

The latest collaboration between Sadler’s Wells and The Old Vic centres on another trailblazing woman: the suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst. Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW as part of a series of works commemorating the Great War, Sylvia is choreographed by our Associate Artist Kate Prince and set at the end of the war, when gender roles in society were being revised and women were agitating for long-overdue change to the distribution of political power. With original music by Josh Cohen and DJ Walde, Sylvia’s story has had a modern injection of hip-hop, soul and funk.

The production is closely tied to the Mayor of London’s #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign, commemorating the centenary of the first women in the UK winning the right to vote. A number of cast members from the production recently performed in Parliament Square to celebrate the unveiling of a statue of Millicent Fawcett created by Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing OBE. Fawcett’s is the first statue of a woman to have been erected in the historic square.

One hundred years after the 1918 Representation of the People Act and two hundred years after the establishment of The Old Vic, our two theatres are marching arm-in-arm with a series of partners and supporters for a celebratory parade of the arts as a force for good in the community, for the community. Lilian would no doubt be proud.

Life is a Dream: In Quotes

This May, Rambert Dance Company return to Sadler’s Wells with a stunning new work by the Olivier Award-winning Danish Choreographer Kim Brandstrup and inspired by Pedro Calerdon de la Barca’s Spanish Golden Age play Life is a Dream. As we prepare to be transported to a dream-like world in this brand new production, we take a look at some quotes from famous writers, musicians and filmmakers on the theme of ‘dreams’…

“What is life? A madness. What is life? An illusion, a shadow, a story. And the greatest good is little enough; for all life is a dream, and dreams themselves are only dreams.” Pedro Calderon de la Barca

“Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy.” Sigmund Freud

Life is a Dream in rehearsal

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” William Shakespeare

“Lose your dreams and you might lose your mind.” Mick Jagger

“All human beings are also dream beings. Dreaming ties all mankind together.” Jack Kerouac

Life is a Dream in rehearsal

“I have dreamed in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind.” Emily Brontë

“But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” William Butler Yeats

Life is a Dream in rehearsal.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” J. K. Rowling

“I can’t remember any dreams in my life. There’s so much strange in real life that it often seems like a dream.” Tim Burton

Life is a Dream runs at Sadler’s Wells from 22 – 26 May. Tickets are available now priced from £12 by calling the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or visit our website.

Help Sadler’s Wells win €100,000

Sadler’s Wells has commissioned a new work from one of the world’s most renowned choreographers, William Forsythe, and this production has been shortlisted for the FEDORA prize – with a potential €100,000 prize attached.

For Sadler’s Wells to be eligible, we are required to create a crowd-funding campaign to raise €10,000, which would allow us to take this exciting production on tour to smaller venues throughout Europe.

There are a range of benefits available for anyone donating €10 or above to this campaign, with donations starting at €5.

Donate €25 and you’ll receive a personalised email from our Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding and a digital programme booklet of A Quiet Evening of Dance.

Donate €150 and as well as the above benefits, you’ll also receive two exclusive production photos, exclusive access to a filmed Q&A with Alistair Spalding and William Forsythe, and one year of Sadler’s Wells membership.

To donate, please visit the FEDORA website, and select the amount you’re able to give.

William Forsythe’s A Quiet Evening of Dance will be a combination of new and existing work, performed by seven of Forsythe’s most trusted collaborators, who promise to provide insight into the workings of ballet and the mind of the man who has dedicated his work to this task.

The FEDORA Platform is a collection of cultural institutions from across Europe. Sadler’s Wells has been a member of FEDORA since 2015 and we are very excited to be one of four nominees for this prestigious prize. The prize, a grant of €100,000, will be given to the project the jury feel most closely articulates the Platform’s values of innovation and creativity.


Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan are known for their spectacular set designs and stunning choreography, fusing influences from Asian culture and tradition and often incorporating projection and poetry to offer audiences a multi-sensory experience. Their latest piece, Formosa, is a tribute to the beauty of the island of Taiwan and will be the last production with choreographer Lin Hwai—min at the helm, having spent 45 years as Artistic Director of the company. Here we reflect on some of their most impressive works to have visited the Sadler’s Wells stage…

1. Songs of the Wonderers (2016)

An epic work inspired by Buddhist meditation and the quest for enlightenment. A single element constitutes the set: three and a half tonnes of golden rice! The landscape it creates – by raining down on the stage, being thrown in the air by the dancers or shaped into beautiful patterns by a rice rake – defines the performance as much as the dancers’ movements.

2. Nine Songs (2014)

Based on a series of classical Chinese poems by Qu Yuan, Nine Songs draws on ancient imagery and sensibilities to create a thoroughly contemporary piece. Like the poems, the dance reflects the cycles of nature. The first half moves from day to night, from the bright and powerful Sun God to the dark Gods of Fate who bring deceit and abuse to the human world. The second half of the work follows the seasons.

3. Rice (2014)

Co-produced by Sadler’s Wells, Rice was created to celebrate Cloud Gate’s 40th anniversary, and is inspired by the landscape and story of Chihshang in the East Rift Valley of Taiwan. Previously tainted by the use of chemical fertilizer, this farming village has now regained its title as Land of Emperor Rice by adopting organic farming. Featuring folksongs in Hakka – the oldest among the existing Chinese dialects – and operatic arias from the West, this is a stunning, thought provoking piece of dance.

4. Moonwater (2008)

Set to Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello, Moon Water is a contemporary exploration of Qi Kong, an ancient form of breathing exercise. Towards the end the stage is quietly flooded with water. A wall of mirrors upstage reflects the soaked dancing bodies and their images on the water. The only sound is of water gently flowing over the rim of the stage.

5. Wild Cursive (2007)

For this piece, choreographer Lin Hwai-Min drew choreographic ideas from Kuang Chao, ‘wild calligraphy’, which is considered the pinnacle in Chinese cursive aesthetics and frees characters from any set form and exposes the spiritual state of the writer in its expressive abstraction.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan return to Sadler’s Wells with their production Formosa, from 9 – 12 May. Tickets are avaialble now priced from £12 by calling the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 our by visiting our website.