Monthly Archives: June 2018

IN CONVERSATION WITH HOFESH SHECHTER: “The greatest gift I can give my audience is to always surprise them.”

Over the last 10 years, the work of Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter has surged in popularity. Today, he is one of the biggest names in the world of dance.

But his background may not be what you expect. Born in Jerusalem, he was required to serve in the military aged 18 and went on to study music in Paris while playing drums in a rock band.

It is little wonder, then, that Hofesh doesn’t see himself as a dance person, as he explains to David Jays ahead of bringing his critically-acclaimed Grand Finale back to Sadler’s Wells this July.

Hofesh: I never really saw myself, and probably still don’t, as a dance person. I came to dance almost by absolute chance. When I was 12 years old, if you told me the word ‘choreographer’ or ‘contemporary dance,’ I wouldn’t have known what it means. The way I arrived at it was just being a person in life. I knew there is something in art that is very engaging and I was very curious. But dance was not on my radar. I think I still feel like that. I was connected to dance works that spoke to me beyond the dance jargon, beyond the ‘tendus’ and ‘jetes’, and how high the leg goes, and how many pirouettes one is doing, but more on the emotional, human level. I needed to have that kind of impact.

David: You gained an audience very quickly. Your career had an accelerated, propulsive trajectory, as you expanded your work until it was being formed on a very large scale. Did you have a sense of who you were talking to, who your ideal audience was?

Hofesh: My audience is my imagined audience. I sit at home and I think, “this is for the people I don’t know,” and I would say one of my best imagined audience members is myself because I am the only person who is absolutely honest with me.

David: Everyone else brings their own baggage.

Hofesh: Yeah, they bring their own baggage, then I am a suspicious person. They say they like it and I don’t know. They say they don’t like it and maybe they do.

I need to make something that rocks my boat, that makes me feel excited and then it’s sort of like a trust element where you’re like, if that works for me, there’s at least a few people out there who it might work for as well.

Hofesh Shechter Company in rehearsal for Grand Finale

David: Knowing that you have a pool of people who enjoyed it first-time round, and would be open, hopefully, to coming again – does that change the way in which you continue to make work?

Hofesh: I never feel comfortable with feeling like I need to serve some sort of expectation, and that kind of tension with what I’ll call the ‘rock ‘n’ roll audience.’ It’s contemporary dance – contemporary, now, in the moment, responding to the now, responding to myself – and if now I am in a place where I feel connected to something, to a different kind of work and I don’t want it too noisy, or I want it to be looking inside, or to be very arty and minimalist, then I’ll do that. The greatest gift I can give my audience is to always surprise them.

David: There must have been bold choices that you made in early pieces, out of ignorance, that caution and experience might have actually held you back from?

Hofesh: In a way, the mistakes I’ve made are probably the best things that happened to the work, because mistakes also question the very idea of good work.

Our way of thinking, our way of seeing what is a harmonious, wholesome, or ‘good’ art is very dependent on our education. So the mistakes are interesting. You think, “wow, that was a harsh turn,” or “that doesn’t work, but it’s actually so interesting,” or “that’s just horrific and I’m sorry I did that, and I’ll probably pay the price in the next life if there was one.”

I feel that if I’m too careful, I just want to break everything – to throw everything down on the floor and break it. It’s actually a very important part of my process. That’s a very powerful energy.

Hofesh Shechter Company perform Grand Finale

David: We can’t end without talking about your fantastic dancers. Clearly you demand a lot of them and part of that is they give you psychic and emotional as well as physical material. How personal does the work feel to them?

Hofesh: One of the most important things for me is to be able to connect with the dancers on that human level. To feel that they move me with their choices in a way that makes me excited and feel powerful things.

I make a lot of movements. But I make it on their bodies, and then, like a mirror, it bounces back to me. I see how they do it, what they connect to, what they don’t. We speak about it very openly. They will tell me sometimes “I just don’t connect to that.” And they challenge me. I can see what I fight for, what I don’t. But the positive way that it works is that I will then ask them to improvise into that world.

Everyone is in a very sensitive place. Sometimes they can shut off from me. If they don’t give themselves, it’s not going to happen. But, in all honesty, they do give themselves. Oh my god, they give 150% of themselves. They put their hearts out there.

I think it shows in the work as well. They leave nothing on stage. They give everything.

Hofesh Shechter Company returns to Sadler’s Wells with Grand Finale from 4 – 7 July. Tickets are available now from £12 by calling the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or visiting sadlerswells.com

This is an edited version of an interview between Hofesh Shechter and critic David Jays, was recorded on 26 March 2018 and published online at theatrevoice.com. TheatreVoice is the leading audio resource for British theatre. Follow TheatreVoice on Facebook and Twitter @theatrevoices. Subscribe to the TheatreVoice podcast via iTunes.

Do you work in the performing arts? You can help with important research

Parents in Performing Arts (PiPA) are collaborating with Birkbeck, University of London to produce a unique and unprecedented survey focusing on the balance between obligations at work and at home of those in the performing arts. This includes those working across the industries of music, dance, opera and theatre, and PiPA are particularly interested in those with children or in a caring role.

The title of the survey is Balancing Act: Work/Life Survey. Birkbeck will be undertaking the data analysis, which will be used by PiPA to identify the primary challenges for those juggling caring for others and working in the performing arts, and design effective solutions for them.

The more respondents that PiPA can reach, the more accurate the dataset will be. It is therefore important that as many carers, parents and non-parents take part – if you work in the performing arts, please do take 15 minutes of your time to complete the survey and pass it on to any applicable friends or colleagues.

You can access the survey using this link. Please use the grey arrows in the bottom-right corner to navigate.

PiPA enables and empowers parents, carers and employers to achieve sustainable change in attitudes and practices in order to attract, support and retain a more diverse and flexible workforce. By working in partnership, including with Sadler’s Wells, they raise awareness, find creative solutions and promote best practice in the UK Performing Arts.

Sadler’s Wells strikes gold in Cally

Sadler’s Wells returned to Cally Fest this Sunday to present the Bus Stop Dance Floor in conjunction with our Rosebery Avenue neighbours Urdang Academy, a school for the performing arts.

Throughout the afternoon we enjoyed a series of performances and workshops from Artistry Youth Dance, the Flying Seagull Project and the students of Urdang. A particular highlight was City Academy’s swing workshop, which had generations of residents on their feet.

Cally Fest is an annual event in its eighth year celebrating the particularly vibrant Caledonian Road in the heart of Islington. The whole mile-and-a-half stretch of Caledonian Road was buzzing with energy as residents enjoyed a variety of poetry, food, music, sports and dancing.

This unique quarter of Islington has an especially rich and varied history and it was great to see so many local people taking to the streets. It is through the determined community spirit showcased by Cally Fest that the area has developed such a unique and irreplaceable identity.

Caledonian Road, or “the Cally” as it’s colloquially known, symbolises what can make London such an exciting and vibrant place to live. The resilience of its local community over generations has carved out a corner of the city that is particularly special.

We were delighted to see – among others – Islington’s mayor Cllr Dave Poyser strutting his stuff on our stage. Thanks to all involved, particularly our co-hosts Urdang, and everyone who came down on the day. Some photographic highlights are posted below.

Photo credit: Emma Bellerby.

Hofesh Shechter, OBE: a retrospective

We were delighted to hear that Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Hofesh Shechter was awarded an honorary OBE for Services to Dance in the Queen’s birthday honours list. In celebration of his achievements, we take a brief look at his life and work.

Born in Jerusalem, Hofesh first moved to the UK in 2002, after studying at the Jerusalem Academy for Dance and Music and performing with the Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv. His choreographic debut was in 2003 with Fragments, a piece that put him on the map in the world of dance and ultimately led to The Place Prize commissioning his sextet Cult, which won the Audience Choice Award in 2004.

In 2007, Sadler’s Wells, the Southbank Centre and the Place co-commissioned In your rooms, a piece both personal and political that Hofesh choreographed, wrote the score for and performed in. This played to a sold-out crowd at Sadler’s Wells and earned him the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Modern Choreography.

It was in 2008 that Hofesh was named Associate Artist at Sadler’s Wells, and he formed the Hofesh Shechter Company in tandem with Helen Shute and Colette Hansford the same year. Hofesh and his company have since created an array of inspiring work on our stage.

A major success for the company came in May 2010 when Hofesh’s first full-length work Political Mother premiered at the Brighton Festival, winning five-star reviews across the board. It toured the UK, and was expanded for a Choreographer’s Cut in 2011, eventually playing at Brixton Academy for a huge staging in a 5,000-capacity rock venue that received similarly ubiquitous praise.

Sun, an ecstatic exploration of order and chaos, darkness and light, came to Sadler’s Wells in 2014 after a premiere at the Melbourne Festival in Australia. The trilogy barbarians showcased trance-like energy exerted with Hofesh’s characteristic wit and wryness. #HOFEST was a four-week long season of performances, giving audiences the opportunity to experience the breadth of Hofesh Shechter Company’s ground-breaking work across four venues – Sadler’s Wells, the Royal Opera House, the O2 Academy Brixton and Stratford Circus. The bleakly comic Grand Finale was nominated for an Olivier Award and returns to our stage this July.

On receiving the honour, Hofesh said:

Being an immigrant in this country, I was always in awe of Britain’s generosity and inclusivity. My work has been supported here for many years by partners and the Arts Council and I was hoping that it gives back in return through the best of efforts and the highest possible quality art work that engages, challenges, questions and inspires. I am humbled, and, in all honesty, touched by this generous gesture of appreciation and recognition of this work we have done – for all these years I was surrounded with many others that worked tirelessly, with trust and belief, and this recognition is theirs just as much.

We are immensely proud of Hofesh and his creations. An honorary OBE for Services to Dance is the latest accolade for this outstanding artist.

Tickets to Grand Finale can be found on our website.
Photo credit: Jake Walters.

Interview with Alexandra Waierstall: “I was not allowed to take ballet classes as a kid”

This June, we are proud to introduce the work of German dance artist and choreographer Alexandra Waierstall to our Lilian Baylis Studio. Exploring our relationship to our environment and to each other, And Here We Meet intertwines movement, text and music by film composer Hauschka. In this interview, we speak to Alexandra to discover more about her as an artist, the creative process and the inspiration behind her work.

Tell us about your background as a dancer and choreographer
I studied dance in Holland, where I also did my MA in choreography. My training as a child was based on creative dance classes. My mother was also a dancer and choreographer and was one of those post-modernists at the time in the 80s, so I was not allowed to take ballet classes as a kid but I began with ballet later on. My main discipline comes from music. I studied the piano for 12 years before I decided to shift to dance. As a child, I started piano at three years old and when I turned 17, I decided to follow dance and choreography. Alongside this, I was also doing my creative dance classes with more of a kinaesthetic approach, authentic movement and creative play.

It sounds like your parents were quite important on your path to getting into dance…
My parents wanted me to become a musician so it was a big surprise to them when I actually decided to follow dance. It was the dancer Steve Paxton who inspired me to follow dance, and in particular a workshop I did with him when I was 16 where we worked with blind people. It was after this experience that I really felt I wanted to pursue dance.

The piece that you’re performing at Sadler’s Wells is called And Here We Meet. How did this work come to life?
I really wanted to make a piece with text so I started to develop this text exploring different potential endings of the world which would evoke an environmental consciousness and sensibility. I wanted to create choreography that would weave and align to this text. Two thirds of the work are text and movement together and the last third of the work is just movement and sound. It was a bit like editing a film, where the text, the sound and the moving body are completely choreographed in their co-dependency.

Where did the text come from?
It was inspired by a YouTube clip – a very trashy video pitching the potential end of the world in three minutes. I was fascinated because it was as if they were selling Coca Cola – it was very superficial but what they were saying was actually super interesting and traumatising. I’m interested in how material migrates from one form to another so I took the text out of the video and when I read it through, it was actually super poetic and very artistic. I changed the text but the base of it was inspired by this three minute YouTube video. I worked on it further with Dani (Dani Brown performs alongside Alexandra in And Here We Meet). So it was a joint process with Dani to create in its final form.

Our relationship with the environment is a prominent theme in your work. Why did you choose this subject matter?
I’ve been working on abandoned cities and hidden geographies and I’m always trying to find subjects that I can talk about that evoke a sense of reflection in the audience. I’m not trying to preach a certain way to think but I’m trying to mobilise in the audience a sense of awareness and responsibility. Our relationship with the environment comes with the responsibility that we carry in this world and for me, dance is a way of being and a way of moving in the world. It’s all about the relationship we have with each other, with the environment, with the place we live and the responsibility we carry.

You were born in England, lived in Cyprus and currently reside in Germany. How has living in these different environments influence your work?
I don’t have the sense of belonging to one place. My mother always said ‘you’re a child of the wind.’ My father is German, my mother is Cypriot, I was born in England and we spoke English at home but I spoke German with my father, and Greek with my mother. I went to Greek school. I had friends that spoke English. So it was always very mixed, very like the times that we live in today and also, I think, the future. I’m really interested in this in-between space of being and how a sense of home, comes from where the heart is.

You’re collaborating with the pianist and composer Hauschka on the music in this piece. How collaborative has that process been and what can audiences expect it to sound like?
Hauschka writes music for films and he’s best-known for his film compositions. The sound is a bit like film music in a way. I don’t want to spoil too much but it has a dark feeling in the beginning and a very euphoric and melodic feeling towards the end. How you hear the music is also dependant on the text that you’re hearing because it’s happening at the same time. As I did the sound design and he composed the music, how we timed it in the collaboration was very much choreographed in relation to the text that is being spoken so at times it’s very dramatic and sometimes it’s very abstract. It’s actually super complex and beautiful.

How important is thinking about the past and questioning the future in informing your work?
Dance and choreography are really about the present moment, encompassing all its potential of where it’s moving towards the future and all it holds and carries with the past. So I see them as very interconnected.

What message do you hope audiences will take away from your show at Sadler’s Wells?
Just making them able to connect back to themselves and trigger feelings and a sensibility and sensitivity towards who we are and where we are moving to.

And Here We Meet comes to the Lilian Baylis Studio on 14 & 15 June. Tickets just £17*, by calling the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

*Transaction fee applies. Max £3.

Sadler’s Wells wins FEDORA prize

We are delighted to announce that William Forsythe’s A Quiet Evening of Dance, a new commission by Sadler’s Wells, has won the 2018 FEDORA Van Cleef & Arpels Prize for ballet.

Forsythe’s ground-breaking production was chosen by the expert jury as having most closely represented FEDORA’s values of innovation and creativity. The award is propitiously timed, as A Quiet Evening of Dance forms part of our ’20 for 20’ series of commissions celebrating 20 years of Sadler’s Wells in our current Rosebery Avenue theatre.

The programme includes new and existing pieces performed by some of Forsythe’s most trusted collaborators, who aim to provide insight into the workings of ballet and the mind of the man that has dedicated his artistic life to furthering the art form. Exploring new shapes and modes of movement, the evening features artist Rauf “RubberLegz” Yasit, who is known for his unique breaking style and contortion abilities.

FEDORA, a European Circle of Philanthropists of Opera and Ballet, is a non-profit organisation that aims to promote excellence and innovation in the two art forms. It has awarded two annual prizes for opera and ballet since 2014. The organisation coordinates 80 cultural bodies across 20 European countries in order to create a Europe-wide platform for the celebration of opera and ballet in all its forms. Since 2017, FEDORA has received funds from Creative Europe, the European Commission’s programme of support for the cultural sector.

A Quiet Evening of Dance is showing at Sadler’s Wells from 4 to 6 October 2018. It is co-produced with Théâtre de la Ville-Paris, le Théâtre du Châtelet, Festival d’Automne à Paris, Festival Montpellier Danse 2019, Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, The Shed, New York, Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens, and deSingel, Antwerp. Tickets are available on the Sadler’s Wells website.

Image: William Forsythe, Sibylle Gallardo-Jammes and Alistair Spalding. Credit Susanne Schramke. 

Sadler’s steps into summer

Sadler’s Wells takes to the streets this summer with a dazzling programme of events across London and the UK. As part of our ongoing work bringing dance into the community, we will be hosting and participating in events across numerous outdoor stages, hoping to make the most of the dancing weather. 

Cally Festival
Sunday 17 June

Cally Festival takes over one of Islington’s most iconic streets, Caledonian Road, for a free day of activities celebrating our local neighbourhood. Sadler’s Wells co-hosts the Bus Stop Stage with Urdang, an academy training young people in dance and performance. The programme features performances from Artistry Youth Dance Artistic Director Kamara Gray, the Flying Seagulls and street dance choreographer Neo, as well as the students from Urdang. There will be workshops from our monthly group for young children and adults, Family Fridays, as well as La Escuela de Baile, a flamenco school led by Artistic Director Nuria Garcia.

Soul in the City
Saturday 23 June

Old Men Grooving joins the Finsbury Park Community Hub as part of the Islington-wide Soul in the City festival. This is a workshop aimed at classic dance lovers, intended to (re)introduce people to their groove via a selection of memorable tunes from the 1950s through to the 1980s. Old Men Grooving – a group of five men aged 40 to 60 brought together by a shared love of dance – have featured on Britain’s Got Talent and live by the ethos that good music never gets old.

The Great Get Together
Sunday 24 June

The Great Get Together is a nationwide event bringing London’s diverse communities together, inspired by the late Jo Cox MP. Sadler’s Wells presents a family-friendly programme of music and dance in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, including performances and workshops from hip hop dance powerhouse Breakin’ Convention, Tim Casson’s interactive dance performance The Dance WE Made and a moving female trio by Tavaziva Dance which communicates a universal message about human fragility within our changing world.

Lilian Baylis Arts Club rub-a-dub
Wednesday 4 July

Our resident weekly dance club for the over-60s takes to the Islington Assembly Hall for a day of activities supported by All Change. Learn how to dance to ska and rocksteady in our rub-a-dub workshop curated by David Hamilton, co-founder of Phoenix Dance Company whose recent show Windrush: Movement of the People played at the Peacock Theatre to critical acclaim.

Latitude
Thursday 12 – Sunday 15 July

Sadler’s Wells returns to Suffolk’s popular Latitude festival for the eleventh year to showcase dance on the Waterfront Stage. National Youth Dance Company make a pit-stop on their national tour to perform Used To Be Blonde, choreographed by Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Sharon Eyal, and audiences can see an exclusive preview from Sylvia; an Old Vic, Sadler’s Wells and ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company production, choreographed by Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Kate Prince and co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW. We’re also looking forward to rising star Jamaal Burkmar‘s new company Extended Play, which will be going back-to-back with Humanhood as a double bill.

Open Doors: Vote 100
Sunday 22 July

A free day of fun and entertainment at Here East, celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage with performances, talks and activities. Open Doors: Vote 100 is the first event devised and delivered in tandem with all of our partners in the recently-announced cultural and education district in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park: the BBC, UAL’s London College of Fashion, V&A, Smithsonian Institution and UCL. Expect a diverse programme of film and music, dance and poetry, displays and debate.

National Theatre River Stage
Friday 27 – Sunday 29 July

Throughout the summer, the National Theatre’s River Stage hosts a series of takeovers from companies across the spectrum of the arts, including music, theatre, film, circus and dance. Our turn at the helm is a weekend dedicated to dance in all its forms. Breakin’ Convention – the award-winning and critically acclaimed hip hop dance powerhouse that celebrated its 15th anniversary this year – open on Friday night with Freestyle Funk Forum, an hour of improvised theatre that’s hip hop’s answer to ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’. Step Change Studios will be showcasing ballroom dance by disabled and non-disabled dancers, and visitors can take part in family-friendly sessions including flamenco, Lindy hop and a ceilidh. Vidya Patel and Shammi Pithia present their new work Converse for the first time and Dotdotdot Dance, the UK-based flamenco dance company co-founded in 2014 by Magdalena Mannion, Noemí Luz and Yinka Esi Graves, presents live music and a variety of works including When Viola Met Margas and Into Being. More information and a full line-up can be found on the National Theatre’s website.

Wilderness Festival
Thursday 2 – Sunday 5 August

Sadler’s Wells returns to the eclectic Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire with a pick of dance acts, including Janine Harrington’s playful and interactive dance-puzzle STACK and Hofesh Shechter’s lauded Clowns, performed by Shechter’s new junior company Shechter II.

Photo credit: Casson & Friends, The Dance WE Made. 

Step Change Studios breaks the barriers to Ballroom

Inclusive dance company Step Change Studios recently premiered Fusion, the UK’s first inclusive ballroom showcase, in partnership with Sadler’s Wells. The show featured 20 disabled and non-disabled dancers, creating a synthesis of dance that aimed to redefine the genre. Audience members were resoundingly positive and described Fusion as ‘dance at its best’ and ‘incredible; produced a profound effect’. In this first-hand account, cast Member Amy Trigg shares her experience of working with the show and the wider world of the inclusive dance community. 

In 2006, I was sitting outside the staff room waiting for my dance teacher. I was the only wheelchair user at my school and Lisa, my dance teacher, was reaching out to the GCSE exam board to find out if I could be a GCSE dance student. I already knew that Lisa wouldn’t be taking ‘no’ for an answer. In September 2006 I became the first wheelchair-using GCSE dance student at my school – and I hope I’m not the last.

I’ve often been the only disabled person in the room. I never thought that was a problem until I started working in rooms where I was no longer ‘other’. It is a wonderful thing to be surrounded by people who have shared the same human experiences. It’s one of the reasons why I loved being part of Fusion at Sadler’s Wells – the UK’s first inclusive ballroom show, produced by Step Change Studios.

I hadn’t worked with Step Change Studios before Fusion. I’d heard of their work and read about them online. The inclusive arts community is small. If we don’t know each other, then we know of each other. Perhaps we don’t immediately recognise one another, but we can always discover common links and threads. Imagine going to a massive family barbeque where you don’t know anyone’s names, but you know that you’re all cousins.

I worked with the wonderful choreographer Ivana Ostrowski on my rumba solo. I had never done this style of dance before and was a little apprehensive. I come from a musical theatre background; I trained at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts and have mainly worked in plays, TV and musicals. Recently I’ve done some more lyrical work but rumba? Nope. Ivana was brilliant at breaking everything down for me. We made the dance quirky and full of character to compliment my style and make the transition into rumba less abrupt. Ivana hadn’t worked with a wheelchair-using dancer before so it felt like we were both baking the cake together.

Everyone at Sadler’s Wells was welcoming and enthusiastic about Step Change Studios and their work. Sometimes it’s a risk being a disabled artist in a show promoting inclusive work. Will it become a pity party? Will it become inspiration porn? Well, if you were at the show then you’ll know that it was neither of those things. Yes, it was inspiring, but not because we were disabled people who’d managed to integrate ourselves into the muggle world. It was inspiring because the standard of the work was good. Very good. And I’m not tooting my own horn, I’m tooting everyone else’s. I got to watch the show on a screen backstage and the whole time I was thanking the Inclusive Gods that so much thought, time and talent had gone into making the show.

Being a part of Fusion has encouraged me to look into other dance styles. For most of my training and early career I was the only wheelchair dancer in my little bubble.  I created my own vocabulary and adaptations, but I realise now that I don’t always have to do it alone. Many dancers have adapted and refined their work before me, and now I feel in a position to take advantage of that.

In the future I hope that we don’t need inclusive dance shows. I hope we just have dance shows. Until then I’m going to relish in championing companies like Step Change Studios, Candoco, StopGap, Graeae, Ramps on the Moon, Birds of Paradise Theatre Company and many more who are creating quality, accessible work with disabled and non-disabled artists. Thank you Step Change Studios for including me in Fusion. What an exciting time.

A trailer for Fusion can be seen below:

Photo credit: Stephen Wright Photography.

Film credit: David Kaplowitz.