Monthly Archives: July 2018

Recreating Carmen: In Conversation with Director Christopher Renshaw

Since her “birth” in 1845, Carmen has experienced a variety of transformations and conquered every possible art form such as opera, theatre and film. What makes this character so attractive?

Christopher Renshaw: Independence and lust for life are so very attractive. It is Carmen’s determination – that her inner and outer freedom will never be compromised – that makes her a force of Nature and a unique free spirit. She refuses to abide by social or sexual norms.

Carmen is a rebel without regard to consequences; she will never surrender her freedom of choice or independence of spirit. Perhaps much of her popularity is derived from audiences, who may long to live more like Carmen? What is so important to me about Carmen is she that never allows her self to be victimised. However tragic her fate, she walks towards it of her own freewill, declaring herself to be, as she always wanted, “la Reina de la Havana”

In your version, the character of Carmen is transformed again since the plot takes place in Cuba. How did this idea come up and how did it become a reality?

Christopher Renshaw: I was very inspired by the wonderful Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte film 1954 Carmen Jones, and had been wanting, for quite a while, to find a way of transposing the action, and indeed the music, to a Latin American setting. It was only when meeting Jon Lee in Havana in 2013, that finally everything clicked. As soon as I landed, and was taken to La Guarida, the extraordinary and sensually evocative building where “Fresas y Chocolate” was filmed, I knew straight away how Carmen Jones was to be reinvented.

Carmen La Cubana in rehearsal

For your artistic process, you were able to spend several months in Cuba. How was it to work with the Cuban creative and artists? Did this experience influence your concept and the way you would direct the piece?

Christopher Renshaw: The development process of Carmen la Cubana was a real privilege; not a quick ‘gringo’ trip, but a chance to live in Havana, 2 among her dancers, musicians, singers and actors and to find a way that our show could evolve from within. When we finally staged our first workshop in 2014, it felt that Carmen la Cubana had truly been claimed by the great Cuban artists that had helped create it. Those first four performances on a dilapidated wharf in the Old Port of Havana still remain at the show’s soul.

What exactly is the “Cuban flavor” of Carmen la Cubana?

Christopher Renshaw: Carmen la Cubana has more than a Cuban flavor. It breathes Cuba. Every actor, singer, musician and dancer is from Cuba, and they bring with them an authenticity that is unique. The story of a free thinking, sexually liberated women struggling to retain her independence, while her culture explodes around here, fits the ethos of Bizet’s original opera like a glove.

What attracts you so much to Cuba and its people?

Christopher Renshaw: When you go to Cuba, the force of the people’s love for life hits you like an express train. You collide with an explosion of joy, sensuality, fun and above all else, music; it wafts from squares, alleys and widows. And what is particularly amazing and humbling is that the Cuban people can access such positivity in spite of the hardships anddeprivations their Country’s political history has bought them. Another huge influence on me was the Santeria religion, which is everywhere in Havana. This Yoruban system of beliefs had come to the Island with the slave trade, and so much of Cuban dance, rhythms and music owe its uniqueness to this intriguing and powerful religion. I was very excited to weave Santeria through the stories of Carmen and her friends.

A scene from Christopher Renshaw’s production of Carmen La Cubana

Carmen la Cubana is full of vivid acting scenes, singing and dance. However, the art forms resonate in a very organic way with each other. How did you and your team achieve this fascinating synergy?

Christopher Renshaw: My team and I just relaxed and went with the flow! There is so much talent in the room at rehearsals and so much energy and 3 inspiration to be harnessed, that it is all there to be taken and enjoyed. If you just open your ears, eyes and soul to what is in front of you, the production will take its own form.

The musical arrangements of Alex Lacamoire bring a new “attractive” sound to the well known classical opera melodies. How as the working process with him? And what makes his work for Carmen La Cubana so unique?

Christopher Renshaw: Alex Lacamoire is one of the best musical brains on Broadway and he is also proud of his Cuban heritage. When I asked him if would like to develop the score of Bizet’s opera in the Cuban style, he was very keen to participate. We spent many hours together in his studio in New York before we went to Havana, where he was able to do ‘live’ arrangements with a Cuban band. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life – to witness what Alex and I had dreamed, as it burst to life in front of our eyes and ears. Carmen’s personal concept of freedom resonates in the atmosphere of the Cuban evolution.

How important were the historical aspects for your piece?

Christopher Renshaw: Personally I am completely obsessed with Cuban political history and especially about the events of 1959. But I didn’t want Carmen la Cubana to be just about politics. I wanted it to be about a woman, thrillingly ahead of her time, being trapped and confronted by the political and social turmoil in which she lived. The production tries to steer clear of taking political sides and to show a country and culture in massive upheaval, with the people, as ever in these situations, just trying to live their lives and to play them out as well as fate allows them.

Carmen La Cubana runs at Sadler’s Wells from 1 – 18 August. Tickets are available now priced from £15 by calling the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Ori Lichtik: “It’s a world to dive into”

DJ and musician Ori Lichtik is best-known as one of the founders of the techno music scene in Israel. Together with choreographer Sharon Eyal and her husband and collaborator Gai Behar, they established dance company L-E-V, bringing rave culture and a club atmosphere to the world of contemporary dance. In this interview, we chat to Ori about the creative process behind his compositions and their latest work, Love Chapter 2, making its UK premiere at Sadler’s Wells on 13 & 14 July.

Tell us about your background as a musician and a composer.
I started as a DJ and a drummer at parties and raves. As a composer, I have worked with Sharon and Gai since 2006. That’s when we did our first piece together. Quite a complex one that included tracks of mine but also a DJ set.

What are your musical influences? What inspires your sound?
I started from techno which, for me, is a form of minimalist music. I like to take the essence of other music genres too. I used to mix a lot of modern classical music like Stravinsky, Debussy and Bartók with techno and African field recording and industrial music, that also has this minimalism but still wilderness and groove. Stravinsky and Debussy for me are groove masters. Only you need to take it out of them because if you play them as is it’s more of a Western story but if you mix it in the right way then it becomes groovy, minimal, wild music. My influences are stuff that is groovy and to find them out of places that are not necessarily obvious. Today when most of the music is original still, I use a lot of strings and classical elements inside the pattern and the format of more free and minimal music.

What is the creative process?
Usually we start from day zero together, which is quite peculiar as far as I understand in the dance world. I set up my equipment in the studio and just start playing from scratch. Sharon is shooting out forms, movements and ideas from her body and I am playing music from my equipment and my computer. Everything we do is being recorded and we have tonnes of hours of recording. We start cleaning it at some point and the distilling process begins. It is being carved until the last moment.

What does Love Chapter 2 sound like?
One of the comments we get is “What is this music? What genre is it?” That’s the best comment because I like that people don’t place it. Obviously there is techno, full of texture and groove is very crucial more than the story or the narrative in the music. On the other hand there is lots of strings which is different to how it comes with techno. Let’s see what people hear when they come to Sadler’s Wells.

How did your collaboration with Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar come about?
Gai has been my best buddy since we were 1 year olds. When they started dating I got to know Sharon, then later I realised she was already coming to parties I was playing, and then dancing when we really got to know each other! Sharon asked Gai to join her in the studio just to see and have inspiration. He had so much vision and ideas concerning the piece, the composition and the different elements, and then they asked me to try and make something for them. At first I was skeptical because I found it weird to make music for sitting people.

Watch the trailer for Love Chapter 2:

What is the biggest challenge of what you do?
For me the essence of deadline. Today I know I couldn’t work without it – the premiere – this dramatic title that is in your calendar. The knowledge that you have to work things up to a certain moment. To be honest it always includes a compromise at some level or the other. That is the challenge and also the beauty of it. It’s so different to playing live as a DJ although I do play live in our pieces.

Why should audiences come to see Love Chapter 2 at Sadler’s Wells?
The most honest answer is, it’s beautiful and exciting. One of the comments I like the most about our pieces is that they’re hypnotic. It’s a world to dive into – it takes you in and makes you feel stuff.

Love Chapter 2 runs at Sadler’s Wells on 13 & 14 July. Tickets are available now priced at £20 by calling the ticket office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Listen to the music of Ori Lichtik here:

Inspiring Future Theatre Day: Over 400 Young Dancers Prepare to perform at Eden Project

On Inspiring Future Theatre Day, we’re excited to announce a performance by over 400 young dancers that will take place at Eden Project in Cornwall on 17 July, in collaboration with National Youth Dance Company and Dance Republic 2.

Space Time will see 41 of the most talented young dancers in England from the National Youth Dance Company travel to Cornwall to take part in this unique dance event, joining young dancers from 10 Cornwall schools and the ‘Propeller’ young dancers training programme.

Throughout the afternoon, the Eden Project’s Mediterranean Biome will host performances by the young dancers, specially created for the space.

Each dance group will explore a particular theme related to space or time, located across chosen sites at the Eden Project such as the Lime Steps, Spiral Garden and Avenue of the Senses, culminating in a spectacular finale with 450 young people dancing on and around the bridge near the Core Building.

The finale to the piece was choreographed by dancers and artists from National Youth Dance Company during a residency at Falmouth University in May, and is now being taught to primary school children all over Cornwall in preparation for the performance next month.

Elaine Foley, Projects Manager for Learning & Engagement at Sadler’s Wells, says: “The National Youth Dance Company residency at Falmouth University in May was brilliant. We loved meeting all the dancers from Propeller and were so impressed by all the material they learned in just two days. In the spirit of Inspiring Future Theatre Day, much of the choreography was taught by NYDC dancers themselves or generated in groups using improvisation. Everyone was open-minded, hard working, and brought loads of creative ideas to the session. It was a beautiful example of artistic practice driven by young people. We couldn’t be more thankful to Propeller and AMATA at Falmouth University for the opportunity to bring everyone together in this way. It’s going to be amazing seeing it all come together at Eden Project later this month!”

Space Time begins at 1pm on 17 July, with the finale at approximately 3.30pm.

There’s also a chance to see National Youth Dance Company on tour this summer with their latest work Used To Be Blonde choreographed by Guest Artistic Director Sharon Eyal. Upcoming performances include Latitude Festival on 14 July, AMATA Falmouth on 18 July and Brighton Dome on 20 July. Find out more here.

Company Wayne McGregor: In Rehearsal

At their impeccably designed studios in Stratford, the 10 dancers of Company Wayne McGregor are hard at work rehearsing for the return of Autobiography to the Sadler’s Wells stage this July.

Take a tour of Studio Wayne McGregor on Instagram

Inspired by the human genome and devised around his own sequence of DNA, acclaimed choreographer Wayne McGregor CBE has created his choreographic Autobiography in collaboration with a stellar creative team.

With lighting by Lucy Carter, set by Ben Cullen Williams and costumes by Aitor Throup, the show’s striking aesthetic makes use of clean lines, geometric sculptures, sheer fabrics and light bars.

Custom designed by architects We Not I, we visited the impressive studios that are home to Company Wayne McGregor to catch a glimpse of the production in rehearsal. Here’s a sneaky peek…

We also invited some special guests to take a tour of the Studios and get an exclusive preview of the show in rehearsal. Take a look at this photo gallery from @LondonLivingDoll

A really brilliant afternoon spent having a tour of Studio @waynemcgregor with @sadlers_wells in advance of the revival of McGregor’s “Autobiography” 26-28 July at Sadler’s Wells. The studio is located @hereeast in Stratford, the company being one of the first arts organisations to move to the area, to be followed by @sadlers_wells and @vamuseum among others, creating an arts hub in East London. The studio was thoughtfully designed by @wenoti_work and includes a series of spaces for use by the company and its collaborators. Also featured throughout the space are artworks by artists such as Hiroon Mirza (third picture) and Tatsuo Miyajima (fifth picture) with whom McGregor has collaborated (for @zabludowicz_collection and “Limen” for @royaloperahouse, respectively) on loan from @lisson_gallery. . Meanwhile, “Autobiography”, with a set by @bencullenwilliams and lighting by @lucycarterld, is a set of 23 pieces which are danced in a different order every night, determined by an algorithm based on McGregor’s own genetic code. Thank you to the dancers, @waynemcgregor and @sadlers_wells for a brilliant afternoon. Can’t wait to see the show later this month! . #designingfordance #waynemcgregor #studiowaynemcgregor #wenoti #autobiography #dance #architecture #art #tetsuomiyajima #haroonmirza #lissongallery #contemporaryart #contemporarydance

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Autobiography runs at Sadler’s Wells from 26 – 28 July. Tickets are available now priced at £12 by calling our ticket office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

The Ageless Quality of Dance

Sadler’s Wells’ pioneering Company of Elders – whose dancers range from 60 to 89 years old – has been pushing the boundaries of dance for over 20 years. The dancers’ powerful performances in the UK and internationally have inspired similar companies to be created around the country, offering more and more people in later life a chance to dance. In this interview with The Elder, Sadler’s Wells’ Director of Learning and Engagement Joce Giles talks about the ageless quality of dance, the power of performance and the importance of challenging perceptions of what people can achieve and do in later life.

When and why was the Company of Elders set up?

The Company of Elders dates back to 1989. Back then, Sadler’s Wells started an arts club for older adults, and through that programme, workshops were held with visiting companies. Out of that, some ad hoc performances were organised for anyone in that group who was interested. That just snowballed, and by 1992 the Company of Elders was formed as a proper group.

The Company of Elders actually predates the current building at Sadler’s Wells, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and really it’s at the heart of how the organisation has grown over the last three decades.

I’ve been in my role at Sadler’s Wells for just over a year and a half, but I had been aware of Company of Elders for many years before that. I have always worked in dance, and the company really captured people’s imagination in the dance sector. When its dancers first performed they were pioneers – nothing else existed like that. Now groups inspired by the company have sprung up around the UK and internationally.

Is the Company of Elders made up of former professional dancers?

There are no professional dancers in the group. They come from a range of different backgrounds; some may have danced when they were younger, and this is a chance to reconnect with that. For others, dance is something they have taken up since retiring. The age range is people over 60 – but within that, there are dancers in their late 80s.

At Sadler’s Wells, we want to present dance in all its different styles, and for that to be reflected in the work that we do with programmes such as Company of Elders. So along with contemporary choreographers, the dancers have worked with hip-hop choreographers and people who work in South Asian dance styles, for example – they are very versatile.

Is there anything different about dance in later life?

Obviously there are some physical considerations, but actually, we ask the choreographers to come in and give a true sense of their work – and not to hold back. Company members are always clear to say if anything needs to be adapted for them – they want to be challenged.

I think one of the main considerations though is communication; speaking up if people have difficulty hearing, repeating information and maybe taking a bit more time to go through the movements.

In dance, we are used to seeing young performers at the height of their physical capability – and that’s fantastic to witness. But I think there’s something that an older performer, non-professional or professional, brings to the stage, that only they can – and that has a different quality. The presence that they bring to the stage is something that audiences find very powerful.

Read the full interview on The Elder website.

Company of Elders perform in the Lilian Baylis Studio on Friday 6 July (sold out).

Photos: Company of Elders in rehearsal (c) Johan Persson

A Tribute to Dame Gillian Lynne

We are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Dame Gillian Lynne, a hugely influential figure in British dance and musical theatre.

As choreographer for over 60 shows in the West End and on Broadway, Dame Gillian is best known for her iconic work on Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Cats and Phantom of the Opera, two of the most successful and longest-running musicals in history. Just last month, The New London Theatre in London’s West End – the original home of Cats – was renamed the Gillian Lynne Theatre, in honour of her outstanding contribution to the stage. It is the first West End venue named after a non-royal woman.

Born in Bromley, south-east London in 1926, Gillian started dancing from a young age, and became a member of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (soon to become The Royal Ballet) at the age of 16. She went on to become a prolific dancer, choreographer and director, performing in many roles with The Royal Ballet and on British TV, and working with companies including Northern Ballet, the Bolshoi and Australian Ballet alongside over 150 TV and film credits. In the 1980s, her ground-breaking work on Cats and Phantom of the Opera – to which she brought her distinctive jazz dance style – changed the face of musical theatre.

A truly inspirational figure, Dame Gillian was tirelessly committed to her work. In 2014, at the age of 88, she returned to the London Palladium for a new production of Cats, choreographed Miracle in the Gorbals for Birmingham Royal Ballet, and released a DVD for mature audiences, Longevity Through Exercise.

Her many accolades include two Olivier Awards: Outstanding Achievement for her Choreography of Cats in 1981, and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013; a BAFTA for her BBC TV dance drama A Simple Man; and Vienna’s Silver Order of Merit, Golden Rose of Montreux Award for her work on The Muppet Show. She was appointed a Dame in the 2014 New Year’s Honours for services to dance and musical theatre.

Alistair Spalding, Sadler’s Wells’ Artistic Director and Chief Executive, says: “Dame Gillian Lynne was a warm, passionate and inspiring dancer and choreographer. I met her when I first joined Sadler’s Wells in 2000, and she was always a great supporter of the theatre and what we do. Through her work and endless enthusiasm, she gained the affection and admiration of large audiences, as well as influencing many dance makers and performers of our time. We send our heartfelt condolences to Dame Gillian’s husband, family and friends.”

Image: Dame Gillian Lynne in rehearsal with Birmingham Royal Ballet. Credit: Andrew Ross via Birmingham Royal Ballet