Monthly Archives: June 2019


Sadler’s Wells hosted a free public talk exploring the relationship between art and human rights on the first day of Fly The Flag week, part of a nationwide campaign marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Chaired by Kate Arthurs, Director of Arts at the British Council, the debate examined the role of art in addressing human rights issues. Author, university professor and prominent human rights barrister Philippe Sands QC, Jasmin Vardimon, choreographer and artistic director of Jasmin Vardimon Company, and actor, writer and equality campaigner Kate Willoughby shared insight from their own experiences, work and expertise.

The rich and thought-provoking discussion considered how we are often unaware of our human rights, take them for granted, or think about them as something relating to ‘others’. It highlighted how there is still a lot to be done to build understanding that each and every one of us has a minimum set of fundamental rights at any given time, and how art is uniquely placed to humanise stories, make individual issues universal, appeal to our emotions and foster empathy among people – ultimately advancing the cause of human rights for all.

Alistair Spalding, Sadler’s Wells’ Artistic Director and Chief Executive, introduces the Fly The Flag arts and human rights talk.

The evening began with a video contribution by choreographer Akram Khan. Alongside members of his dance company, in the clip he reflected on why art is such a powerful reminder of our shared humanity.

Fly the Flag 70 / Outwitting the Devil, Akram Kahn Company.
Video: Maxime Dos

“People connect with art because they find themselves in it.”

Akram Khan

Kate Arthurs then invited the speakers to share their thoughts on why, and how, art bears witness to, and shines a light on, our human rights.

“Human rights are the heartbeat of our humanity. They’re the lifeblood of our very existence and the hope for better days ahead – without them, humankind is lost. As creatives, we have incredible power. Art is underestimated as a powerful tool. With it, you can reach people, move and lift them, and change lives.”

Kate Willoughby

“Art is firstly a form of expression, a form of communication. It can shine a new light on subject matter, raise awareness, provoke thoughts, stimulate emotions and present a reality from an unconventional perspective. All of this can open new ways in which to view our world, and potentially lead to making actual change happen.”

Jasmin Vardimon

Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, gender inequality and crimes against humanity are some of the subjects explored in Jasmin Vardimon’s work. Her productions Justitia, 7734, Freedom, Medusa and PARK all deal with themes relating to universal human rights.

Fly The Flag for Human Rights, Jasmin Vardimon Company.
Credit: Jasmin Vardimon Company

Reflecting on their professional experiences, the speakers said:

“My work means that I am always in one of two places: either the classroom or the courtroom. My audiences are therefore either students or judges. But it’s not enough for just those two groups of people to be part of the discussion – human rights issues are just too important for that. Through my work as a writer, I found out that I can reach an audience much wider than I could have ever imagined.”

Philippe Sands

“Courage from the past calls for courage in the present. The fight is tough, but this is not a time to be a bystander. Understanding the history of the suffragettes is understanding that these were brave, ordinary, extraordinary women that we can learn from.”

Kate Willoughby

“Working on a piece, I like to look at an issue from different points of view and ask questions. How much does who we are – our cultural background, our preconceptions – influence how we judge situations? Perspective changes everything. A terrorist can be seen as a freedom fighter from the other side. Does our point of view dictate what we see, or does what we see dictate our point of view?”

Jasmin Vardimon

L to R: Speakers Philippe Sands, Kate Willoughby and Jasmin Vardimon, and chair Kate Arthurs.

On the value and impact of the arts, in society and in our everyday lives:

“What better way to express ourselves than through the body? I think the human body has an endless capacity to communicate and express, to tell a story and to rouse emotions. Using the entire capacity of our body to express can be a very powerful, expressive and communicative vehicle, whether that’s intellectually or vocally. The body is the home for each individual’s thoughts and emotions – it houses what makes each of us unique.”

Jasmin Vardimon

“It’s incredibly important that people recognize that there is a crying need out there to provide support to the artistic world to do what it wants to do. It’s an important time for solidarity right now.”

Philippe Sands

“It’s important to be true to yourself. When you speak from the heart you are heard by the heart. Feelings trump facts and stories matter. As creatives, we can tap into these truths for good.”

Kate Willoughby
Kate Willoughby performs an extract from
To Freedom’s Cause, her play on suffragette Emily Davison

In the Q&A session with the audience, speakers discussed the importance of equality of access to arts and culture for everyone, and of democratising the dialogue in ways that ensure everyone can be a part of the conversation.

We closed the talk with a poem from The Unknown Hour, by renowned poet and novelist Ben Okri, which was read by Cameroonian journalist and English PEN’s current writer-in-residence Mimi Mefo Takambou.

Mimi Mefo Takambou reads Ben Okri’s poem from The Unknown Hour.

To fall is not to fall

From space or height. It is to fall from unity,

From oneness. But it is easier to walk out

Than to work it out. Easier to fall apart

Than to stay together. The romance of independence,

Of freedom, is stronger than the truth of unity.

Ben Okri, from The Unknown Hour

Fly The Flag week runs from 24 to 30 June and is co-produced by Fuel, Amnesty International, Donmar Warehouse, Human Rights Watch, Liberty, National Theatre, Sadler’s Wells and Tate. 

A Fairy Tale for The Greatest Dancer

Step Change Studios returns to the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells to present Fairy Tales: a ballroom-inspired show which brings together 20 disabled and non-disabled artists from the UK to present original dance. New to this year’s cast is Andrew Self. Passionate about ballroom dance, Andrew came to public attention on BBC’s The Greatest Dancer. Andrew tells us about preparing for his Sadler’s Wells debut and shares his passion for dance.

Hi Andrew, could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a 22 year-old student at The Orpheus Centre, which is a specialist college for young disabled adults with a passion for the performing arts. My love of ballroom dance began when I was 11 years old and I started watching the TV show Strictly Come Dancing. I thought it was brilliant and would copy all the moves from the telly.

Tell us about your dance experience.

I absolutely love dancing, especially performing. I dance wherever I can find the opportunity. I learn different styles of dance but mainly focus on ballroom and contemporary. Dancing makes me feel happy, fit and free. I have Down’s Syndrome but I like to call it Dance Syndrome. It can mean that I sometimes find things a bit tricky to learn and have to work harder but it doesn’t stop me doing anything. I have found that the best teachers are people who support me to learn by taking things slowly, being patient, giving me visual prompts such as using video to help me learn, and making sure I’ve understood what I have to do. Most importantly, I love to be challenged.

Andrew Self. Image: Sophie Mayanne

You auditioned for Fairy Tales – what was that like?

I was really looking forward to auditioning for Fairy Tales. I wanted to do something different and the opportunity sounded exciting. I was delighted to show Rashmi, the Producer of Fairy Tales, my moves. We danced some waltz and cha-cha together and then I was invited to show other dance styles, so I demonstrated some foxtrot and a paso doble. When Rashmi told me I was going to be in the show I was very excited – it was Fairytaletastic!

How are rehearsals for Fairy Tales going?

I couldn’t wait to start rehearsals. I am learning a duet and will be dancing with a professional ballroom dancer Clair to the song Someone to Watch Over Me. For me, the story is about an angel looking after me. Sometimes we dance the same moves apart and sometimes we dance together. I adore the music because it reminded me of my Nan. It makes me feel peaceful and emotional and a little bit thoughtful.

Andrew Self. Image: David White

My rehearsals have been going well and I am really enjoying preparing the piece. Clair is the best dance partner. The choreography is challenging and I am finding the turns quite tricky but I improve in every session. I practice with videos taken during the rehearsals. Rashmi also sends me written tips of things to practice and think about in between. I am feeling very excited about the show and can’t wait to get on stage with a live audience! My Orpheus dance teacher is coming to see me and is looking forward to seeing how I do with my ballroom holds and steps.

What advice would you give to disabled people looking to start dancing?

My advice for people with disabilities that want to dance but might be nervous or think it is not for them is to just go for it, have fun and be resilient. It’s amazing what can happen when you follow your passions. My absolute dream would be to dance on Strictly Come Dancing but the fairy tale for me is to keep dancing.

Image: David White

Step Change Studios present Fairy Tales in the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells on 27 June. Tickets are available now priced at £17 and concessions at £8.50, by calling the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

National Youth Dance Company announces Guest Artistic Directors for 2019 – 2021

Our resident National Youth Dance Company (NYDC), home to some of the country’s brightest young dance talent, has appointed its next two Guest Artistic Directors: Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Russell Maliphant in 2019-20 and acclaimed choreographer Alesandra Seutin in 2020-21.

The company will begin creating a new commission with Russell Maliphant in autumn 2019. He takes over from current Guest Artistic Director, the Olivier award-winning dance artist Botis Seva whose work for NYDC, MADHEAD, premiered at DanceEast in Ipswich on 20 April. MADHEAD tours to six further venues across England this summer, closing at Sadler’s Wells on 19 July.

Now in its eighth year, NYDC has established a reputation for innovative, challenging and influential work, producing open-minded and curious dancers. The company brings together the brightest talent from across England, immersing the members fully in the process of creating, performing and touring new work, giving them a unique insight into the dance profession.

National Youth Dance Company 2018-19

Russell Maliphant, NYDC Guest Artistic Director 2019/20, said: “I am very happy to be working as the next Guest Artistic Director for National Youth Dance Company. NYDC provides great opportunities for young dancers to develop in to world class performers – I have seen this in action over the years and have personally worked with some of that talent in my own company.  I’m looking forward to starting this season with another new generation of dancers here in the UK.”

Alesandra Seutin, NYDC Guest Artistic Director 2020/21, said: “I am very excited and honoured to work with National Youth Dance Company as Guest Artistic Director in 2020/21. I look forward to breaking boundaries with the dancers of the future, and having the opportunity to be part of this beautiful process is amazing. With the support of Sadler’s Wells, I hope to continue growing as a leader and a maker collaborating with NYDC to keep its reputation for innovative, challenging and influential work, producing open-minded and curious dancers.”

About the new Guest Artistic Directors

Russell Maliphant established his own dance company in 1996 as the framework to create productions and work with his own ensemble of dancers. Since then, he has received two Olivier awards, three South Bank Show awards and four Critics’ Circle National Dance awards. He became an Associate Artist of Sadler’s Wells in 2005.

Russell’s work has been performed by renowned dance artists including Sylvie Guillem, BalletBoyz, Munich Ballet and English National Ballet, for whom his piece Second Breath was part of the critically celebrated programme Lest We Forget. Two graduates of NYDC, Edd Arnold and Folu Odimayo, make up part of the Russell Maliphant Dance Company and can be seen performing in Silent Lines at Sadler’s Wells, on 18 & 19 October.

Performer, choreographer and teacher Alesandra Seutin grew up in Brussels and lives in London. She studied dance internationally and continued her training at the École des Sables in Senegal as a student of Germaine Acogny. She is now a worldwide ambassador of the Acogny technique and teaches at École des Sables and globally. In 2007, she founded Vocab Dance Company, and has progressively built an international reputation for creating thought provoking and visually striking performances. 

Alesandra presented Boy Breaking Glass as part of Sadler’s Wells’ 20th anniversary commission, Reckonings, in October 2018 alongside works from Sadler’s Wells New Wave Associate Julie Cunningham and current NYDC Guest Artistic Director Botis Seva.

NYDC has begun its search for the next intake of 30 young dancers to join the company, with NYDC Experience Workshops taking place across England until 8 July.

The organisation has been granted further support for the two years ahead from the Department for Education and Arts Council England, to continue nurturing the country’s young dance talent and to build on the dance artists of the future.

For full NYDC tour dates and tickets for MADHEAD, click here.


In this month’s instalment of Sadler’s Wells Voices, we shine a light on Duty House Manager Gigi Giannella. Gigi joined us back in 1999 working in Housekeeping. He later moved to Front of House and became Duty House Manager for the Lilian Baylis Studio.

Alongside this, Gigi dedicates his time and stellar photography skills capturing the many faces and lives of our Front of House team – curated in a heart-warming collection entitled the ‘Usher Project’. We asked about his experience working in Front of House and took a closer look into his creative ventures at Sadler’s Wells and the inspiration behind them.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I moved to London from Italy in 1999, with the aim of learning the language. To support myself, I started working at Sadler’s Wells – first in the Housekeeping department, then with the Front of House team. This gave me the opportunity to get interested in contemporary dance. At the same time, I was studying photography, so I naturally started combining dance in my photography practice. This led to me getting commissioned to document numerous community dance projects and various companies, including a number of projects for the Learning and Engagement team and National Youth Dance Company.

Tell us about the “Usher Project”. What it is, and what was the inspiration behind it?

Having worked as a Front of House Assistant and Deputy House Manager for quite some time, I have always found the diverse mixture of people that I worked with fascinating. Most of the ushers have different kinds of lives, different jobs and many skills that are unknown to most. It felt like, once the usher uniform is worn, you lose your ‘identity’. I thought that this project would be a good way to celebrate the different energies that are part of the makeup of Sadler’s Wells.

Jasmine Khalia, ‘Usher Project’. Image: Gigi Giannella

At the same time, I have enjoyed engaging with audiences, especially patrons that felt like Sadler’s Wells was almost a second home for them. Many patrons had grown to know me (and some of my long-term colleagues) in this environment. They enjoyed being welcomed by recognisable faces for sure, but at the same time I always felt it was very surface level, as they didn’t really know who the ushers were.

Amy Bentley Klein, ‘Usher Project’. Image: Gigi Giannella

Often I would bump into the same people around town or at other venues and they seemed surprised to see me out of the Sadler’s Wells context. There is a view that we work full-time for the theatre, but in reality, holding even a few part-time jobs nowadays is very common, especially in the arts sector.

Joel O’Donoghue. ‘Usher Project’. Image: Gigi Giannella

Were there any surprises or valuable insights that this project brought about?

I really enjoyed working on this project as I approached it with an open mind, not believing it to be just my project, but a collaboration between myself and the subjects.

Jane Chan, ‘Usher Project’. Image: Gigi Giannella

My only brief to the guys was that we were going to shoot inside or around the theatre (the only area I didn’t want to shoot was the stage and I made that clear to everyone) and that everyone should choose the part of the building they preferred most. It was interesting to see how everyone has a different location where they like to work.

Jairo Zaldua, ‘Usher Project’. Image: Gigi Giannella

Another important factor was for everyone to bring something that represented themselves or their day-to-day life and with this, I tried telling their stories. Collaborating together was a nice way to work on this project. In a way, it is like how a choreographer works with their dancers – a dialogue where everyone puts forward their skills and knowledge to achieve a final result.

Takeshi Matsumoto, ‘Usher Project’. Image: Gigi Giannella

What are you currently working on/ what is next for you?

I would try to explore this project further, whether it’s with other departments at Sadler’s Wells, or even trying to expand it to other theatres. I have a few things in my mind, but it’s still early days. I am working out an idea about runners and running (another passion I have) and I am slowly getting around how to approach it.

Ewa Lamond, ‘Usher Project’. Image: Gigi Giannella

What advice would you give to other aspiring photographers or, more broadly, to people looking to make their way into the creative industries?

Mainly that it’s not an easy industry, but it can give you great rewards. It’s a great place to test your capabilities and to experience lots of various things and meet a different spectrum of people.

Lorea Burge Badiola, ‘Usher Project’. Image: Gigi Giannella

More of Gigi’s work can be found via his website and Instagram.


On World Environment Day, we reflect on the ever-present issue of climate change, highlighting the ways in which we strive to promote the preservation of our environment while sustaining creativity within the sector and society at large.

Humans are both creatures and creators of their environment; nowhere does this ring truer than in the cultural sector. Now more than ever, artists not only have the power to transform and shape the world they contribute creatively to, but also a personal responsibility.

At Sadler’s Wells, we are committed to championing action on climate change, a commitment that extends to all areas of our work. From making more conscious decisions about how we present our productions, to the way we operate our building on a day-to-day basis, or better support the education and environmental awareness of our staff and audiences, here are some of the ways in which we are making Sadler’s Wells, and the wider industry, a greener, more sustainable place.


Replacing plastic straws, take-away boxes and ice cream tubs in our café and bars with biodegradable paper alternatives such as cardboard seems like a giant leap for humankind, considering we were previously disposing of around 3,000 plastic straws every year!

Front of House staff showcases our biodegradable paper straws.

Installing water fountains backstage to cut down on bottled water use, as well as introducing a 20p discount for reusable coffee cups in our café are among the steps we’ve taken in a bid to reduce plastic waste at our venues.


Since 2014, refurbishments to the theatre have helped us to control and monitor our gas, electricity and water use, reducing our CO2 emissions and energy use year-on-year. Addressing the need to create greener production spaces for the future, we have invested in LED show lighting where possible and converted to LED throughout our foyer spaces, auditorium and backstage areas. We are also part of Arts Basket, a consortium of arts venues purchasing energy together, and 100% of our electricity comes from renewable sources.

Solar panels on the roof of Sadler’s Wells’ building in Rosebery Avenue, Islington, London

Thanks to the energy generated by our solar panels – located on the roof of our foyers and the fly tower directly above the main stage – we’re producing approximately 17000 kwh (kilowatt hours) on average per year – enough to power two family homes for a year!


Our ongoing programme of monitoring and reducing our carbon footprint not only applies to energy, but also water use.

Sadler’s Wells borehole. Image: Derek Kendall, English Heritage

The borehole, which connects us to the water source or ‘well’ underneath Sadler’s Wells, has been a permanent fixture of our building’s history since the early 1600s. Fast forward to 2019, it has become a vital part of our water reduction efforts – providing us with the water used for our sinks, toilets, heating and cooling.


At Sadler’s Wells, we actively promote the Cycle to Work scheme. We also strongly encourage public transport use wherever possible. Both modes of transport are proving equally popular and are used by 95% of our staff when travelling to work.

Rachel McClure (left) and Elsa Stevens (right) with drivers they spoke to as part of the Vehicle Idling Action campaign

In a bid to lower levels of pollution in our local community, our Green Team encouraged drivers with idling engines outside the theatre to switch them off as part of the 2017 Vehicle Idling Action campaign, which was supported by the Mayor of London and delivered in association with Islington Council. Since then, we have made a conscious shift to the exclusive use of taxi and courier services with robust green credentials, in order to reduce our carbon footprint and improve the city’s air quality.

Advocacy continues to shape our work around sustainability. We recently joined the Spotlight Programme – a committed group of 29 cultural institutions working across England with the shared aim of driving down the environmental impacts of our activities, both individually and collectively in the sector.


As a cultural leader in the arts delivering work locally, nationally and internationally, we strive to operate as sustainably as possible. Since October 2018, we have been part of an ongoing collaboration with our Resident Company New Adventures (in particular, the company’s environmental arm Green Adventures) and Norwich Theatre Royal to develop a new blueprint for environmentally sustainable touring.

This collaboration, made possible by the Arts Council England-funded Accelerator Programme, will develop new and innovative projects and initiatives through to March 2022, helping us to think more creatively about the relationship between touring companies and receiving houses.

Green Adventures Champion Andrew Ashton, fellow dancer Isaac Peter Bowry and Norwich Theatre Royal on their eco-friendly initiatives during the 2019 national tour of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake

Creativity and sustainability are among our core values; we believe both are not only intrinsically linked, but also integral to the future of arts and culture. We spoke to Jackson Fisch, dancer and Green Adventures Champion about the role both can play in furthering the fight against climate change.

Why is being a green champion important to you?

Being a Green Champion is important to me as it allows me to develop and change my own personal habits while having discussions with people about how and why we need to make changes to our daily lifestyles, as well as our touring habits, to make a positive change for environmental sustainability. I am in no way a perfect Green Champion, but being a part of the conversation has made me more aware and increased my ability to advocate for change.

What do you feel is your responsibility as an artist to ensure a greener, more sustainable world?

I believe my responsibility is to notice where I personally can change and develop greener habits, then to talk to and inspire others to do the same! A few months ago I became aware that, as a company, we were using copious amounts of paper towel to wipe the sweat off of ourselves while backstage during a performance. After noticing this, I went out and bought my own towel that I could reuse show after show in place of the paper towel that was just thrown away. As a company now, each dancer has a sweat towel provided to them and paper towel is no longer used!

Creativity and sustainability: What is the relationship between the two? How can we be more creative in our approach to protecting our environment?

All over the world artists, creatives and environmentalists are collaborating and thinking of new, sustainable ways to achieve what we now consider necessary ways of working and living. From fashion houses using sustainable materials, to architecture embracing natural materials and encouraging horticulture – the collaborative nature to advocate change always has a creative drive. Without creativity, new ideas driven by this passion and a desire for change would not come about.

New Adventures Green Champion Jackson Fisch. Image: Pamela Raith

Find out more about our Sustainability Policy on our website.


Hailed as the Queen of Flamenco, Sara Baras has been dancing for over 30 years, converting audiences worldwide to the magic of flamenco by balancing passion with precision. Now she’s challenging gender stereotypes within the art form. Ahead of her return to our stage for Flamenco Festival London 2019, we catch up with Sara to discuss her influences, the future of flamenco and dancing La Farruca – a style of flamenco traditionally reserved for male dancers.

What is your earliest memory of flamenco? 
I have experienced flamenco since I was a child thanks to my mother. I remember her school or la Venta de Vargas [a landmark flamenco venue in San Fernando, Cádiz]; Camarón, Rancapino, Chano Lobato or Juan Villar. I can perfectly recall the first time I saw Manuela Carrasco, and of course, maestro Antonio Gades. I remember feeling flamenco in La Isla, Cádiz or Jerez. I have wonderful memories of that period of my life.

What was it like growing up in Cádiz?
It was very important to me to have the opportunity of growing up in such a magical place, where even the sea breeze is art, inspiration and light. When I am away, I need to come back and fill myself with energy. I love my home town. 

Would you say you were destined to become a flamenco dancer?  
Yes, I totally think so. I don’t know life without dancing.

Who are your flamenco idols?
My flamenco idols are those maestros who made a before and after in this art-form, and opened so many doors in the entire world for us. Paco de Lucia, Camarón, Antonio Gades, Morente or Carmen Amaya. 

Sara Baras performing her work Voces

What is your process for creating a new show and where do you draw inspiration?
Normally, every show starts with an idea. Then we usually write a script and gather the creative team needed. Later, we choose the cast and every part develops apart from each other (choreography, interpretation, music, lighting, costumes, scenery etc). The last part is to join everything together, which is the most exciting step of all. Finding inspiration is very easy for me. Dreaming, and helping others to dream, is a gift for me. 

In your latest work, Sombras, you dance La Farruca – a style of flamenco traditionally reserved for male dancers. What inspired you to do this? Do you think flamenco is a male dominated art-form?
I am personally in love with la Farruca, I love this dance which is synonym of serenity, elegance and risk. I feel so well dancing Farruca, it makes me grow every day. I don’t think flamenco is a male dominated art-form, at least in dance, I don’t feel that. In the past, maybe, there were dance steps related to men and others related to women. Today, this is changing a lot.

When creating a new work, how important is it to you to stay loyal to the tradition of flamenco vs pushing the boundaries of the art-form?
I still have many things to accomplish with Sombras. However, I am already thinking and studying other ideas. It’s very important for me to respect the tradition, and also to feel free and to show your true and authentic self.

What do you do on your days off?
My life revolves around my dancing and my child, my family and my friends. Sharing with my people is the most important. And of course, having the opportunity of helping people in need. I am an honoury member of an organisation that help girls with Rett syndrome, and every free moment I have I give it to them.

How do you juggle travelling and performing with being a mother?
I always have a hard time when I have to be away from home. I am very lucky because my child adapts very easily to every situation. I feel blessed that my family always help us and take very good care of him. Without them, this would be impossible. 

You have toured the world performing with your company Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary. How do you find the perception of flamenco outside of Spain?
The connection with flamenco is amazing. It doesn’t understand borders, or languages. It goes directly to your heart.

You have been dancing flamenco for over 30 years. Do you think it’s easier for flamenco artists to have a longer career than other kinds of dancers?
Definitely, in flamenco, maturity is positive.

What do you think the future holds for flamenco? 
There are wonderful artists and more and more admirers of this art-form. The number of flamenco lovers is growing each day. Flamenco is really very special. I can feel how well it is considered out in the world, as a growing art-form, thanks to the maestros who made it great.

Sara Baras returns to Sadler’s Wells with her latest work Sombras as part of Flamenco Festival London 2019 from 2 – 7 July. To book, call the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.