Monthly Archives: July 2019

“Each piece is like one side of a coin”: Young Associates on Together, not the same

Sadler’s Wells’ inaugural Young Associates – Anthony Matsena, Wilhelmina Ojanen, Ruby Portus and Christopher Thomas – first introduced their refreshing voices to audiences at sell-out performances in our Lilian Baylis Studio in 2018.

This year, they make their debut on the main stage with Together, not the same. Working with our New Wave Associate Hetain Patel, who developed the artistic brief they responded to, they have broken away from the traditional mixed-bill mould, creating a bold evening of dance that sees two separate segments of work by each choreographer presented either side of the interval. Each section created by the individual choreographer represents a different angle of the same piece.

We speak to Christopher and Ruby about the creative journey behind the production, their personal development on the programme and what the future holds as they continue in their dance-making careers.

Can you tell us a little bit about your creative journey with Together, not the same?

Christopher: For me, the creative journey has really been about collaboration. I’ve been able to work with a fantastic costume designer from Shanghai, the composer Jordan Hunt and our lighting designer Ryan, who is lighting the whole evening and has a good idea of everyone’s pieces and how to make them stylistically different. I have 10 dancers and they’re a mixture of people that I know or have worked with before. To be working with friends is a lovely thing and it’s made the whole experience really fun.

In rehearsal with Christopher Thomas. Image: Helen Murray
In rehearsal with Christopher Thomas. Image: Helen Murray

Ruby: I really care about what the dancers in my piece are interested in, and wanted to embed this in the creative process. When we were workshopping ideas, we found that a lot of what we crafted had a kind of urgency to it. I asked them: ‘What do you feel strongly about right now? What is most important to you? What do you feel most impassioned by?’ I set movement and text-based tasks for the dancers to do, until we got to a point where we realised a joint direction we wanted to go in.

In rehearsal with Ruby Portus. Image: David Lindsay
In rehearsal with Ruby Portus. Image: David Lindsay

What has working with Hetain Patel been like?

Christopher: Hetain’s been great. He’s always available, whether that’s to come to the studio, at the end of the phone, or on email. Artistically he has been with us throughout the process and he’s really helped with feedback. He’s a real pleasure to work with.

Ruby: He’s a really nice presence to have around – he has a very gentle demeanour but is also very focused, clear and specific. He’s not intrusive in any way on the process. He’ll say to you ‘What do you need? Do you want me to tell you what I’m thinking right now, or would you rather not hear it?’ He gives you information only when you want it, which is really nice.

How would you describe your piece in a sentence or two?

Ruby: It’s pulling together elements of what people feel strongly about in our current times, but in a playful and metaphorical way.

In rehearsal with Ruby Portus. Image: David Lindsay

Christopher: It’s intense; it’s emotive. It’s perceiving a situation from two different angles: the first is inside the cognitive process of someone’s brain, the second is living the actual situation. It’s taking two very different spins on how you can portray one thing.

In rehearsal with Christopher Thomas. Image: Helen Murray

Who, or what, are some of the main inspirations behind your piece?

Ruby: We all realised that the thing we were most concerned with, and also most active about, was the climate crisis. That was the main starting point: how can we find a parallel world to tell a story through, and still make people think about the planet that we’re living on now? The inspiration really came from the conversations we were having. That and lots of 80s’ power ballads!

Christopher: I always like to draw from personal experience, because I find that’s an authentic place to come from if I want to do justice to any situation. Ultimately, what we’re showing is not a real-life situation, but the feelings experienced on stage come from a real place.

Together, not the same presents a programme of dance that disrupts the traditional mixed bill format. Can you elaborate on this, and how the pieces speak to each other?

Ruby: The pieces definitely relate to one another. In the first part, we set up this world and introduce the audience to it. In the second part, we frame it a little differently; seeing it from a different perspective and highlighting other elements that aren’t necessarily shown in Part 1.

Christopher:  Each piece is like one side of a coin. As a show, it very much feels that the first half of the production is centred around hope, and the second half feels like it’s more about devastation. That’s just a natural thing that’s happened. Could it be influenced by the type of world we’re living in at the minute? (laughs). Not sure, but it’s one of those magical moments where things just worked out that way.

The programme is also bridging all of our different styles, finding a choreographic language within itself and expanding that. It’s going to be a really varied evening, which is great for the audience. There’ll be things in there that you like, things in there that you don’t like – I think it really caters to everyone.

Sadler’s Wells Young Associates (clock-wise from top left): Anthony Matsena,
Wilhelmina Ojanen, Christopher Thomas and
Ruby Portus.

What have been your personal highlights working on the production? Have there been any challenges?

Christopher: Being able to work on 10 dancers. I’ve always wanted to work with a large group of people, so to work with that many has been a challenge, but the highlight as well. It’s been stressful a times, but you learn from those stressful moments. I’ve loved every second of it.

Ruby:  Being able to see your work in such a massive space with such amazing supporting and enhancing technology. I feel very lucky. All the technical elements in the main house are just 10 levels above anywhere else. It’s like when a photo loads half-way on your phone. You think to yourself: ‘”Ah, that’s a nice photo.”‘ But then all of a sudden it clicks into focus and you’re like: “Wow!” That’s what it’s like on stage. Everything is just so crisp.

Passing an element over to someone else to be in control of is definitely a challenge for me! I’m so used to doing it all and knowing exactly what is happening at all times. Everyone in the creative team is so great and talented at what they do, but it doesn’t mean that the work is taken off your hands – it’s just about doing it differently.

How has being on the Young Associates programme helped you develop as choreographers?

Christopher: It’s really pushed me. It’s not only meant working on things behind the scenes, but also managing myself as a choreographer.

Christopher Thomas. Image: Helen Murray

It’s also allowed me to express myself creatively. With the programme being funded by Sadler’s Wells, it’s helped me with all the things I wouldn’t have been able to explore as easily had I not been part of it: access to space, dancers, creatives and designers. Having an outlet to express myself and show my work in the Lilian Baylis Studio and now the main house is just a dream. I would never have thought that it could happen to me, at my age, this early on in my career. Usually, when you’re starting out as a choreographer it doesn’t happen right away, and so for it to have happened at all is pretty amazing.

Ruby: Learning how to manage not only your time, ideas and needs, but also the needs of others in a practical way has been a really good experience. From the word go, we’ve been meeting and collaborating with dance artists, producers, dramaturgs and even funding bodies. Working closely with our producer, Lucy Clarke-Bishop [from the Learning & Engagement team at Sadler’s Wells], has definitely made me grateful of the work that she does, and that production teams in general do, behind the scenes to bring something like this together.

Ruby Portus. Image: David Lindsay

What are you currently working on?

Christopher: I’m working with New Adventures on Matthew Bourne’s Romeo & Juliet as well as on this production – luckily we’re on a break at the minute! I’ll also be working with the Mark Bruce Company again on a piece that’s coming out at the end of the year.  

Ruby: On Monday I start the research and development stage for a new project I’m working on, which I got my first ever Arts Council funding for. The idea is to create a new work that will be presented both as a standalone piece and as part of a mixed bill alongside another work, which I previously showcased while on the Young Associates programme. It will be a new experience for me being the choreographer but also being in the work as a performer!

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Christopher: Still dancing, still choreographing. I would really like to start establishing my own company and more of a repertoire in my work.

Ruby: It’s a tricky one – I couldn’t say in five years’ time I want to have a company. Ideally, I would be performing in other people’s work most of the time, making my own work sometimes, and having periods of work unrelated to dance, like working for a charity every few months. I’d like to do something positively impactful alongside everything else.  

Botis Seva: “We should feel the power of all of them on stage.”

We speak to the Olivier Award-winning choreographer and Guest Artistic Director of NYDC about giving young people a voice through dance.

 “It’s just a massive privilege,” says choreographer Botis Seva on his recent Olivier Award win. His talent was spotted early through his participation in Breakin’ Convention’s artist development programmes; it was here he was introduced to our wider artist development team, and later invited to curate an evening in the Lilian Baylis Studio. This led to Sadler’s Wells commissioning his first main stage work, BLKDOG, which premiered on our stage in October 2018. The piece received huge acclaim and, only a few months later, the ambitious young choreographer found himself collecting an Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall. 

“It felt very weird because I wasn’t expecting to win,” he says humbly. His fellow nominees were all illustrious names in the world of dance, including the Royal Ballet, Ballet British Columbia and the mighty William Forsythe. “It’s quite weird being up against him – someone whose work I’ve seen and been like ‘wow’,” says Botis. 

So how did he celebrate his success? Sipping champagne with theatre royalty at the after party? He went straight home for a cup of tea and biscuits. “I had no time to let it sink in because I was working with NYDC on another show. That’s my job, innit!”

The next morning he was back in the studio to continue rehearsals with the 38 young dancers of National Youth Dance Company (NYDC), of which Botis is this year’s Guest Artistic Director. “Everyone started clapping,” he says, “I think they were in shock.”

NYDC, a project run by Sadler’s Wells, auditions the brightest young dance talent aged 16-24 from across the UK each year for the opportunity to gain experience of working in a professional dance company and collaborating with a well-established choreographer on creating a new dance work. Previous artistic directors have included Akram Khan, Jasmin Vardimon, Damien Jalet and Sharon Eyal. 

Botis’s creation, MADHEAD, is a piece that reflects the experiences of the young dancers. “It’s about their generation and what the future could look like. That is the question that I have for the piece. What’s the future for young people growing up in this kind of society?”

National Youth Dance Company perform MADHEAD by 2018-19
Guest Artistic Director Botis Seva © Tony Nandi 2019

“It was a weird process because we had a short amount of time to make the work,” he says. “For me the process started by questioning myself: how did I feel when I was 17 and where was my brain at?”

It was also a collaborative process with the company, which involved Botis interviewing the young dancers. “They felt like they didn’t have the same respect or teachers didn’t give them the same kind of respect. There’s a concept in that which we’re exploring. A lot of them feel frustrated at being called young people and how they get treated.”

This experience of working with a young company echoes his own experiences of getting into dance growing up. He started going to classes in Elephant and Castle after Tony Adigun, founder of Avant Garde Dance, ran a workshop in his school. “I had nothing else to do so I just went to these classes that were happening.” 

Botis cites Tony Adigun as an early role model. “Meeting him was kind of a big revelation,” he says. He encouraged Botis to audition for his youth company and “after that,” Botis says “I started to take it seriously”. It wasn’t until later when he started teaching at a local youth club, that Botis began cutting his teeth as a choreographer.

Tony’s influence can be felt in Botis’s own style as a choreographer, which is difficult to define. “I call it free-form hip hop,” he says. “There’s a mix of contemporary and African dance. I can’t really give it a title, but I use free-form hip hop as a base. I can’t really label it anything else.” 

As a young, black choreographer with influences from hip hop, he feels he hasn’t escaped certain associations. “That happens all the time. Sometimes it’s not even about my blackness. I don’t use that excuse. I’ve made that work because I feel a certain way,” he says. “Maybe because it’s labelled as hip hop or it’s seen as hip hop, [people think] oh it must have something to do with knife crime. BLKDOG wasn’t really about that. For other people it seemed like it was about that. Technically the hoods don’t really mean it’s about gangs.” 

So how does he feel about the future of hip hop? “It is changing because there are loads of artists taking it in different avenues, but I don’t know if it has the same respect. I think people might appreciate it more, but it is going to take some time to land.” 

His movement language exists somewhere at the centre of a Venn diagram of contemporary, African and hip hop dance – but there is something else uniquely Botis that comes in to play. There is a darkness, both aesthetically in the stark, dimly lit staging, and thematically, tackling subjects such as mental health, the responsibilities of adulthood and the struggles of being an artist. 

The trailer for MADHEAD feels straight out of a dystopian drama like Black Mirror, which coincidentally Botis is a fan of. He credits cinema as a big influence on his work. “I’m into psychological thrillers, mind-bending stuff. I love that,” he says. But for Botis, the most important thing about MADHEAD is the opportunity to hear what this generation has to say.

“It’s a new voice within young people and I think they’re trying to say something. People need to be there to witness it. They’re trying to communicate some of their frustrations about today’s society and they should be heard. We should feel the power of all of them on stage.”

National Youth Dance Company performs MADHEAD on tour, concluding at Sadler’s Wells on 19 July. Visit www.nydc.org.uk for full information and tickets.

INSPIRING A NEW GENERATION OF THEATRE PROFESSIONALS

At Sadler’s Wells, we are committed to nurturing tomorrow’s generation of arts professionals. Since 2015, we have collaborated with over 15 organisations and supported over 100 individuals in forging a career in the creative industries.

Access to opportunities in the cultural sector can be challenging for young people for a variety of reasons: limited in-school careers services, cuts to arts education, informal recruitment processes and lack of industry awareness and networks. Through our paid training and employment opportunities, workshop initiatives and work experience placements in different departments we aim to break down barriers to employment, address skills gaps and create entry routes into the sector.

On #InspiringFutureTheatreDay, we take a look at the ways in which Sadler’s Wells is working to inspire and equip young people to access opportunities and discover career routes in theatre, and hear from some of the young talent that we are supporting into the industry.  

Internships and apprenticeships

We offer paid six-month internships and 12 to 18-month apprenticeships across different departments: from Programming, Technical & Production and Producing & Touring to Human Resources, Visitor Experience and Catering & Events. We also offer placements in our Learning & Engagement, Breakin’ Convention and Development teams. Looking ahead, we’ll also be introducing two new kitchen apprenticeship opportunities.

Human Resources, Marketing and visuals are some of the areas that I was able to learn about and it’s made me realise that you don’t have to be a dancer to be part of such a big organisation like Sadler’s Wells. It’s also made me become more open-minded about jobs overall. 

Maimuna Kigenyi, 10-week work experience placement student

This has been such a great experience for me because I’ve been able to learn first-hand what it’s like to work in an office setting. I’ve realised that there are so many different aspects to an organisation that exist, and that I shouldn’t be afraid to broaden my horizons.

Rachael Olumuyiwa, 10-week work experience placement student

Through these opportunities, students gain a unique and comprehensive insight into how we work to make Sadler’s Wells a world-leading dance house – providing them with valuable experience and know-how from the perspective of those working behind the scenes, in our offices and in public-facing roles.

I wasn’t aware of the theatre beforehand, so it was definitely a learning experience. I would have never thought that there would be so many departments for a dance organisation, but it all makes sense now. I’ve learnt that it’s not just about the great performances and the dancers. A lot of work is done by many people with different roles and tasks which altogether achieve something great.

Maimuna Kigenyi, 10-week work experience placement student


Because of my huge interest in the computing field, I also met with a few people from IT. They really helped me understand the world of IT much better, and the many different paths and issues that fall under IT. It also helped me figure out what pathway in Computer Science I wanted to go for, which I am really grateful for.

Rachael Olumuyiwa, 10-week work experience placement student

Work experience placements

We now offer more work experience placements than ever before, including work experience opportunities for Key Stages 4 and 5, college and university placements (as a required part of students’ courses), work shadowing and leadership development placements. These placements allow young people to gain relevant, professional experience and knowledge, and increase their chances of finding and retaining employment that meets their aspirations. Students learn about the various aspects of Sadler’s Wells’ activities and their requirements, while gaining insight into back-stage operations and roles available across the organisation and beyond.

As a dancer, I’m very used to being on stage. The opportunity gave me great insight into what goes on behind the scenes at a theatre, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time.

Milly Clarke, one-week work experience placement student

COP students on a tour during their visit to Sadler’s Wells.

We are also involved in two initiatives with an employment and career focus: the Creative Opportunity Programme (COP) and Shared Training and Employment Programme (STEP).

Creative Opportunity Programme (COP)

COP is a two-week pre-employment programme for east Londoners aged 18-30. Through workshops and networking events led by industry professionals, the initiative aims to introduce young people to a range of opportunities and careers in the creative sector, and to provide them with the skills, insight and confidence to successfully apply for jobs. Delivered by Create Jobs, the programme has been running since 2017 and we are one of its founding partners.

COP students participate in workshop discussions during their visit to Sadler’s Wells.

Shared Training and Employment Programme (STEP)

Alongside Create Jobs, Bow Arts and London College of Fashion, we co-designed and developed STEP, a programme designed to increase representation in the creative, cultural and digital industries.

Open to young east Londoners, the paid opportunity sees participants complete two six-month internships (either in two different organisations or within two different departments of the same institution), take part in professional development workshops and work on a year-long curatorial project. Interns have the chance to build a strong peer network and, working with a specialist industry mentor, are equipped with the skills, experience and connections to begin their career in the sector.

I’ve only been here a month and feel like I’ve learnt so much already. Learning about how productions work behind the scenes, getting to see the shows, meeting and being around people who share the same interests as me and finding out just how many roles are needed in an organisation to put on shows has definitely benefitted me.

Leila Jassal, STEP intern working in the Producing & Touring team

iDISCOVER STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths)

iDiscover is a week-long programme for primary schools, introducing pupils to a range of STEAM careers and experiences. As part of the initiative, members of our Technical team have been leading visits by groups of 8 to 9-year-olds, where they discuss the different jobs available in theatre and, through practical activities, explain how they apply their knowledge of STEAM subjects in their everyday jobs.

Primary school children are given a tour to behind the scenes of Sadler’s Wells by our Technical team.

iDiscover STEAM is integral to the range of training and employment opportunities we offer at Sadler’s Wells, as we believe it is important to inspire and engage young people from a very early age, and to raise awareness among them of the variety or roles and paths available in the sector.

Primary school children are given a tour to behind the scenes of Sadler’s Wells by our Technical team.

Reflecting with some final thoughts on their time here at Sadler’s Wells, our students said:

One thing that I love about Sadler’s Wells is the diversity that is portrayed and how people of many backgrounds come together and create something wonderful.


Maimuna Kigenyi, 10-week work experience placement student


I didn’t know much about NYDC and Sadler’s Wells, so it was really refreshing to know that they worked so closely with loads of different young people.

Rachael Olumuyiwa, 10-week work experience placement student


I’m super inspired by the work that Sadler’s Wells does with their young artists and emerging choreographers. It’s such an encouraging thing to see an organisation care about and develop that.


Leila Jassal, STEP intern with Producing & Touring


Inspiring Future Theatre Day is a nationwide campaign launched by the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre in 2017, showcasing the multitude of offstage theatre careers available to young people. The campaign also recognises the role and work of arts institutions and organisations in strengthening connections between schools, colleges and local theatres.



SADLER’S WELLS JOINS MAYOR OF LONDON FOR EAST BANK GROUND BREAKING

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan hailed “the biggest investment in our city in culture and education for more than a century” as he joined Sadler’s Wells, BBC, UAL’s London College of Fashion, UCL and the V&A in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for the East Bank ground breaking ceremony. The exciting and transformative project will see a new cultural and education district built in Stratford, east London.

The Mayor was joined by deputy mayor for culture Justine Simons, Newham’s mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, Hackney’s mayor Philip Glanville and local schoolchildren as they buried a time capsule
at the UCL (University College London) East campus site – marking a milestone for the East Bank project and symbolising the positive impact it will have on future generations.

Deputy mayor for culture Justine Simons, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Newham’s mayor Rokhsana Fiaz and Hackney’s mayor Philip Glanville bury a time capsule to mark the start of construction of East Bank.

The historic moment was accompanied by a fanfare from a group of young east London musicians, specially commissioned by the BBC.

The East Bank project will bring together a collection of purpose-built spaces for its five partners, one of which will be our new venue, opening in 2022. As well as a 550-seat auditorium, Sadler’s Wells East will include six studios and support facilities for artist development and training, and for the creation of new dance work.

Render view of the Sadler’s Wells East building.

Britannia Morton, Sadler’s Wells’ Chief Operating Officer, said: “Our new mid-scale theatre represents a unique opportunity to place dance at the heart of what will be a global creative hub, allowing us to change the way we develop artists and to engage with a wider audience – on a local, national and international level.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “My vision for East Bank is one where everyone, regardless of their background, can access world-class culture and education on their doorstep. East Bank is a fantastic collaboration of inter-disciplinary work and world-class institutions that will drive forward growth and inspire more young Londoners to take up creative careers, transforming the communities of east London.”

Sadler’s Wells’ Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding (L) and COO Britannia Morton (R) join the Mayor of London, principals from the other East Bank partners and local school children for the groundbreaking. Image: Arts and Culture for Mayor of London.

Creating opportunities in the arts and cultural sector for young people represents an integral part of the project. Initiatives to nurture the next generation of creative professionals include STEP – a 12-month paid internship programme offered to young east Londoners, which Sadler’s Wells has supported as a founding partner with charity Create Jobs since its inception in 2017.

Andrew Adedipe talks about his experience as a STEP intern at Sadler’s Wells and the V&A at the reception for the groundbreaking event.

Ahead of opening the doors of our new venue in three years’ time, we have been working with the other East Bank partners and, more widely, with local schools, arts and community organisations. We regularly present dance in Stratford – most recently at Your Stratford Stage at IQL in May and The Great Get Together in the Olympic Park in June – and work in partnership with a number of east London schools to embed dance in the curriculum, as part of our Associate Schools initiative.

From 29 July to 9 August, we will also be running three different summer schools for young east Londoners – one of them, the East Education Summer School, delivered together with the East Bank partners – all of them free of charge for participants.