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Sadler’s Wells announces furlough period for casual colleagues will end on 30 September

It is with heavy hearts that we announce today that we will end the furlough period for our casual colleagues on 30 September. At Sadler’s Wells our casual colleagues include 222 people in our Front of House, Catering, Technical, and Ticket Office teams.  

Government support for the furlough scheme, which ends on 31 October, will continue to taper down for its final month, and sadly we are no longer able to fund the contributions required of Sadler’s Wells to keep these colleagues on furlough.  

We have avoided taking this action for as long as possible, and that’s why we have committed to keeping our casual colleagues on our payroll and making the furlough contributions required of Sadler’s Wells until the end of September. 

The devastating impact of the coronavirus crisis has already forced us to enter a consultation period with permanent and fixed term staff, and in addition to the other actions we have taken to reduce cost, this measure has become necessary to ensure the survival of Sadler’s Wells. 

Alistair Director & CEO Alistair Spalding and Executive Director Britannia Morton said: ‘We are deeply saddened to have to make the decision to end the furlough period for our causal colleagues on 30 September. We know that this will be difficult news for all of Sadler’s Wells, especially our casual colleagues who a core part of our community. Many of these colleagues are the people our teams, artists and audiences associate with the Sadler’s Wells experience they know and love. 

As we begin to reopen our buildings and explore projects that can be compliant with social distance requirements this autumn, there will be some opportunities for casual colleagues to be offered opportunities to work. However, we know that this is unlikely to be at the levels before lockdown began. 

We hope that our recent application to the UK government’s Culture Relief Fund will be successful to ensure the survival of the organisation, and that an eventual full reopening of our theatres can enable us to bring back as many of our casual colleagues as possible, as soon as possible. However, continued uncertainty prevents us from being able to make any definitive assurances to these valued colleagues at this time.’ 

Sadler’s Wells Enters Consultation Process with Permanent and Fixed Term Staff 

It is with deep sadness that Sadler’s Wells has entered a consultation process with our permanent and fixed term staff, following the devastating impact of the coronavirus crisis on our operations, the continued closure of our theatres and ongoing uncertainty about when we may be able to reopen fully.  

During this period, Sadler’s Wells will consult with all permanent and fixed term staff on proposed organisational change and efficiency measures. These proposals could put 51 permanent or fixed term roles at risk of redundancy or layoff, which represents 26% of our permanent and fixed term workforce. This is in addition to other measures we have and are taking to reduce cost in this time. 

This process will be very difficult for all members of the Sadler’s Wells community. The decision to enter a consultation process has been incredibly hard to make, and one which the organisation has done all it can to avoid. 

Artistic Director & CEO Alistair Spalding said: ‘In my 20 years at Sadler’s Wells and 15 years as its leader, the talent and dedication of our colleagues has been the cornerstone of every success and moment of magic on our stages and off. Every colleague at Sadler’s Wells has played their part in making Sadler’s Wells what it is today, and I am heartbroken that we have to embark on this process. We’ve searched long and hard to avoid having to take this course of action for as long as possible, but given the current situation, and in the face of continued uncertainty, it has become unavoidable.  

The impact of the global pandemic has been devastating for the arts – for organisations like Sadler’s Wells and for the many companies, freelancers and casual staff whose talent and skill is central to our industry. We are committed to doing all we can to play our role in rebuilding the sector, but recognise we can only do so if we get through the current crisis. I never imagined we would be in this position, but thank our colleagues for coming together as a community and for supporting each other as we all face this unprecedented challenge.’ 

Executive Director Britannia Morton said: ‘By closing our theatres and vastly reducing the work we are able to do, the coronavirus crisis has taken away our ability to earn over 80% of our income. We have done all we could to prevent and then delay the need for entering a consultation process. We have furloughed almost 90% of our colleagues through the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, reduced salaries across the organisation, and were successful in receiving a grant from the Arts Council of England’s Culture Recovery Fund, which secures our survival to October. We’re incredibly grateful for all the donations our generous supporters have made to us in this time. We also hope, like the rest of our colleagues in the sector, that Sadler’s Wells will be awarded a lifeline that allows us to stay afloat into 2021 through the UK Government’s arts, culture and heritage rescue package. Despite all of this, the loss of income to date and continuing uncertainty about what’s next has forced us to make this very difficult decision to begin a consultation period, to ensure the survival of Sadler’s Wells and prepare us for the post-coronavirus future.’  

Board of Trustees Chair Nigel Higgins said: ‘We are all very grateful for the way in which the individuals and teams at Sadler’s Wells have responded to the coronavirus crisis. This makes it doubly difficult to be entering into a consultation process to restructure the organisation and reduce the size of our workforce. We have done what we could to avoid this, and are grateful to the Arts Council of England and the UK government for their support. However, with no immediate visibility of reopening and generating income we have no choice but to take this action in order to protect the longer-term future of Sadler’s Wells. We hope for and are working hard to ensure better times for Sadler’s Wells, our staff and wider communities.’ 

A Beginner’s Guide to Bharatanatyam – Darbar Voices

What are the themes behind bharatanatyam? How did the dance style get its name? In our final instalment of Darbar Voices, we hand over to Sundaresan (Sunny) Ramesh, who is a student of Pushkala Gopal and an NYDC alumnus, to tell us more about one of the most popular styles in Indian dance.

The evolution of bharatanatyam

Let me tell you about bharatanatyam and my passion for it. Bharatanatyam has evolved over the years. Originating in temples of yore, its popularity had spread throughout Southern India. At some point, a few of centuries ago, it was patronised by the royal courts of Southern India. It was popularly known as Sadir performed by Devadasis, women of an artistic community who were dedicated either to the local temple or local patrons. Over time, the dance came into a lot of criticism. The British degraded the women that danced this art form. In 1892 there was a movement to stop practicing bharatanatyam and in 1910 the government had banned dancing in temples. The Indian community disapproved of the ban and as the Indian freedom movement gained momentum, people were getting a restored identity with Indian culture and tradition. With the pioneering efforts of E Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi Arundale, bharatanatyam expanded out of the Devadasi community and slowly grew as a cultural presence amongst the community at large, the early decade of the 20th century.

Etymology

Bharatanatyam is a combination of the words, Bharata and Natyam. Natyam is translated to dance and a popular interpretation of bharata is: bha – as bhava (emotions and feelings), ra is raga (musical notes) and ta is Talam (rhythm). There is an ancient text in Sanskrit on the performing arts. This is called the Natya Shastra and is attributed to Bharata. Bharatas were believed to be experts of dramaturgy which included music, dance and theatre which were originally a unified art form. This text contains thousands of verses on how dance should be performed and what the purpose of dance is. It also contains chapters on stagecraft and recommended principles on the staging of drama and a couple of chapters on music. All the classical dance styles of India are connected to the Natya Shastra.

Skills of the dancer

Bharatanatyam encompasses a wide variety of skills, it is a dance form that requires the dancer to have experience of theatre, music, literature and poetry. There are two main elements of bharatanatyam which are Nritta and Nritya. Nritta is pure dance, it is creating complex movements and patterns to rhythms. It does not have a focus on meaning but it expresses the joyous energy and beauty experienced by the dancer. Nritya is a combination of rhythm and expression. The dancer would perform to a poem or song by using subtle facial expressions and hand gestures. The entire body reacts to the emotions and allows the dancer to be elevated to a non-worldly level. They also induce the spectator to experience the emotions felt or generated by the dancer – rasa. Nandikeswara, a later scholar defines abhinaya as “exhibiting the meaning of what one depicts”. He defined fourfold abhinaya as the reach of using voice or techniques which excites aural response in the audience. Aharya abhinaya is the communication through costume and Satvika abhinaya stimulates the actor or dancer to be elevated to the point of total surrender to what he or she is portraying, which is then believed to create involuntary responses like shivering, numbness, weeping and other reactions usually seen at the height of emotional experiences.

Themes of the dance style

The themes are usually selected from Indian mythology, however more and more dancers are now opening their ideas and exploring non-religious and contemporary themes based on their audiences. Creators also experiment with global influences of music and movement styles. We are currently seeing high-quality dancers pushing the boundaries and it is extremely fascinating to see the spread of bharatanatyam.

Hear more from Sunny Ramesh by following _.sundaresan on Instagram.

Darbar Festival celebrates Indian classical dance at Sadler’s Wells from 23 – 26 Nov. To book, call the ticket office on 020 7863 8000 or book online. See the full Darbar Festival programme here.

The History and Evolution of Kathak – Darbar Voices

In the next instalment of Darbar Voices – a four-part blog series exploring the world of Indian classical dance in celebration of Darbar Festival – British-Chinese dance artist Jane Chan tells us why kathak is central to her practice as an independent dance artist.

Kathak was first introduced to me at University of Surrey, where it was one of the five techniques on the course. I have always been a culture-nerd and kathak is the confluence of culture and dance. Also, as an international student in a brand-new environment, kathak was the only connection to my Asian background. At the time, it did not matter whether it was my culture – I just fell in love with it. To me, kathak may be a dance form that has a long history with ancient traces, however it is not ‘ancient’, it is very much alive and ever-changing just like any other dance form.

Kathak is practised every day worldwide. It is a vibrant, well-established, highly technical and complex dance form from North India with emphasis on pure dance (Nritta) and storytelling (Nritya). Northern India was invaded by many different rulers, particularly from Central Asia, since the early centuries of the last millennium. Many of these rulers were patrons of music and dance. They brought their own art forms to the newly conquered India. A vibrant process of exchange and evolution followed. The Mughals were the most prominent patrons. It was during this time that kathak flourished.

Darbars were the royal courts where meetings, announcements and artistic gatherings took place. Darbar Festival is exactly that – where the most prestigious classical South Asian music and dance artists gather under one roof in front of a highly charged audience of ‘rasikas’. Some of the most critically acclaimed musicians and dancers from across the world see Darbar as momentous in their careers. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to watch some of the most sought-after dancers and musicians in London. It really is a royal treatment with the performances on Darbar’s programme.

Photo: Simon Richardson

Kathak is central to my practice as an independent dance artist. I see myself as an advocate for kathak by presenting myself as a dance artist who is dedicated and committed to practising kathak regardless of my cultural background. It is essential to have artists who are of different backgrounds who practise classical Indian music and dance as they represent diverse narratives, which add to a wide context of history that is vital for generations to come.

It also shows that the art forms have universal appeal and are not exclusive to people from particular cultural backgrounds. In the world today, the arts are needed more so than ever to bring people together to celebrate the creativity and energy of diversity. I question and reclaim cultural and social misrepresentation of my presence and visibility as a British-Chinese artist who practises kathak. I hope my practice will act as a catalyst, to invite the audience to a movement, a discourse, a wider conversation about multiculturalism, arts and collective experience.

Hear more from Jane Chan by following chanjaneonlifetour on Instagram and visiting chanjane.com.

Darbar Festival celebrates Indian classical dance at Sadler’s Wells from 23 – 26 Nov. To book, call the ticket office on 020 7863 8000 or book online. See the full Darbar Festival programme here.

Lead image: Simon Richardson

Sadler’s Wells marks 20th anniversary with a double celebration

In October 1998, after two intense years of construction, the new Sadler’s Wells theatre opened its doors to the public. The milestone was marked with two opening events. One, a traditional gala opening and performance by Rambert, took place on Tuesday 13 October. The other, in keeping with Lilian Baylis’ legacy of using theatre as a means for social outreach, was a free public opening for the local community, which took place the previous Saturday 10 October. As a nod to the past, but with our eyes fixed firmly on the future, our 20th anniversary celebrations this month reflected these two separate openings.

On Sunday 7 October, we opened our doors to our local communities for Sadler’s Wells’ first Fun Palace, as part of Fun Palaces 2018.  The campaign promotes the central role of community at the heart of culture with a weekend of action each October, where arts, science and community organisations across the country are called on to facilitate community-led activities.

For the Sadler’s Wells Fun Palace, we invited local community organisations to lead a variety of activities throughout the day; the resulting programme had a strong emphasis on skills, learning and creativity. Workshops throughout the day were grouped into three main categories – dance, crafts, and mindfulness, with a requisite dance floor on the ground floor. With something happening on each of our foyers, visitors were encouraged to wander throughout the building, drop in and out of various activities or simply sit down to watch, chat and relax. By the end of the day, visitors had a chance to learn Tudor dance, Bollywood and flamenco moves, practice yoga, take part in a drawing class and decorate a paper footprint to be displayed on the wall of the Mezzanine level as part of a collective artwork titled Dancing on the Ceiling.

“I particularly loved the silent disco – 100% certified fun! It is wonderful that Sadler’s Wells reaches out to people in the community with such days, particularly this 20-year celebration.” – Wendy Williams, Holloway Neighbourhood Group.

Four days later, on 11 October, we celebrated again with the world premiere of Reckonings, a mixed bill we commissioned to three bold choreographic voices: Julie Cunningham, Alesandra Seutin and Botis Seva. The dance makers each took different conceptual starting points to create an evening that at its core asked questions about identity and the state of contemporary society. Cunningham’s work interrogated traditional gender binaries; Seutin fused African styles with urban dance language to comment on how we perceive brown bodies; and Seva – inspired by Sally Brampton’s memoir about depression – looked introspectively at his own trials as an artist, using a hip-hop dance vocabulary and representations of violence to question our assumptions about black men and street dance.

“The revised, rejuvenated old Wells theatre took on a new life, ‘purpose-built for dance’, twenty years to the day (feels like yesterday), and has gone from strength to strength since taking dance to realms beyond one’s imagining. Long may it continue to dare and innovate.” – Vera Liber, British Theatre Guide.

Sadler’s Wells’ Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding joined the three choreographers and their dancers on stage after the curtain call to give a brief speech, congratulating the artists for creating and bringing to life an amazing performance. He also thanked the exceptional artists we work closely with at Sadler’s Wells: our Associate Artists, Resident and Associate companies, New Wave Associates, Young Associates, National Youth Dance Company members and alumni, as well as all the international dance artists and companies we support and collaborate with. He acknowledged the great contribution of two formative figures in Sadler’s Wells’ history, who were both in the audience that evening: Ian Albery, former Chief Executive of Sadler’s Wells, who led the campaign to transform the theatre into a building purpose-built for dance; and Roger Spence, Project Director, who managed the construction project.

Finally, he ended with a heartfelt thank you to our fantastic audiences for accompanying the theatre on its journey in the last two decades. This was followed by a confetti drop, showering the audience in golden ticket stubs embossed with the night’s date and the names of the production and choreographers.

https://twitter.com/Sadlers_Wells/status/1050497157583826944

As part of our digital campaign to mark our anniversary, we took to Twitter to ask people about their favourite Sadler’s Wells memories of the last 20 years. We received some wonderful responses from artists, performers, patrons and guests, which we compiled in this Twitter Moment. Among those who told us about their favourite memory was Florence Welch, musician and lead vocalist of Florence and the Machine.

Thank you to everyone who came to our Fun Palace and to the opening of Reckonings – to all the artists, audiences, communities and supporters who have been part of the Sadler’s Wells journey these past 20 years. Here’s to many more!

Header image: Ian Gavan.

Dansathon 2018: London winners announced

A dance project that aims to humanise technology, masterminded by team ‘Digital Umbilical’, was named as the London winner of Dansathon 2018; the first European Dance hackathon, taking place in three cities over three days. The project was created in response to the question ‘How can technology be soulful? and devised by Designer Salomé Bazin, Facilitator Laura Buffard, Developer Simon Haenggi, Communicator Katelyn Notman, Dancer Jon Rowe, Technician/Maker Adam Seid Tahir and Choreographer Renaud Wiser. They were awarded the Dansathon trophy by a jury panel which included leading dance-makers and industry figures at technology hub, Plexal, based in Stratford’s Here East.

Their idea centred on creating connections between strangers, and using the body’s senses in conjunction with new technologies to build a shared experience. In a collaboration between performer and audience member, both parties used wearable technology to interweave the breath of the dancer and the pulse of spectator into a unique soundscape. Through directly experiencing someone else’s physicality and emotional state, the human was kept at the heart of this technological experience.

Alistair Spalding, CEO and Artistic Director of Sadler’s Wells, said of Digital Umbilical’s project: “The jury members thought that this proposal had found a way that new technologies can enhance the empathy between performer and audience in a unique and intimate way, using these tools to bring people closer together as human beings.”

Over three days in three cities – London, Liège and Lyon – 90 participants developed new innovative projects to imagine the future of dance, with a particular focus on digital technologies. This was Europe’s first dance hackathon, where participants were invited to mix dance and technology to imagine new forms of art, new stages, new experiences and interactions.

The 35 London participants were selected from 168 applicants after an open call, with equal numbers having expertise in dance, choreography, creative technology, design, physical object making, media and communication, and facilitation.

A jury in each of the locations selected a winner, set to receive a grant of €10,000 from the BNP Paribas foundation and support from the respective host institution to help develop their idea – Sadler’s Wells in London, Maison de la Danse in Lyon, and Théâtre de Liège. London’s jury was formed of Sadler’s Wells Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding; Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Wayne McGregor; BNP Paribas Foundation supported artists Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez; writer and speaker on digital innovation in the arts and cultural sector Bhavani Esapathi; UX (User Experience) designer and Afrotech Fest founder Florence Okoye; theatre writer Lyn Gardner; Chaniya-Rose Manning-Onolaja, a member of Legacy Youth Voice, helping to shape the future of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and create opportunities for young east Londoners; and Jane Ayaduray, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, BNP Paribas UK.

Our congratulations also go to Vibes… in Lyon and Cloud Dancing in Liège for their winning projects.

You can watch a video of the announcement below:

Dansathon is an initiative of Fondation BNP Paribas, in partnership with Maison de la Danse de Lyon, Sadler’s Wells and Théâtre de Liège.

Image: Andreea Tufescu

SW Voices: Serina Lopez

Serina Lopez joined us in October 2017 as a participant in STEP – Shared Training and Employment Programme. The initiative, aimed at young East Londoners, is funded by London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) and delivered by Creative Jobs. Sadler’s Wells is one of eight host employers, including universities and cultural organisations, partnering to provide a two-part, 12-month paid internship in the creative sector. Serina has just finished her placement with Sadler’s Wells, and was successfully brought on as an assistant with Rambert Dance Company, where she starts later this month. 

Hi Serina, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I completed my degree in Illustration in 2013 and soon after that I fell seriously ill – which kind of derailed my career plans. Looking back, I feel like that time gave me a chance to think about what I really wanted to do. I was interested in making clothes, so I decided to go to tailoring college. I had an internship on Savile Row for a bit – I learnt how to pattern cut from the director, it was amazing. After that I was pursuing different creative jobs, and while looking around I found out about the Creative Opportunities Programme. It’s a two-week pre-employment programme where they take a group of young people around different arts organisations.

How did you find out about STEP, and was there anything about Sadler’s Wells that particularly drew you in?

Everyone on the Creative Opportunities Programme was talking about this initiative called STEP, which I hadn’t heard of, so I looked into it. They work with loads of different creative and arts organisations in London; it seemed ideal. There was a lot of competition, but I applied and was accepted.

In the application form, you choose certain categories and you’re assigned an organisation. In a way, I didn’t expect to be here, but I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity – they must have thought we were a good match! The STEP internship is divided into two, six-month placements, which for me meant working in two different departments at Sadler’s Wells: Visitor Experience and Producing & Touring.

What has your internship involved day-to-day? How has the work differed between the two departments?

My first placement was in the Visitor Experience team, which was fascinating. I learnt so much. You’re basically dealing with the skeleton of the organisation, encompassing cleaning, security, safety – the foundations of any venue, things without which a theatre couldn’t function. It’s really important to have a solid core, and I felt like Visitor Experience was at the heart of Sadler’s Wells. Day-to-day, there could be a number of different things going on. I was a port of call for security issues, I coordinated training days, I made sure all the safety information was up-to-date. Quite a lot of responsibility, really.

In April I started in Producing & Touring, where I am now. You’re dealing with the artistic side of things, which involves a lot of behind-the-scenes details to make sure that what the audience see on stage is perfect. This could be dancers’ logistics – making sure that they’re happy, that the technical team are pleased, and everything runs smoothly.

Is there anything you have particularly enjoyed during your time at Sadler’s Wells?

I couldn’t narrow it down to a single project – it’s been the whole experience, really! When I was ill I felt pretty lonely and limited, and so being able to talk to people and learn about what they do was great. Hearing about other people’s journeys and how it’s led them here – it’s been fascinating. Although one day stands out, when I was shadowing the wardrobe team for a performance of Associate Artist Matthew Bourne’s company, New Adventures. I’m passionate about clothes and costumes, so it was beautiful to see their work.

Any challenges?

Adjusting to the pace can be difficult. When I first started, I only had a month’s prior office experience. Remembering names, protocols, keeping organised – that was a challenge. Once you’re into the swing of things, it’s fine. It was like a locomotive; it might take a short while to start, but once you’re rolling, you’re OK. I think it’s a feature of working as an intern at Sadler’s Wells – you have real responsibility from the outset. The work that I do as an intern demonstrably helps everyone else.

How do you feel the placement has benefited your professional development?

I think it’s greatly helped. My background is mostly creative, so I always wanted to work in a creative organisation. The organisational and administrative skills, everything I learned here is transferable. Going into another arts organisation or even another industry, what I’ve learned will set me up pretty well.

What advice would you give others thinking of pursuing a career in the arts or creative industries?

You have to be resilient. Some of the jobs that you do might not be what you imagined you would be doing, some tasks might seem mundane. But it all forms part of a creative endeavour. There’s beauty in doing things well.

World Architecture Day interview with Roger Spence

In October 1998 after two years of reconstruction, a brand new Sadler’s Wells opened its doors to the public. This was a Herculean feat in the short time given, and served as a flagship model for National Lottery-funded public arts projects. In celebration of the building’s upcoming 20th anniversary and coinciding with World Architecture Day we sat down with Roger Spence, Project Director at the time, to discuss the building’s construction, the ideas behind it, and its legacy. 

The 1998 Sadler’s Wells theatre construction was a test-case for a particular model of public funding, being one of the first arts construction projects to receive National Lottery funds. Twenty years on and with the benefit of hindsight, do you think the model has proven a successful one? 

The answer is yes – and I suppose the only negative is that sadly there is no longer so much money from that lottery source going into the refurbishment, construction and maintenance of arts buildings. At the time, it was absolutely the right thing to do, and it has worked well.

As with any large initiative, there are examples where it hasn’t worked as intended. But the vast majority of National Lottery money has been very well spent – and I’m lucky to have done Sadler’s Wells and the Wales Millennium Centre, both exemplars of publicly-funded arts projects that continue to work fantastically well and as intended.

A particularly positive outcome was the bringing-together of a whole cohort of new architects, structural and mechanical engineers, acousticians and theatre consultants who now understand about arts building. It had been a very contained group of specialists until that time, and then with that flowering of funds it facilitated a new generation of design teams particularly knowledgeable on how to build theatres, concert halls, galleries, etc.

I wish, now, there was bit of a better balance towards arts construction projects through Lottery funding – there is still a  lot of work across the UK that badly needs doing. More controversially there needs to be significant investment in some public and access facilities in some of the West End theatres, if they are to offer better experiences  and access to theatre-goers and tourists.

Architects’ impression of the new Sadler’s Wells. Image: Islington Local History Centre. 

Your official role was that of Project Director (and Client Representative) – what did that involve?

I was the central person on the ground representing the client – in this case the Sadler’s Wells Foundation – and I often described myself as the translator in a three-way exchange between architecture, construction and theatre. At that point I had been working in theatre and dance for 30 years, and so I knew that language. Ian Albery, who needed a Project Director, knew that I had a thorough grounding in theatre production and administration, and already by that point had overseen several arts building projects. Because I had already built one complete theatre and undertaken major rebuilding on another, as well as several other smaller projects, I was versed in the architectural and construction language as well. Sometimes the different camps working on a project believe that they’re talking to each other, but often real meaning  and needs get lost in the technical jargon on all sides.

My job had many other facets including financial controls and programming – but it was principally about communication and ensuring the brief was delivered. We ran it as a construction management contract; facilitating a large number of smaller work packages – 50-odd single contracts that had to be scheduled. We found that a good way of working, a bit like working on a theatre production, where you’re bringing together all the different departments into a coordinated whole.

What is your favourite architectural feature of the building, or the corner you’re most proud of – and why?

I’m very fond of the new main entrance – added in 2014 – because it did what the earlier entrance didn’t do. It was important in 1998 to be as open and accessible as possible, making sure that visitors could see inside to all the levels of the main foyer, this we achieved with a large all-glass façade.  The  problem was that all the glass didn’t make the main entrance particularly stand out. People would often walk straight past. So, in 2013, during the refurbishment, we wanted to make sure the entrance was really clear. We put a big red arch up, and it seems to have worked.

It’s barely a corner but the auditorium works incredibly well with a number of invisible elements that make it more flexible.

There are a number of items from the 1931 building that people often pass by without realising – including the water carriers at the stage door, which was a bas relief that sat above the old main entrance. Near the stalls there are the classic ‘tragedy and comedy’ plinths, also taken from the front façade of the 1931 theatre. I like these small details, the original well, glimpses of the old Georgian and Victorian auditorium walls, that mostly go unnoticed.

Construction underway on the main auditorium. Image: Islington Local History Centre. 

Buildings can reflect the ideals of the organisations that inhabit them. In what ways did you find that the Sadler’s Wells ethos was baked into the bricks, so to speak?

We tried very hard to make the theatre accessible for as many people as possible – whether that was ensuring robust disabled access or presenting a literally and figuratively transparent face to the public. Arts spaces can often be quite closed-off, and we were very keen to try and demystify the experience.

Within the welcoming process, you should be very clear as to what’s going on. Why does the theatre have a “box office”? It’s because at one time, the only spaces you could book for were the boxes. People use this phrase, but it’s quite opaque, so we very specifically say Ticket Office. There aren’t any boxes anyhow, historically people would use these boxes to be seen at the theatre rather than necessarily seeing what was on stage, which in turn did interfere with sightlines. Why is it called a “dress circle”? Not everyone dresses up nowadays. First and Second Circle is much clearer.

The Community and Education Centre was another important aspect. Even in the ‘80s and ‘90s, most theatres wouldn’t have an area that was focused on community and education work – it felt as though it was the first one. It was a clear demonstration of the broader, inclusive social role that we want theatres to have nowadays.

Access for those with disabilities was at the front of our minds. We had an advisory group called Freefall, comprising about 12 people, including a representative for older people, the blind and partially-sighted, those with sickle cell disease, the deaf, people with learning difficulties and others. They monitored the design, and the team was supervised by Judy Monahan. It could be tricky at times – what worked for a visual disability might not work for others – but having those voices (and responding to them) was important to us.

For the first time in Sadler’s Wells’ history, the 1998 building was purpose-built for dance. How does a dance theatre differ from another theatre?

We kept the original framework of the auditorium – which wasn’t designed exclusively for dance, and there were a lot of discussions with the architectural team about where was the best place to have the auditorium: did we knock down the whole building, did we keep the auditorium? In the end, we decided we would keep the skeleton of the 1931 auditorium which included sections of the Georgian and Victorian theatre walls.

The thing about dance is that you need to be able to see bodies and feet right down to the front of the stage, whereas, to a certain extent, sightlines in drama and lyric theatre aren’t quite as finely tuned. Dance provides you with far greater strictures in terms of ensuring sightlines. By keeping the auditorium, we had to do several things. We moved the stage a little further back, we changed the rakes on all the seating tiers to make them steeper, we ensured the stalls didn’t extend too far back to improve vertical sightlines. At the same time, we managed to get in almost exactly the same number of seats as in the old theatre. So, we retained the capacity while improving sightlines with these tweaks.

An aspect of many theatres, historically and now, is a raked stage. They were used to facilitate perspective scenery and ensure performers were still visible upstage. Rakes are a nightmare for dancers, so we went to a specially-designed sprung flat stage. A huge amount of work went into that stage design – and it’s still going strong.

View from the main stage. Image: Philip Vile. 

Certain aspects of the build that we know are important now – the inclusion of a disabled access area in the centre of the stalls, for instance – would not have been on the minds of those building the theatre’s previous incarnation. How else might have the priorities of theatre construction shifted since Frank Matcham (& co.) designed the 1931 hall?

The foyer size is one – that was a famous complaint that people had about the 1931 theatre. All of the public spaces were extraordinarily restricted. You had to go out of the building to get into the higher levels of the auditorium. The bars were hot, stuffy, and occasionally smelly. So, these were concerns that were a priority, and we had to solve.

Toilet numbers – particularly for women, has always been a traditional problem for theatres, so we took the regulations for the number of women’s cubicles, multiplied them by two, and added some. It might be a mundane point, but it stops queues building up and makes for a more pleasant theatre experience.

We wanted to give visiting companies a better experience – really good dressing rooms, good hanging facilities, most had their own showers. Except for “star” dressing rooms that was unusual for the time. What we wanted to do was ensure that everyone had good facilities, including disabled performers. They’re really well kitted-out.

We created the café space which serves as a foyer for the Lilian Baylis Studio, but at the same time provides a green room, a space where staff can have meetings, and a place where the public can gather and eat. Unusual and expected not to work, but in fact it has been very effective.

You mention the wheelchair seating in the centre of the stalls, We were determined to have far more seating for wheelchair users than the statutory requirement and that most should be in really good positions. I had seen this format work in another new theatre and we adopted it very effectively.

Sadler’s Wells Theatre, 1935. Image: Islington Local History Centre. 

There are a number of tales from the re-opening that have persisted down the years – some apocryphal, some no doubt exaggerated. What  challenges were you up against in those opening few days?

There were certain areas of the building which were still a bit of a building site when we opened. We had run into a bit of a problem just before opening that has caused unforeseen difficulties and certainly for the first few weeks we were using temporary licenses and were subject to checks, due to the builders being on site. The project was phased, so there was always an expectation that there was going to be more building work going on.

It was the opening night, with Rambert. Certainly, the audience was in the auditorium, they were definitely twiddling their thumbs for a few minutes, and Ian did come on stage with an announcement. The figures might have got distorted over the years, I have seen written reports of 2 minutes and a quarter of an hour, never 30, but it was possibly  eight or ten, however the story is broadly true.

We’re soon to start construction on Sadler’s Wells East, our new 500-seat theatre at East Bank in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. If you could have done one thing differently when you were overseeing the building of the theatre, what would you have done and why?

To be honest, the answer is no – not really. It’s a testament to the original architects that when we did revisit it all in 2012 through to 2016, when we completed our renewals and renovations, we didn’t physically alter anything in terms of the planning and structure. Making the main entrance more visible was a small intervention, but other than that, everything stayed where it was. We had a number of meetings running up to the 2013 refurbishment where staff had the opportunity to raise issues, but nothing significant came up. Physically, from a planning point of view, it works.

The theatre in Stratford won’t have the same site constraints and doesn’t face some of the limitations that we faced here, so there should be a bit more freedom. More wing space, less of a height restriction, a rectangular site.

The Architects Journal in 1998 thought the building “[caught] the mood of the time.” You’ve overseen a number of high-profile arts construction projects since, including the Wales Millenium Centre and the National Concert Hall in Dublin. Do you think that mood has changed in any way? 

People are always sounding the death knell of theatre. Saying that in twenty to thirty years’ time, theatre won’t exist. It will! It may not exist in exactly the same way, but there’s always going to be a need for a direct relationship between performing artists and audiences. The visual language of dance will be just as relevant, perhaps more so, in the context of a proscenium presentation than other performing art forms. Will it shift? Not massively. Developments around scenery and staging, lighting and audio-visual will all contribute to the tools that creators use, but won’t mean a sea-change in terms of how theatre continues to operate. We’ve been at it since mediaeval times, and it looks like it’s here to stay.

Sinking of a time capsule, 1997. The capsule contains – among other things – a piece of the wooden floor from the de Valois Room, a copy of the original deeds of the land dated 1834, a conker from Lilian Baylis’ commemorative horse chestnut tree and a bus ticket of route 19. Image: Islington Local History Centre. 

Header image: Philip Vile.

SW Voices: Tiegan Hummerston

Tiegan Hummerston joined us in September 2016 on an apprenticeship placement, working at Sadler’s Wells for four days a week while she studied toward a formal qualification in Business Administration. Earlier this year, Tiegan was shortlisted for the National Apprenticeship Week’s Creative Apprentice of the Year award with Lewisham Southwark College. She was recently promoted to HR Assistant, taking up a full-time position. In this interview, Tiegan shares her experiences of working for Sadler’s Wells and in HR.

Hi Tiegan, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I grew up in Essex, where I still live today. After finishing my GCSEs and A-Levels, I wasn’t quite sure about what I wanted to do next. Most people my age were going to university, but I didn’t feel ready to commit entirely to one subject – my A-Levels were fairly diverse; Psychology, History, Art and Law – so I decided to look into a range of apprenticeships and work opportunities. I was taken on for two weeks’ work experience in two separate companies, both of them in HR departments. I decided to try this experience, as it was suggested to me based on my current interests and skill set. After undertaking these two weeks’ worth, I felt very positive about the experience and decided to begin applying to full-time HR apprenticeship schemes.

How did you find out about the apprenticeship, and was there anything about Sadler’s Wells that particularly drew you in?

I actually found the posting through the gov.uk website. I hadn’t heard much about Sadler’s Wells, but I did some research and was intrigued – I liked the fact that they wanted to get young people involved in the arts, both in terms of engaging them in dance and in terms of helping them get experience in and be employed in the creative sector.

What did your apprenticeship involve, and how does it compare to your role now?

While doing the apprenticeship, it very much felt like I was a full-time employee – so there wasn’t actually a huge jump in terms of workload! The role came with a lot of responsibility quite early on. I’m still very happy I was formally taken on. Our HR Coordinator recently left, which provided me with an open opportunity to be kept on in the department. After discussing my interest in staying with my colleagues and line manager, they decided to reset the job level to an Assistant role, to which I was happy and comfortable with applying for. The only noted difference is that my workload has gone up – so the sort of experience I was gaining during the apprenticeship has been important for staying on top of things.

During my training period, I was at Sadler’s Wells for four days a week, and I was going to college on a day release on the other day. The course was in Business Administration, and we did coursework, had lectures and exams. So I was getting the roots of the theory for one day a week, then applying that on the other days – it was an interesting combination.

What have you particularly enjoyed during your time at Sadler’s Wells?

I’ve enjoyed a lot, but some of the aspects of recruitment in particular – I like meeting new people, and it’s been great to put into practice the policies about engaging young people I first read about on the website. An event that sticks in my mind is Skills London, an event where everyone in Sadler’s Wells HR and some of the interns go to the ExCeL Centre in East London to talk to young people about work opportunities and the creative sector. We had our own stall and spoke to loads of people; it was really interesting and great to engage with young people who are considering a career in the arts.

Staff induction days have been another highlight – it’s great to get experience in leadership, and curating a whole day of talks and activities makes for a really rewarding project.

What advice would you give others looking to make their way into the arts, HR, or the professional world more broadly?

If you don’t know what you want to do just yet, try getting experience in a field you think you might enjoy. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I gave HR a go, and – perhaps luckily – it just really seemed to click with me. It’s not always a good idea to go to university just because people around you are going; it’s experience that gives you a real feel for what you might want to do in life. Do some research, dig around, and see what might appeal to you!

Crystal Pite to be honoured at 61st annual Dance Magazine Awards

We were thrilled to hear the news that Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Crystal Pite is to be honoured at Dance Magazine 61st Annual Awards for her “lasting impact on dance”.

The awards, which began in 1954, will be held in December at the Ailey Citigroup Theatre in New York. Crystal’s contribution to choreography is being celebrated alongside the work of her peers Ronald K. Brown, Lourdes Lopez and Michael Trusnovec. CEO and Chairman of Dance Media Frederic Segal complimented a “stellar group of honourees”. Past recipients include Margot Fonteyn in 1963, Sir Frederick Ashton in 1970, William Forsythe in 2003 and Wayne McGregor in 2014.

Since establishing her company Kidd Pivot in 2002, Crystal’s work has become highly regarded for its blending of movement, original music, text and visual design into works that analyse the human condition with a distinctly eerie tone. She became Sadler’s Wells’ 16th Associate Artist in 2013.

In 2016 Sadler’s Wells co-produced Betroffenheit, a dance-theatre hybrid piece Crystal created with fellow Canadian actor and playwright Jonathon Young. It examined the psychological states of trauma, grief and addiction, and won the Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production in 2016. It returned to Sadler’s Wells for a sold-out run in 2017, where it was recorded and subsequently broadcast on BBC Four.

This year, Crystal choreographed two pieces that graced our stage – Solo Echo for Ballet British Columbia and The Statement for Nederlans Dans Theater’s NDT1, both of which emerged as critical favourites within their troupe’s respective mixed bills.

This will be the latest in a long line of awards and honours for Crystal. She is the personal recipient of the Banff Centre’s Clifford E. Lee Award, the Bonnie Bird North American Choreography Award, and the Isadora Award.

Congratulations!