Message In A Bottle: announcing the cast and creatives

An exceptional cast of dancers and a multi-award winning creative team come together for Message In A Bottle, the hotly anticipated new dance theatre show by Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Kate Prince, set to the music of 17-time Grammy Award-winning artist Sting.

A Sadler’s Wells and Universal Music UK production, Message In A Bottle receives its world premiere at The Peacock from 6 February – 21 March 2020, followed by a UK and international tour (more dates to be announced).

The cast

Message In A Bottle sees a village alive with joyous celebrations suddenly come under siege. In the chaos, three siblings, Leto, Mati and Tana are separated from their parents; they undertake a perilous journey to new lands and step out on their own extraordinary adventures.

Message In A Bottle is performed by an extraordinary ensemble of dancers from ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company. Lukas McFarlane, a winner of Sky 1’s Got to Dance, plays Leto; Tommy Franzen, who stars in the new Tom Hooper-directed CATS, is Mati; and Natasha Gooden – whose credits include Blak Whyte Gray with Boy Blue and Strictly Come Dancing – performs the role of Tana.

Natasha Gooden, who plays Tana in Message In A Bottle. Rehearsal image (c) Johan Persson

Joining them are Lizzie Gough, a finalist on So You Think You Can Dance and judge on CBBC’s Alesha’s Street Dance Stars; and Nafisah Baba, winner of BBC Young Dancer in 2017.

Making their ZooNation debut in this production are Samuel Baxter, Onyemachi Ejimofor, Anna Holmström, Emma ‘Shortbread’ Houston, Ajani Johnson-Goffe, Daniella May, Daniel Phung and Hannah Sandilands. Completing the company is Kino McHugh, Michael Naylor, Aaron Nuttall, Delano Spenrath, Annie Edwards, Nestor Garcia Gonzalez and Gavin L Vincent.

“I am so inspired by this incredible international company of ZooNation dancers. Their skill and ability is insane” explains Kate Prince. “The company has some of the best breakers and contemporary movers I’ve encountered during my 20 years of working in professional dance. Their dedication and discipline, agility, strength, stamina and their ability to tell stories through dance are both mind blowing and exhilarating. I feel very fortunate that I get to tell this very important story with them and to create movement with their fantastically talented and expressive bodies.”

Lukas McFarlane, who plays Leto in Message In A Bottle. Rehearsal image (c) Johan Persson

The creative team

Message In A Bottle includes new musical arrangements by Alex Lacamoire, the celebrated Grammy and Tony Award-winning musical director known for his work on Hamilton (2016), In The Heights (2008), Dear Evan Hansen (2017), The Greatest Showman (2017), Fosse/Verdon (2019) and Carmen La Cubana (2016). Music production and additional arrangements for the show come from multi-Grammy Award winner Martin Terefe, who has written and produced for artists including Jason Mraz, Sean Mendes, KT Tunstall, Tom Odell and Train.

Alex Lacamoire provides new musical arrangements for the show

Message In A Bottle has set design by Ben Stones (MEN 2011 Award winner for Best Design for Doctor Faustus at the Royal Exchange); video design by Andrzej Goulding (winner of the inaugural Theatre and Technology Award for Creative Innovation in Video Design for Room in 2017); costume design by Anna Fleischle (Olivier Award winner, 2016 for Hangmen); and lighting design by Natasha Chivers (Olivier Award winner, 2007 for Sunday in the Park with George).

Sound design is by David McEwan (Music Producers Guild award winner); music co-production and mixing is by Grammy Award-winning Oskar Winberg; and dramaturgy is by Lolita Chakrabarti, whose writing credits include Life Of Pi and Red Velvet. The Associate Choreographer is Lukas McFarlane (Strictly Come Dancing).

Message In A Bottle makes its world premiere at Sadler’s Wells’ West End theatre, The Peacock, from 6 Feb – 21 Mar 2020. To book, call the ticket office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

A Sadler’s Wells and Universal Music UK production co-produced with Birmingham Hippodrome and The Lowry, Salford. Research and development supported by The Movement.

Go behind the scenes at Sadler’s Wells with #DancePassion

We’re excited to be part of #DancePassion – a new festival organised by BBC Arts in collaboration with One Dance UK, showcasing extraordinary dance from the four corners of the UK. As part of the live streaming day on Friday 5 April, we’re taking you behind the scenes at Sadler’s Wells to join exceptional dance-makers as they create and rehearse three works at different stages of development. We’ll be live streaming all the action on the Sadler’s Wells Facebook page and at

Live from Sadler’s Wells
Friday 5 April

Akram Khan Company

Our Associate Artist Akram Khan invites you in to a rehearsal for his new company production, Outwitting the Devil. Drawing inspiration from the most recently discovered tablet from the Epic of Gilgamesh, Akram and his collaborators are creating the narrative of six characters seeking to make whole the fragments of ancient knowledge lost and forgotten over time.

English National Ballet

Dancers from our Associate Company English National Ballet rehearse Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings, based on the life and art of Frida Kahlo. It’s one of three pieces featured in She Persisted, a programme of work by female choreographers performed at Sadler’s Wells on 4 – 13 April. She Persisted continues English National Ballet’s commitment to showcasing women’s voices in dance, and follows 2016’s celebrated She Said programme.

National Youth Dance Company

National Youth Dance Company is made up of 38 talented young dancers from all over England who are keen to make their mark on the dance world. Eight dancers from the company rehearse their new work MADHEAD with Olivier-nominated choreographer Botis Seva, this year’s Guest Artistic Director. Drawing on Botis’ unique movement language of physical theatre and hip hop, and on the exuberant, impulsive energy of youth culture, MADHEAD makes its world premiere at Ipswich’s DanceEast on 20 April, followed by a national tour culminating at Sadler’s Wells.

You can watch all the action live on the Sadler’s Wells Facebook page and see the full #DancePassion schedule on

Akram Khan Company, English National Ballet, One Dance UK and Sadler’s Wells are among Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisations. National Youth Dance Company (NYDC) is supported using public funding by the Department for Education and Arts Council England.

Damien Jalet: “It can make people uncomfortable, but I think that’s where art should go sometimes.”

We talk to the Olivier Award-winning choreographer about trusting your intuition, dance as the language of witchcraft, and flooding the Sadler’s Wells stage for the UK premiere of Vessel.

“I’m very bored of gender distinction, male-female duet, all these things. I’m always interested in something that can transcend.”

Damien Jalet is speaking to us from Brussels about his creative collaboration with Japanese sculptor Kohei Nawa. Blurring the lines between the human form and its environment, Vessel is a visually arresting, hypnotic and ambitious work. Seven near-naked dancers perform strange rituals on a flooded stage, their figures transforming as they morph and merge with the organic structure that floats atop 7,500 litres of water. Their faces are hidden, their headless poses concealing gender and identity and hinting at the existence of some non-human entity.

Vessel is a live performance – it premiered in Japan in 2016 and receives its UK premiere at Sadler’s Wells in April – but the artists took the fusion of their disciplines one step further and created 3D sculptures out of the dancers’ bodies, which were exhibited in Shanghai.

“The problem with dance is that it only exists in the memory of the people who experience it”, explains Damien. “It dissolves, it’s never really something concrete, it’s just a feeling that you transmit. Sculpture is the medium that’s most connected to eternity in a way. It’s the exact opposite. The fact that a performance can suddenly become a sculpture, for me it’s a way to break the spell.”

Vessel © Yoshikazu Inoue

Breaking the spell is key to much of the French-Belgian choreographer’s work. He’s an artist interested in pushing beyond the edges. Rituals and transformation are themes which occupy much of his highly-acclaimed output – from the manic compulsion to dance believed to be caused by tarantula bites which inspired Tarantiseismic, the work he created as Guest Artistic Director of National Youth Dance Company in 2017, to using dance as the language of witchcraft in the recent remake of cult horror film Suspiria, starring Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson, which Damien choreographed – and where in one particularly brutal scene, contemporary dance literally kills.

“What’s interesting is that Suspiria and Vessel happened at the same time”, explains Damien. “I literally got a call in July 2016 from Luca [Guadagnino, director of Suspiria] while I was going back to Japan to finish Vessel, and while I was finishing it I was already looking for the dancers for Suspiria, talking with Luca on the phone about different ideas, reading the script. It was a pretty busy period. It’s interesting because Suspiria, the original from [Dario] Argento, was always a reference film to me. It’s a film I’ve seen many times.”

In fact, back in 2013 Damien suggested that his dancers watch the original 1977 film as research material for a performance installation he was creating at the Louvre: Les Médusés, a female trio inspired by the myth of Medusa, which Luca Guadagnino saw. “There was no way that they could know that we watched Suspiria, so they had amazing intuition”, he reflects.

Initially, however, he was a bit skeptical. “When they told me ‘we want to do Suspiria’ and I was like, what? How would you want to do Suspiria again? Because it’s such a specific film. But then I saw the crew that Luca was running with, and talking with him I understood that it was not going to be this traditional remake but much more like a passion project, something that he viscerally wants to do. He really convinced me when he said, in the original of Suspiria dance is very much in the background and I would like to put it at the centre. Dance is actually presented as a very offensive art. And I said this is so smart because especially if you’re going to bring the whole historical period of Germany, of choreographers working at this time, many of them were considered witches, like Marie Wigman, and I feel that it’s very challenging but also super exciting to re-write the whole story of Suspiria, connecting it with the political situation of the time but also to really use dance as the language of witchcraft.”

It’s rare to see contemporary dance play such an integral role in a film, and the fact that Suspiria has sparked a new interest in dance for some people is an idea that really excites Damien.

“I’m getting a lot of feedback from people, who say that they were never really in to the medium of dance, but they found themselves liking it and being attracted by it. When I hear that it makes me really happy because I think sometimes the big media don’t trust what dance can offer. Often it’s reduced to very academic or very technical reference, which is fine, but it’s a bit reductive, and it comes back to the sense of what is the first function of dance, and it was often a way to get in to an altered state of consciousness, to get in to a parallel world, to get in contact with gods – pretty intense.”

Damien is an expert collaborator. His previous projects include collaborations with fashion designer Hussein Chalayan on Gravity Fatigue (2015), and with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and sculptor Antony Gormley on Babel(words), which won the Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production in 2010.

“I’ve learned so much from all my collaborators and I think collaboration is the only way for me to meet someone. Because it’s in the work that you meet, it’s in making things together, it’s in struggling together, it’s in all these highs and lows that a person really reveals themselves. I feel extremely lucky. I think dance has this incredible potential to be able to connect to any kind of medium. I’ve been working with theatre, with fashion, with cinema, with music and I feel that always there is a fascination from all of these mediums towards dance.”

So what does he think makes a good collaboration? “There’s one rule that I apply. Your intuition has to really feel it. It should never be something that works on paper, it should feel like something that you feel, it’s a vibration, it’s wanting to learn from the person, it’s having a deep respect for the person you’re working with, and you have to feel that the feeling is mutual. That’s what I would say is the key.”

Hussein Chalayan’s Gravity Fatigue, with choreography by Damien Jalet © Hugo Glendinning

It’s this intuition which led him to work with Kohei Nawa. Damien chanced upon the sculptor’s work at the Aichi Triennale in Nagoya, Japan, in 2013 – which he describes as a “sliding doors” moment.

“I was performing in the afternoon and I decided to go and see the exhibitions. 10 minutes before the doors were closing, I decided to go to the last floor. And I discovered an installation of Kohei’s called Foam.”

Something clicked for Damien. “I could feel there was something that Kohei was researching that I was researching too”, he explains. “First of all I was impressed by the fact that the way people were moving in this installation was somehow transforming them as performers, because as a visitor you would inhabit and become part of it. There was something done with a very strong scientific vigour and it was very precise and technical. At the same time, in an abstract way, it was somehow opening a door to a new world.”

“I really wanted to collaborate with him. I was really obsessed.” Damien eventually made contact with Kohei, and they started developing the early stages of Vessel together at a residency programme in Kyoto, where Kohei has his Sandwich art factory.

“I’m really fascinated by sculpture, and I’ve always been interested in exploring the sculptural potential of the body. When do we stop perceiving the human body as being completely human? I started experimenting with Aimilios [Arapoglou, a dancer and close artistic collaborator on Vessel] and we built up a series of figures – most of them were headless – in a way that was really challenging the perception of the body. When I sent those pictures to Kohei, that’s when I felt a really strong click.”

“I would say that we are both inspired equally by science and by mythology and I really believe that Vessel is a meeting point between those two worlds. People at the end of the show come to me and say that they will never see the human body the same way after, because it plays with anatomy, but it ultimately creates a mythology through it. I’m always keen to blur the lines. It can make people a bit uncomfortable, it can be disturbing for some, but I think that’s where art should go sometimes.”

Vessel receives its UK premiere at Sadler’s Wells on 16 – 17 April. To book, call the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Lead photo: Aimilios Arapoglou in Vessel © Yoshikazu Inoue

Four Fab Dance Works Inspired by The Beatles

As Mark Morris Dance Group swings into town with Pepperland – a unique tribute to The Beatles’ iconic Sgt. Pepper album – we take a look at the rich smorgasbord of dance works inspired by the music of The Fab Four.

Cirque du Soleil: LOVE

Cirque du Soleil’s Grammy Award-winning circus spectacular has been resident in Las Vegas since 2006, and seen by over eight million people. A cast of world-class aerialists, acrobats and dancers bring to life The Beatles’ classics in this huge feast for the senses – from a slow-motion aquatic ballet to ‘Octopus’s Garden’ to Lucy quite literally in the sky with diamonds. Using master tapes recorded at Abbey Road Studios, the music director is Giles Martin, son of the legendary Beatles producer Sir George Martin.

Trey McIntyre’s A Day in the Life

Washington Ballet’s British Invasion programme (2006) paid tribute to the mid-60s phenomenon which saw British bands break through to the US, with two evocative rock ballets. In Trey McIntyre’s A Day in the Life (originally titled Always, No Sometimes), eight dancers clad in white interpret some of The Fab Four’s later output – from the contemplative ‘Mother Nature’s Son’, to the carefree ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, to the psychedelic ‘A Day in the Life’. Christopher Bruce’s Rooster, set to the music of The Rolling Stones, completes the programme.

The Winding Road by Martin Lawrance

Choreographer Martin Lawrance grew up listening to The Beatles and draws on his personal love of their music in his new work for Ballet Manila, The Winding Road, which receives its world premiere this month.

Ballet Manila in The Winding Road by Martin Lawrance (c) Junmark Sumaylo (Markbiphotography)

Mark Morris Dance Group: Pepperland

This exuberant new dance work revels in the joyful optimism of The Beatles’ ground-breaking album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and proved a hit with audiences when it premiered in the band’s hometown of Liverpool in 2017. Choreographer Mark Morris teases out the album’s avant-garde heart and eccentric charm while a bold new score from regular collaborator Ethan Iverson features six quirky and jazzy reinventions of the original songs, including ‘A Day in the Life’, ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘A Little Help from my Friends’, performed live by a seven-piece band of piano harpsichord, trombone, saxophone, organ, theremin and voice. Expect a production full of joy and colour to transport you to the swinging 60s…

Pepperland comes to Sadler’s Wells on 20-23 March. Tickets are priced from £15. To book, call the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Our favourite Snowmen in film

Whether they melt your heart or give you the chills, snowmen are an enduring fixture on the big and small screen. As the enchanting stage version of Raymond Briggs’ classic book, The Snowman, returns to The Peacock, we take a closer look at some of the most memorable snowmen from film and TV.


A snowman who wants a sun tan? It can only be Olaf, our favourite frozen friend from, er, Frozen. This lovable chap has a penchant for summer, warm hugs, and an uncanny ability to comically disassemble his body at the most awkward of moments. Anna’s quest to find her sister, Elsa, and break her spell of eternal winter simply wouldn’t be the same without him.

Jack Frost

In this 1998 family fantasy flick, Michael Keaton plays a rock singer dad who comes back to life as a snowman after missing his son’s hockey match and falling victim to a fatal car accident. Thankfully, he’s left son Charlie with a magic harmonica, which summons him back to life as a fun-loving (and somewhat repentant) snowman. Much hilarity ensures, and Jack gets a chance to redeem himself as the world’s coolest dad (ho ho ho…).

Frosty the Snowman

‘A jolly happy soul with a corncob pipe and a button nose’, the famous Frosty is brought to life in this 1969 cartoon classic thanks to magic hat and some enterprising children. Their quest to get Frosty to the North Pole before he melts results in a heart-warming animated adventure which shows what happens when you believe in a little bit of magic.

The Abominable Snowman

The Abominable Snowman comes to the mountain rescue to Mike and Sulley in Disney Pixar’s Monsters Inc. Fuelled by yellow Snow Cones (don’t worry, it’s lemon) he tries to acclimatise them to a life of banishment, but the determined duo are not settling down without a fight…

The Snowman

Beloved by all ages, this enduring adaptation of the Raymond Briggs picture book (which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year) has been screened on Channel 4 every Christmas since 1982. On Christmas Eve, a boy builds a snowman who magically comes to life. Together, they soar above the skies to ‘Walking in the Air’. It’ll melt your heart.

The Snowman returns to The Peacock from 22 Nov – 6 Jan. Tickets are priced from £15, with family tickets for just £120 (terms and conditions apply). To book, call the ticket office on 020 7863 8222 or book online.

Image: Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman 

The Movement: Developing new audiences for dance

Over the last two years, Sadler’s Wells has been working in partnership with The Lowry in Salford and Birmingham Hippodrome on a project called The Movement. With funding from Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence scheme, The Movement was formed to enable large-scale, world-class dance productions to tour to these venues.

Funding was also made available to test some digital and social media initiatives, three of which were undertaken by Sadler’s Wells: a social media influencers programme called Social Movers; an extension of our Get Into Dance scheme, creating Ambassadors for a Dance Writes programme; and a live stream of Ballet British Columbia’s post-show talk to all the tour venues.

We have recently created a video for the arts sector that highlights some of these projects, examining the process we undertook to create the initiatives, and celebrate their successes – as well as share some of the learnings.

For the Social Movers programme we recruited some dance enthusiasts who we invited to see a cross-section of performances, so that they could share their thoughts and feelings in their own words, across social networks, to help spread word of mouth about the shows. Coco, Evelyn and Jessica were the lucky three who took part in our pilot scheme, and they created some engaging and personal responses to all the shows they saw, all of which were posted on The Movement’s Facebook and Instagram profiles.

Get Into Dance is an established scheme at Sadler’s Wells, working with targeted local community groups to encourage them to see dance at their local venue for the first time, with a subsidised ticket price to incentivise them. As part of The Movement, we extended this scheme and invited some of the participants to join ‘Dance Writes’, an initiative that aimed to deepen the participants’ engagement with dance, with activities including skills training in dance journalism, talks from dance specialists and invitations to behind-the-scenes experiences.

When Ballet British Columbia appeared here in 2018, Sadler’s Wells and the show’s promoter Dance Consortium were keen to use their visit to help promote the UK tour dates that followed. We live streamed the post-show Q&A to all the tour venues’ Facebook pages, and asked people to send in their questions so that wherever they were in the world, they could be answered.

Although The Movement was a pilot project, there were learnings from each of the initiatives, and we will be continuing to develop new initiatives to encourage more audiences to engage with dance around the country.

Photo: Artists of Ballet British Columbia in 16 + a room (c) Michael Slobodian.

The enduring story of Layla and Majnun: 3 key works

The ancient and beloved story of Layla and Majnun is a cornerstone of Middle Eastern folklore. Often compared to Romeo and Juliet, this tragic tale of star-crossed lovers is believed to have originated in Arabia in the 7th century and has proved rich inspiration for poets and artists ever since. As Mark Morris Dance Group and the Silkroad Ensemble prepare to bring a stunning new version to the Sadler’s Wells stage, we take a look at three key works which depict this enduring story.

1. Nizami Ganjavi’s poem

Image: Nizami Ganjavi’s original manuscript, from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Nizami Ganjavi’s influential poem, written in the 12th century, is believed to be the first literary processing of the Layla and Majnun story. Nizami drew upon various oral anecdotes reported in earlier Arabic sources to develop a multi-layered story which he wrote in a rhyming couplet masnawi form.

In the poem, Layla and Qays – who is referred to as Majnun, which means ‘possessed’ – are in love from childhood but forbidden to unite. Majnun is perceived to be mad in his obsession with Layla, and when Layla is married off to another, Majnun becomes a hermit, devoting himself to writing verses about his profound love. The lovers ultimately unite, but only in death.

Nizami’s poem influenced many others, including Muhammad Fuzuli (c. 1483 – 1556), whose equally famous poem became widely known in Ottoman Turkey.

2. Uzeyir Hajibeyli’s opera

Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyli (1885–1948) made history when he composed the opera Leyli and Majnun, which premiered in 1908 in Baku. With a libretto based on Muhammad Fuzuli’s poem, this opera was the first piece of composed music created in Azerbaijan, and holds an important place in national culture to this day – every new season of the Azerbaijan State Opera and Ballet Theater programme opens with a performance of Leyli and Majnun. This filmed version is from April 2012.

3. Mark Morris & Silkroad Ensemble’s dance production  

In this remarkable work, celebrated American choreographer Mark Morris has collaborated with the Silkroad Ensemble and the late British artist Howard Hodgkin to stage Hajibeyli’s opera. Madness and mysticism intertwine as 16 dancers interpret the narrative, tailoring their movements to improvised music sung in the style of mugham by the celebrated father and daughter vocalists Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova. Silkroad musicians perform live on stage with traditional Asian instruments, playing in harmony with Western strings and percussion. This production marks the first time that an adaptation of Layla and Majnun has been presented in the UK on this scale.

Layla and Majnun comes to Sadler’s Wells on 13 – 17 November. Tickets are £12-£45. To book, call the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Aakash Odedra: “I think each person physically has the power to change something.”

Choreographer and performer Aakash Odedra’s first company work #JeSuis is a powerful physical exploration of oppression in all its guises. Inspired by a group of Turkish dancers and their collective responses to the widespread misinterpretations of their country, #JeSuis won the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award 2017. We spoke to Aakash to find out more about this extraordinary political work.

What inspired you to create #JeSuis?
Social media plays such a big role in people’s lives. In the beginning, it felt like a great tool to be able to voice your opinions, but now social media has become the block. You hashtag something and it’s out there and you think the job’s done, and that’s it. It’s also interesting what gets highlighted. If it’s in Paris or in America, it’s news everywhere. But if it’s in Sudan or Kashmir it’s not as important. So how important is a story, and is hashtagging it really going to resolve it? I felt like I had to action something in person and through people; I think it’s through interaction that a sense of humanity emerges.

People watch things on a screen and they become numb to it. I feel when people see something in real time, in the moment, it gives them a chance to think. I want to make people think, and also to make them act. I think each person physically has the power to change something.

I first went to Istanbul in 2012. I was teaching a workshop in a university, a phrase that I always teach, but the dancers started doing it better than me, so I started to doubt myself. It was really interesting. There was also something about the city that drew me in. I felt very connected to it. And the students stayed in the back of my mind.

There was this boy in particular who I thought was very good, so a year later I mailed the university and said I’d like to work with him. I told them I’d come to the university and they said ‘fine, what’s your fee – and if the university can’t afford your fees, we as the teachers will put it in from our own pockets.’ That really hit me and I just said forget the fees, I’m coming. I spent two weeks there. I was scheduled for two hours a day but all the dancers gave me 15 hours a day of their own time to dance. And it was 110% every time. There was a sense of passion and desperation, and it was this sense of desperation that I wanted to explore. I started to learn about their stories, and what’s going on around them in their political climate. I got intrigued, and I said that if I ever made a group work, I would work with them.

#JeSuis explores timely political issues such as oppression, displacement and the role of the media, and it was awarded the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award last year. How important is it for you as an artist, to create work that responds to contemporary issues – and how do you tackle these themes through dance?
I feel like the piece starts in an era – in the 1920s or WWI – and then moves on. There’s a sense of repetition: war is not new. Displacement isn’t new. My family was displaced. Their family was displaced. But there is something in this repeating cycle that I really wanted to explore – this sense of a rising up against oppression. And oppression comes in many forms. There was this interesting picture I saw, a cartoon sketch of a woman in a bikini, and a woman in a burqa. And they both say, ‘This is my freedom’. So freedom has many parts, not what we’re used to.

In Indian classical dance we have angika which is the body, vachika which is the oral way of communicating, and kathak which is a blend of both. So I felt like the natural route for me to go down was a physical theatre dance route. I didn’t want to limit the language, I wanted to make sure that if my mother came to watch it she could understand it. And I wanted it to appeal to people, because it’s a people’s piece. That’s why I’ve chosen dancers who have a sense of voice through their movement, through their being and through their experience.

Do you see dance as a form of activism?
I think just living in this day and age is a form of activism. I suppose as an artist, if you’re affected by something, your medium is your medium and that’s what speaks. The important thing is that it’s not just my piece, I believe it’s our piece. It’s a story of them which I relate to us and then it becomes universal.

#JeSuis is performed by seven Turkish dancers who you first met in 2012 while running a workshop in Istanbul. How collaborative was the making process?
We all know each other so well it’s unbelievable. There’s no nine to five. They would call me at three in the morning, saying ‘Aakash, what are you doing?’ and I’d say ‘I can’t sleep, it just doesn’t feel right’, ‘neither can we, come over’. So at three in the morning, we would sit there, after they’ve done a full day of work, and brainstorm. We’d ask each other, why isn’t this working? That’s the commitment they had to their story, to my story, to our story.

All the dancers are contemporary trained, and I’m not. Orally we speak different languages, but also physically we spoke different languages, which was interesting because we had to use dance and theatre and movement to bridge that connection between us. For me it was almost a therapy, to learn how to communicate with people without words.

How did it feel to be awarded the Amnesty Freedom of Expression Award?
I was surprised – I wasn’t there, the Turkish guys went to collect the award and it was only the work in progress. I had a week to put the whole thing together and it felt like a lot of chaos, but when we got the award it felt like, ok, it can’t be that bad. There must be something there. That was very special and important for all of us. It told us, keep going.

What would you like audiences to take away from this work?
If I can make one person question their role in life, then I feel like there’s a job done. If there’s an auditorium full of 1000 people and even one person decides that they want to do something, that’s what’s important for me.

#JeSuis comes to the Lilian Baylis Studio on 7 & 8 November. Tickets are £17*. To book, call the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

*Transaction fee applies. Max £3.

20 moments for 20 years

2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the current Sadler’s Wells building – a place where artists and audiences come together to create and experience dance; to take part, learn, experiment and be inspired. As we embark on our next chapter, we reflect on some of the highlights of an eventful two decades, and the moments that have helped to define what Sadler’s Wells is today.

1. The new Sadler’s Wells opens (1998)

In October 1998, after two years of construction, the new Sadler’s Wells theatre opened its doors to the community. The building was brought to life with performances from Rambert, the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, as audiences were invited to look around and experience first-hand the sixth incarnation of this historic Islington institution. The redesign ensured the technical and stage equipment was modernised, the auditorium and stage more spacious, and incorporated a public café and what was then known as a Community and Education Centre. This was in keeping with the modern vision for the theatre – an organisation rooted in the community, with a cultural programme extending far beyond the main stage.

“It happened. They made it. The new Sadler’s Wells opened on time. And London’s theatrical landscape, as of last Monday, is changed for good. In the face of nay-sayers and gloom-mongers, and some unaccountably spiteful press, the curtain rose on the first major project to be funded by the National Lottery. And it’s magnificent. The deed is greater than the word” – The Independent, 18 October 1998

2. Sadler’s Wells becomes a producing house and appoints first Associate Artists (2005)

At a press conference in March 2005, recently appointed Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding announced that Sadler’s Wells was to become a producing house with artists creating new work at its heart. He appointed the first group of Associate Artists, which included BalletBoyz,  Jonzi D, Wayne McGregor, Matthew Bourne and Akram Khan (whose short film XEN, which we commissioned earlier this year, can be viewed above). To date, we have helped bring to the stage over 160 new productions and our family of Associate Artists has grown to 16 (plus an Associate Artist Emeritus, Sylvie Guillem, who retired at the end of 2015).

“It was like signing the entire England team in a single afternoon” – The Times, 11 December 2006

3. Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch World Cities series (2012)

Ruth Amarante in Viktor (c) Maarten Vanden Abeele.

The late Pina Bausch, one of the most significant choreographers of our time, redefined what dance could be. Known as the inventor of tanztheater, the German dance maker has inspired generations of audiences and artists all over the world, nurturing an ensemble of vivid imagination and grand scale – Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, a Sadler’s Wells International Associate Company. In 2012, to celebrate the Cultural Olympiad, Sadler’s Wells and the Barbican presented all 10 of Bausch’s iconic World Series productions – epic travelogues inspired by cities around the world, created between 1986 and Bausch’s death in 2009. First up was the extraordinary Viktor, inspired by Rome.

4. Sadler’s Wells announces plans to open a new venue (2013)

Pupils from Mossbourne Riverside Academy take part in a dance workshop.

In November 2013, we announced our ambition to build a 550-seat theatre to support dance talent wanting to up-scale their work, and to present the best international work made for the mid-scale, plugging a gap in London’s dance infrastructure. Not long afterwards, the then Mayor of London and the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) invited Sadler’s Wells to consider being one of a number of cultural organisations to occupy the Stratford Waterfront site within the redevelopment of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London, as part of the ongoing legacy of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Sadler’s Wells East will be part of a new cultural and education district, the East Bank project, alongside the BBC, UAL’s London College of Fashion, UCL and the V&A in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. Ahead of opening our doors in Stratford in 2022, we are working closely with our East Bank partners and local community and cultural organisations in east London to plan and deliver joint events and activities. These include the Open Doors: Vote 100 held at Here East in July and an ongoing pilot project at Mossbourne Riverside Academy, a primary school on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, to embed dance within local children’s education. Weekly dance classes in different styles, an after-school club, sessions for teachers and workshops for parents are delivered by dance professionals working in collaboration on the project, including East London Dance, our Associate Company English National Ballet and Studio Wayne McGregor.

5. Sylvie Guillem’s last London performances (2015)

Sylvie Guillem in Mats Ek’s Bye.

After an unparalleled career that spanned almost 35 years, Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Sylvie Guillem – one of the greatest dancers of her generation – performed her farewell programme on our main stage in 2015. Our production Life in Progress featured work by choreographers who influenced Guillem’s contemporary career, including technê by Akram Khan; Here & After, a duet with Italian dancer Emanuela Montanari choreographed by Russell Maliphant, and Mats Ek’s poignant Bye. Due to extraordinary public demand – the performances sold out in just five days – additional UK tour dates were added. “I have loved every moment of the last 39 years, and today, I am still loving it in the same way”, wrote Guillem in 2015. “So why stop? Very simply, because I want to end while I am still happy doing what I do with pride and passion.”

Guillem’s first contemporary performances on our stage were in 2004 for Broken Fall – a collaboration with fellow Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Russell Maliphant, and Michael Nunn and William Trevitt. It was followed by PUSH, a duet with Maliphant, which premiered here in 2005 (see no.9). She collaborated with Akram Khan for Sacred Monsters, which also premiered here in 2006, the same year she became an Associate Artist. In 2009, she collaborated with Robert Lepage and Maliphant for our production Eonnagata, with costumes by Alexander McQueen, while in 2011 she devised and performed in 6000 miles away, which we produced. It featured works by three of today’s most important choreographers; Mats Ek, William Forsythe, and Jiří Kylián. All these productions toured internationally to full houses and critical acclaim.

6. First Breakin’ Convention festival (2004)

Breakin’ Convention is the critically acclaimed powerhouse behind a hip hop theatre revolution. It all started in 2003, when artistic director Jonzi D had an idea that would shake up the UK theatre scene forever – a festival that brought together the best hip hop dance theatre performers from around the world on London’s doorstep. On 15 May 2004, Sadler’s Wells helped to make that dream a reality and Breakin’ Convention, the international festival of hip hop dance theatre, was born. The groundbreaking line-up saw artists such as Rennie Harris, Benji Reid, ZooNation, Boy Blue and the Electric Boogaloos performing to a sell-out audience hungry for a dance form that had been missing from the UK landscape. Today, Breakin’ Convention continues to push boundaries through its world-renowned festivals, international tours and education projects.

7. Hofesh Shechter: Uprising/ In Your Rooms (2007)

Hofesh Shechter Company: In Your Rooms (c) Ben Rudick.

Pulsating rhythms, exhilarating energy and excited audiences – we always know when Hofesh Shechter is in the building. One of the most exciting dance artists working today, Shechter’s talent was spotted early on by Artistic Director Alistair Spalding, who programmed his choreographic debut for the Sadler’s Wells stage, Uprising/ In your rooms, to much acclaim. A year later, Shechter established his own company and Sadler’s Wells commissioned Uprising/ In your rooms: The Choreographer’s Cut, a reworking of Shechter’s acclaimed double bill featuring a band of 20 musicians alongside a company of 17 dancers, which stormed London’s Roundhouse with two sold-out performances in March 2009.

8. New Adventures: Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands (2005)

Richard Winsor as Edward in New Adventures’ Edward Scissorhands (c) Bill Cooper.

Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures has produced some of the most successful dance shows of the last two decades. This game-changing company first came to Sadler’s Wells in 1993 with its Nutcracker!. In 1995, Matthew Bourne’s now-iconic production of Swan Lake premiered on our stage. But it was in 2005, as a newly-appointed Sadler’s Wells Resident Company, that New Adventures first brought its theatrical magic to our current theatre, with its unique twist on the bittersweet story of an outsider, Edward Scissorhands. While the company has occasionally appeared on our stage in the summer months, for example with The Car Man in 2015 and Dorian Gray in 2008, New Adventures productions have long been a regular and much-loved feature of our Christmas season – Swan Lake returns to our theatre in December.

9. Russell Maliphant and Sylvie Guillem: PUSH (2005)

Russell Maliphant and Sylvie Guillem in PUSH (c) Johan Persson.

PUSH was the very first Sadler’s Wells production and signalled the beginning of an exciting new chapter: Sadler’s Wells as a producing house. Choreographed by Russell Maliphant for himself and Sylvie Guillem (“a pairing made in heaven”, The Times), this modern-day classic went on to enjoy a 10-year tour across four continents – Europe, North America, Asia and Australia – with sold-out performances in cities from Paris to New York, Melbourne and Taipei, winning major awards including an Olivier. Since the premiere of PUSH, Sadler’s Wells has regularly produced new works, including major collaborations such as Sutra (Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui & Antony Gormley), Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake and Natalia Osipova’s Pure Dance. And, of course, there’s more to come – this season we’re excited to bring Reckonings and Dystopian Dream to our stage.

10. Crystal Pite: Polaris (2014)

Crystal Pite’s Polaris (c) Andrew Lang.

This extraordinary work choreographed by our Associate Artist Crystal Pite in 2014 involved 64 dancers drawn from her company, Kidd Pivot, as well as the London Contemporary Dance School and the Central School of Ballet. Part of See the Music, Hear the Dance, a mixed bill of dance works set to the music of composer Thomas Adès, Polaris saw Crystal orchestrate an organic mass of bodies, morphing and pulsating to the Adès piece of the same name.

11. Lucy Carter / Michael Hulls / Nitin Sawhney: No Body (2016)

This was a first for Sadler’s Wells. No Body was an immersive, multi-part and multi-room series of installations combining elements of a dance performance – lighting, design, sound and projection – while removing the physical presence of dancers. Different installations were dotted throughout the building, including in behind-the-scenes spaces not normally open to the public such as the stage, rehearsal studios and even our light store. Beginning with Michael Hulls’ visual installation LightSpace, audiences then embarked on a trail, including Nitin Sawhney’s sound and visual installation Indelible, spread across three of the foyers, lighting expert Lucy Carter’s three-part Hidden, and films by dance artists Siobhan Davies and Russell Maliphant.

12. National Youth Dance Company awarded to Sadler’s Wells (2012)

National Youth Dance Company present (in between) by Jasmin Vardimon (c) Tony Nandi 2013.

In February 2012, the Department for Education and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport published an independent review by Darren Henley with a key recommendation: ‘a new permanent National Youth Dance Company should be created and funded.’ Following an open application process, Sadler’s Wells was awarded the contract and formed the National Youth Dance Company in September 2012. Since then, every year dancers aged between 16 and 18, or up to 24 if deaf or disabled, work with a Guest Artistic Director during the school holidays to create a full-length dance piece that premieres and then goes on tour across the country each summer. In 2013, the first cohort premiered (in between), choreographed by Jasmin Vardimon. The 2018-19 company will work with Guest Artistic Director Botis Seva and are set to premiere their new work in spring 2019.

13. Company of Elders at Venice Biennale (2006)

Company of Elders, our resident company for the over-60s, has been challenging assumptions about dancing and age longer than our current building has been standing – it was established in 1989. A landmark moment came in 2006, when the company performed Natural, choreographed by Clara Andermatt, at the Venice Biennale in Italy. Increasingly in demand, the company performs regularly, including at our Elixir Festival, established in 2014 as a unique celebration of lifelong creativity. More recently, the ensemble performed in Japan last month as part of the Saitama Arts Festival.

14. Get into Dance launches (2015)

We want to share the best dance with the largest possible audience. As part of our commitment to access and inclusion, in 2015 we launched a new community engagement scheme to reach wider audiences within Islington, our borough. Working in partnership with local organisations, housing associations and community centres, the Get into Dance initiative offers local residents access to specially subsidised tickets. Earlier this year, a pilot Ambassadors’ scheme was launched to deepen the participants’ engagement with dance, with activities including skills training in dance writing, talks from dance specialists and invitations to behind-the-scenes experiences. Two of our Dance Ambassadors – local residents Janice and Kate – came to see Ballet British Columbia in March. Watch our film to find out what they thought.

15. Acosta Danza: Debut (2017)

Founded by Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta, Acosta Danza made its UK debut on our main stage in September 2017 as an International Associate Company of Sadler’s Wells. Acosta set up the company in Havana after retiring from The Royal Ballet. “Acosta Danza has been founded with the intention of paying tribute to the wealth of Cuban culture”, he said at the time of the launch. “It is an aspiration that has grown out of my vision as an artist, incorporating all that I have learned during the past 25 years of my professional career.” Acosta himself made a guest appearance as part of the Debut programme, which featured the UK premieres of works by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Goyo Montero, Jorge Crecis, Justin Peck and Marianela Boán.

16. Fashion, dance and film unite in MOVEment (2015)

Sadler’s Wells collaborated with AnOther Magazine to create a unique series of short films uniting fashion, dance and cinema in a radical new way. The series, titled MOVEment, saw seven of the biggest names in fashion create bespoke costumes for seven specially choreographed performances, interpreted for the screen by seven pioneering directors. The collaborations included dancers of our International Associate Company Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch with Prada (film by Kevin Frilet) and a performance by Nevena Jovanovic choreographed by our Associate Artist Jasmin Vardimon with costumes by Stephen Jones Millinery (film by Matthew Donaldson). MOVEment premiered in the Lilian Baylis Studio on 18 April 2015, and all the films are available to watch on the Sadler’s Wells website.

17. Dance in the open air

In 2008 we took to the fields of Suffolk for the first time as part of Latitude Festival. Our Sadler’s Wells Presents stage saw performances from Boy Blue Entertainment, Guari Sharma Tripathi and Wayne McGregor/ Random Dance. We’ve been back every year since, as part of an extensive programme of outdoor events, including regular appearances at Latitude and Wilderness, the Big Lunch/ Great Get Together in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Cally Fest in Islington, right on our doorstep. This summer was a first for us in programming a weekend takeover of the National Theatre’s River Stage.

18. Launch of Young Associates (2018)

Sadler’s Wells’ Young Associate Ruby Portus.

Nurturing artistic talent is an integral part of what we do. Recognising the need for more support to be given to those at the very outset of their dance-making careers, in February 2018 we welcomed our first Young Associates: Anthony Matsena, Wilhelmina Ojanen, Ruby Portus and Christopher Thomas. The Young Associate programme supports talented 18 to 24-year-olds, providing a crucial first step into their career as choreographers with a tailored programme of professional development, including the opportunity to present their work as part of our artistic programme. The initiative is the newest addition to our artist development programmes, supporting dance artists at every stage in their career. Our Young Associates premiered four new works as part of a Mixed Bill in the Lilian Baylis Studio this week.

19. A new visual identity to reflect a revitalised organization (2014)

Posters in the new Sadler’s Wells visual identity, spring 2015.

By 2014, Sadler’s Wells had evolved so much from the organisation it was when the theatre was rebuilt, but its visual identity had stayed the same. We commissioned design agency Red&White to give our brand a makeover, to reflect our increased role in supporting dance makers and in commissioning and producing new work. The brand refresh integrated Sadler’s Wells’ visual identity with the striking dance imagery of our productions and presentations. We were delighted that our new visual identity and communications materials won Silver in the Media category of the Design Business Association’s Design Effectiveness Awards 2018 in February.

20. Putting our community centre stage

Full Circle was premiered as part of the Destino triple bill on 12 March 2009. This was an ambitious and ground-breaking work involving 120 dancers, from primary school children to pensioners, choreographed by Dance United and accompanied by the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra. They were led by Addisu Demissie and Junaid Jemal Sendi, both born into poverty in Ethiopia, trained in contemporary dance by the Adugna dance project and connected to Sadler’s Wells via our Learning & Engagement team. More recent community productions have been similarly determined in scale. 2011’s Sum of Parts featured a huge cast of 150 dancers of all ages, choreographed by six Sadler’s Wells Associate Companies. Home Turf (video above) in 2016, a collaboration with West Ham United Foundation, explored the relationship between football and dance and was performed by a diverse cast of over 100 dancers.

Jefta van Dinther: “It was a very beautiful but estranging experience, seeing my living body”

Choreographer and dancer Jefta van Dinther is known for creating striking sensorial illusions. Ahead of the UK premiere of his new work, Dark Field Analysis, we caught up with Jefta in Gothenburg to find out more about the creation of this intimate and voyeuristic piece.

What inspired you to create Dark Field Analysis?
There were two main starting points. One was the title of the piece which is a term I borrowed from a method within alternative medicine. It’s a way of taking a blood sample – a drop of blood from your ear – and placing it under a special microscope to invert the structures and colours, which means you can see the blood living as you watch it. I had this analysis, and for me it was a very beautiful and profound but also an estranging experience of looking in to myself and seeing my living body. I had a very existential experience, and I became interested in how you could be so distant to yourself at the same time as looking at yourself. The term, dark field analysis, struck me as something very beautiful and poetic, a mix between something scientific and something very philosophical.

This starting point came with another: at that moment in my life I was having a lot of strong encounters, meeting people for the first time, and I had very powerful exchanges with people through words. I became interested in the materiality of the spoken word and how there was a feeling of profundity in that exchange. This inspired me to make a piece that had spoken word between two people as the main motor.

How did you use this scientific approach to influence your creative work?
In the end there’s very little science left. The performance is an experiential journey of perceptions and colours, but also of stories, a kind of staging of two people whose relationship you don’t really understand. The piece starts as a kind of anatomical theatre, a laboratory space, as an aesthetic expression of this science, but slowly things start to dissolve. The audience is sitting on four sides of the stage looking on to the performance area, and something that starts off as shared ends up becoming something that is yours, as one dives into a black hole with very low levels of light illuminating the bodies. It’s almost like a dream; a distorted inner landscape. I think the piece enables a journey from this public, scientific, open space where everything is presented, to something much more mysterious, poetic and internal.

Dark Field Analysis centres on an intimate exchange between two men, beautifully performed by Juan Pablo Cámara and Roger Sala Reyner. What inspired you to focus on a duet relationship? How collaborative has the making process been?
When I first asked them to join the process, I asked if they were willing to sit on the carpet naked and talk for one hour surrounded by the audience. This point of departure had to do with my personal story of meeting and falling in love with a new person, and the kind of conversational mode that takes place in the early stages of a relationship when you’re diving in to each other, through which you also dive in to yourself – there’s a kind of re-configuration of who you are through somebody else. Those conversations often take place when you’re in bed, in the park, or on the carpet of your home. It’s accompanied with that unassuming, lazy space.

My work in general is very collaborative, but in this case the performance unfolded specifically in relation to the performers. The qualities they have became very directive. I think it has to do with their use of voices, which are very present in the piece. The voice is an extension of the body and it carries a lot of personality. They are also naked throughout the performance which is a very personal exposure of who you are.

Can you tell us about your use of text, which plays an important role in this work?
In the end, the piece became much more of a complex assemblage between music, light, voice, body, choreography and material than I had thought. But from the very beginning I approached it as a textual and sonic piece. I was really interested in the idea of conversation.

We didn’t know how to stage this conversation. I had the blue carpet and the audience on four sides in mind, but I didn’t know what the performers were going to do, or if they were even going to move. So we spent the first five weeks just generating texts and dialogue that we would record, transcribe, repeat and it was only when we actually put ourselves on that carpet that these bodies started to move. The text gave rise to a way of becoming. We ended up working around the idea of what it is to be a human body, through a juxtaposition of the human in relation to other forms of life. We’re exploring an animal quality, but also a synthetic or cyborgian quality, something that is not sentient.

What would you like audiences to take away from this work?
What I understand when I hear people share their experience of this performance is that it can enable a kind of journey in to yourself – in a similar way to how I dived into myself through that microscope, you can dive in to certain areas of yourself that are not so clear and that you don’t visit very often. To areas that you don’t necessarily know how to label. It stirs something in you and creates an intensity, even becomes emotional. What I would love is for people to allow themselves to be in this state without having to do something with it or without having to name it – maybe not even make sense of it through talking. It’s not about grasping, it’s about being.

Dark Field Analysis comes to the Lilian Baylis Studio on 12–14 Sep. Tickets are £17. To book, call the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.