Rosie Mackie

Alina Cojocaru’s Best Ballet Moments

Alina Cojocaru is one of ballet’s most remarkable talents. The Romanian born dancer is famed for her rapid rise through the ranks of The Royal Ballet; she became a Principal of the company after two years, aged just 19 years old. After 10 years she moved to English National Ballet, where she remains a Lead Principal and is also a Guest Artist at Hamburg Ballet. In a career filled with awards, acclaim and awe-inspiring performances, we’ve picked just a few highlights from her journey so far…


Alina Cojocaru and Steven McRae in Alexei Ratmansky’s 24 Preludes; The Royal Ballet
Credit : Nigel Norrington / ArenaPAL

It would be any ballet dancer’s dream to work with Ratmansky. The Russian choreographer and former director of the Bolshoi is widely considered to be ballet royalty. While at The Royal Ballet, Alina danced in his first ever creation for a British ballet company, 24 Preludes. The music of Chopin provided the inspiration for this dazzling piece of choreography for eight dancers in equally resplendent metallic costumes. Each fragment of the ballet evoked a different mood and unique characteristics of the dancers, in a series of solos, duets and trios.


Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg in The Royal Ballet’s production of Mayerling
Credit: Bill Cooper / ArenaPAL

Their partnership has been compared to that of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. As a fellow Principal of The Royal Ballet, Alina met her partner Johan Kobborg in 2001 when the couple danced together in Romeo & Juliet. The pair said a final farewell to The Royal Ballet in 2013 with a memorable performance in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet Mayerling, as the leading roles of Crown Prince Rudolf and his young lover Mary Vetsera. This dark tale of death and desire was perfectly executed with extraordinary synchronicity from the esteemed couple. For many ballet fans, the news of their departure marked the end of an era.


Alina Cojacaru in English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire
Photography by ASH

Alina’s first performance with English National Ballet was the company’s restaging of Le Corsaire: a thrilling pirate adventure, in which she danced the role of the heroine Medora. It was a show-stopping debut, made all the more special with a spectacular set by Hollywood designer, Bob Ringwood (the creator of Batman’s iconic Batsuit!). The Independent described it as a “radiant performance.”


Alina Cojocaru and Isaac Hernandez in Akram Khan’s Giselle for English National Ballet
Credit : Laurent Liotardo

Alina is no stranger to the role of Giselle. She cited it as one of her favourite roles to dance from the classical ballet canon. In 2016, she was challenged by choreographer Akram Khan to reinvent the role for English National Ballet, drawing from influences from the Indian classical dance style of kathak. Her curiosity was a driving force in the creative process, which she admits was unlike rehearsing previous versions of the Romantic ballet. She told the Financial Times, “when I was trying to just find the movement, I always failed and it never looked right — but the moment we started talking about emotions, I felt at home.” The resulting performance was revered by audiences and critics as one of the most emotionally powerful productions of Giselle you will ever see.

Alina Cojocaru curates and performs a new programme of classical and contemporary dance at Sadler’s Wells from 20 – 23 Feb. Tickets are available here.

Giselle: Three Ways to Restage a Classic

With ghosts, heartbreak, tragedy and a female heroine at the centre, Giselle was unlike anything that audiences had seen before when it premiered in Paris in 1841, created by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot.

Since its premiere, Giselle has been revived numerous times for the Sadler’s Wells stage, with many of ballet’s biggest names performing the coveted title role. In the 1940s, Margot Fonteyn performed Giselle alongside Robert Helpmann as Albrecht (pictured above), and in 1935 the iconic Alicia Markova took to our stage in the role for which she became famous. She named her 1960 biography ‘Giselle and I’.”

This autumn Sadler’s Wells presents three unique interpretations of Giselle. Here’s everything you need to know about how the leading choreographers and dance companies of today are reviving this ballet classic.


With the ambition of working with more contemporary choreographers, English National Ballet’s Artistic Director Tamara Rojo invited Akram Khan to recreate Giselle for the company. In his powerful interpretation, Akram infuses the South Asian style of kathak dance with a contemporary movement language and reimagines Giselle as a migrant garment factory worker separated from a life of hope and security. The set features a towering 20ft wall eerily imprinted with handprints, designed by Academy Award winner Tim Yip.

“Giselle in this interpretation is very strong,” says Akram. “She’s one of those characters who embodies hope even when things are really bad. And that’s why somehow she becomes a leader. That’s what you see in a lot of great leaders. You see that they have this innate ability to tap into hope in the most catastrophic situations.”


Dada Masilo’s trailblazing feminist take on Giselle places the heroine in her native South Africa. Deserted by her lover, Giselle – danced by Dada herself in choreography which uses traditional Tswana dance styles – is guided by a Sangoma, a traditional healer. Dada challenges stereotypical gender roles in her production, casting both men and women as the ‘Wilis’, who in the original story are the spirits of women jilted at the altar on their wedding day. Dada breaks with the traditional all-female corps de ballet in white dresses and makes her Giselle a strong, fierce heroine.

“I think it’s really important to not have women be the victim all the time,” says Dada. “There’s more to women than just being understanding and forgiving and soft and pure. It’s very good to break that stereotype and not put people in boxes. Even when it comes to costumes, I’ve just tried to dress everybody the same.”


Birmingham Royal Ballet’s restaging of Giselle is the most loyal to the original production. It first entered the company’s repertoire in 1999 and was staged by David Bintley and former Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal and teacher Galina Samsova. Unlike the other two, the design and costumes remain true to the original, with the ghostly spirits known as the ‘Wilis’ dressed all in white and sporting hair styles which became popular in the salons of 19th century Paris following the ballet’s premiere. It’s also accompanied by the Adolphe Adam score, played live by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.

“On an emotional level I have always found Giselle to be the most affecting of all classical ballets, and in the 1999 production that Galina and I made, my paramount intention was to provide a setting in which her desperately moving story could be told,” says David Bintley. “Over time all of the ballets comprising the classical canon become subject to the accretions of tradition; I wanted to blow them away and give the dancers a chance to dance and this beautiful, simple, timeless story, a chance to touch people again.”

All three versions of Giselle will be performed at Sadler’s Wells this autumn. For more information and tickets, visit our website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Youth Dance Company (NYDC) is supported using public funding by the Department for Education and Arts Council England.


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

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

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

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

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

Sara Baras performing her work Voces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dancing with Deborah Hay: “It was so very personal”

We speak candidly with dancers Stephanie McMann and Flora Wellesley Wesley, about fulfilling their dream of working with the mighty Deborah Hay. Together with Eleanor Sikorski, they curate and dance together under the banner of Nora, inviting artists to create new dance works for them to perform.

“It was a bit surreal being on Skype to Deborah Hay. I felt like I was five years old,” says dancer Stephanie McMann, who was speaking to the American choreographer for the first time with fellow dancers Eleanor Sikorski and Flora Wellesley Wesley.

The trio were making the pitch of a lifetime to one of the most influential, post-modern choreographers of a generation; an artist renowned for developing her own pioneering method of choreography and founding member of Judson Dance Theater.

She received a retrospective at MoMA just last year, celebrating her work alongside her contemporaries and other dance luminaries Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton and Yvonne Rainer.

So no pressure then.

“We went through all the reasons we wanted to work with her and spoke for quite a while. We were very passionate in knowing a bit about her work vicariously through other artists that we’d worked with or books,” says Stephanie. “And then she said, ‘I was going to accept anyway I just wanted to hear why you wanted to work with me.’”

To their surprise, the godmother of modern dance had just accepted their invitation to work together. They had dreamed big, and it paid off.

With only a short window of opportunity to work with the much in-demand choreographer, they scrambled to find the funding they needed for the commission and flew Deborah to London to begin a life-changing five-week creative process, including a two-week residency at Dance4 in Nottingham.

From left: Flora Wellesley Wesley, Stephanie McMann and Eleanor Sikorski performing Where Home Is.

It was something of a coup that these three dancers should end up working with Deborah, without any prior personal connections. Collectively Eleanor, Flora and Stephanie wear the badge of Nora, a dancer-led commissioning project, rather than a company, as they are keen to point out.

 “We wear the title dancers quite strongly, as well as being joint dancers and artistic directors, but dancers first. We know that stands for a lot more than just what you see on the stage,” says Stephanie.

So what is it like to work with one of your heroes? Those weeks were “quite phenomenal,” says Flora. “It was so very personal. It’s not the Deborah Hay practice, but she’s sort of working from her practice with your practice. We did a lot of talking, a lot of laughing and a lot of playing.”

Playing is fundamental to Deborah Hay’s approach. She is less interested in telling a story to an audience than immersing them in an experience that questions the nature of what choreography is, using factors like space and time as a provocation. The result is a direct invitation to the audience to remove any preconceptions and look at dance through a different lens.  

“We started making the work in the first week so by the end of it we were rehearsing something. Practising the choreography, I should say,” says Stephanie, correcting herself. The language around Deborah’s practice is very particular.

This 78 year old, straight-talking New Yorker is quite specific about that and unafraid of speaking frankly. There’s something quite punk-rock about Deborah, sometimes referred to as the Vivienne Westwood of dance.

“It’s not ‘turn your head’ it’s ‘turn your fucking head.’ It’s this kind of snap yourself out of it and into it, get moving and call it: ‘What If?’,” says Flora. In fact, Turn Your Fucking Head is the title of a 2012 documentary film which captures the journey of 20 international dance artists working with Deborah as they learn the solo ‘dynamic’.

“She would keep saying ‘you’re never gonna get it, stop trying, you’re never gonna get it.’ And she’d say it to herself, ‘I’m never gonna get it.’ It’s a difficult thing in dance when you get used to rehearsing and practising to be getting better at ‘it’ . She was asking us to completely undo planning, thought, editing, prescribing or thinking about what we look like,” adds Stephanie.

Inevitably, the intensity of the process wasn’t without its challenges.

“I don’t go to bikram yoga anymore but I remember once going to a class and it was really hardcore and having quite angry feelings towards the teacher,” says Flora. “Sometimes when you’re asked to do something really hard, that relationship, there’s a tension there. That’s quite an interesting thing to negotiate.”

The importance of team bonding was something they valued highly throughout the process. What could be more cathartic than confessing their feelings over cocktails?! Flora recalls one night out involving Negronis where Deborah asked everyone to say something they had stopped themselves from saying.

“I remember Ellie saying ‘I’m glad we’re still friends,’” she laughs, “because there were some really trying times within the process.”

Whilst in Nottingham, the team also established a routine of ordering daily, yes DAILY, takeaways.

“It was kind of ridiculous to have such a big meal,” says Stephanie. “We were having Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, all sorts and it was wonderful. It was so important to us, every day we got in the studio in the morning, we might start to warm up and then Deborah would turn around and say ‘right, let’s order our food’ and it became a ritual!”

Initially Deborah titled the piece How I Sing, which changed to Leaving Our House, before she eventually landed on the name, Where Home Is. By the end of their time in Nottingham, they had created a brand new dance work to fit that title.

“The joke was, Deborah kept getting the name wrong. She’d say Is Home Where or Where Is Home, Where Is Dance, Dance Is Home. It was a kind of ongoing joke. She never got it right,” says Flora.

 ‘What If…’ questions are another principle of Deborah’s practice. What if the space is not empty? What if how I see is serving me? Different scenarios which change how we perceive the choreography.

In the case of Where Home Is, audiences will be invited to practise being an audience member and given an insight into Deborah’s way of working by being asked to consider a series of questions whilst watching the choreography.

“It’s like frames on the work. We’re giving them 3D glasses! Different spectacles to watch dance,” says Flora.

It’s clear that working with Deborah has resonated deeply with all of them. As with any process of intense learning, punctuated by extreme highs and lows and ultimately one that they won’t easily forget.

“Deborah stayed in London for a week after she finished with us to teach a workshop. I went out for dinner with her one evening and I think that’s when I realised it was goodbye. I just gave her a hug and she left and then I just cried,” says Flora.

All things considered, it’s maybe not so surprising that Deborah Hay chose to work with these ambitious young dancers given their daring attitude, experimentalism and appetite for a challenge. She probably saw her early self reflected in them.

Their work Where Home Is comes to the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells this April.

To book, call the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Three reasons Israel Galván is the rock star of flamenco

Famed as “modern flamenco’s great rule breaker” (Daily Telegraph), Israel Galván is an artist known for his flare and eccentricity. In celebration of the UK premiere of La Fiesta, a piece which celebrates the flamenco tradition of liberation and improvisation, we look back on the ways the pioneer has bent the rules…

1. He’s not afraid of collaboration…

One of Israel’s most memorable collaborations saw him join forces with Akram Khan, fusing flamenco with contemporary and kathak dance styles. These two experts in their fields were able to join together two classic dance genres to make something truly unique.

2. There’s no theme too challenging for this flamenco heavyweight…

Israel’s work tackles a vast range of themes, from bull-fighting, to Kafka’s Metamorphosis and the freedom of the “fin de fiesta”, he’s an artist who is not afraid of taking risks.

3. He literally deconstructs the dance form…

Israel has an ability to celebrate flamenco in its classic form whilst pushing the boundaries of how we think of the genre as a whole. In FLA.CO.MEN Galván literally deconstructs flamenco and then reunites it again, featuring music from jazz, experimental and traditional.

Israel Galván will be at Sadler’s Wells on 27 & 28 April with La Fiesta. To book, contact the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.


The art of Taiko drumming was first introduced into Japan in 6th Century CE and has remained an important part of the culture and tradition ever since. With the Yamato Drummers returning to the UK this March to entertain West End audiences at The Peacock theatre, here are a few facts you might not know about Taiko…


Taiko drummers must remain in peak physical condition to maintain the skill and the stamina required to deliver intense and high-energy performances. The Yamato drummers train ferociously, running ten kilometres every morning before rehearsals. Taiko is more closely related to dance than you might think, as the drummers follow choreographed routines and use their entire bodies.


Atmospheric Taiko drumming underpins the score to Wes Anderson’s 2018 movie Isle of Dogs, composed by Brooklyn based composer and musician, Kaoru Watanabe, who specialises in Japanese percussion and shinobue flutes. The film was subsequently nominated for Best Original Score in the Academy Awards and Golden Globes. 


There are many studies linking a daily dose of drumming to positive health benefits and well-being. Evidence suggests that it can reduce blood pressure, improve cognitive function, reduce pain and prevent depression and emotional disorders. Some groups practise therapeutic drumming to achieve mindfulness and as a form of meditation.


One of the oldest books in Japanese classical history, the Nihon Shoki, describes the origins of Taiko. The myth tells the story of Amaterasu, who had sealed herself inside a cave in anger and was beckoned out by an elder goddess Ame-no-Uzume when others had failed. Ame-no-Uzume accomplished this by emptying out a barrel of sake and dancing on top of it. Historians regard her performance as the mythological creation of Taiko music!


Found at Odaiko Hall in Kita-Akita, Akita, Japan, the world’s largest Taiko drum measures 3.8 metres long and only the most experienced drummers are allowed to play it. Originally, drums of this scale were created to mimic the sound of thunder in the hope that they would bring rain to reward villagers living off their land.

Yamato bring their latest show ‘Passion’ to The Peacock theatre from 12 – 31 March 2019. Tickets are priced £15 – £38. To book, contact the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.


Vangelis is best known for composing some of the most iconic film scores of all time but most recently, he has turned his attention to contemporary dance, composing a compelling soundtrack to The Thread, the latest creation by choreographer Russell Maliphant and inspired by the changing forms of Greek dance.

In celebration of the world premiere of The Thread on our stage this March, we’re taking a look at five of the most sensational scores from this Academy Award-winner. And we promise not to give away any spoilers!


It’s probably one of the most recognisable film soundtracks ever. We defy you to listen to it without conjuring images of slow-motion running along a beach. The opening instrumental title sequence has become synonymous with the Olympics, featuring in the BBC’s coverage of the 1984 Olympics and as the theme for the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. It reached No. 1 in the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and won Vangelis the Academy Award for Best Original Music Score.

2. BLADE RUNNER (1982)

The cutting-edge composer also provided the soundtrack to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi cult classic, Blade Runner. It features his trademark of haunting electronic-orchestral pieces, including the main theme, and in a departure from his usual style, his commission of ragtime jazz number, One More Kiss. Despite huge demand from hungry fans, it was a full 12 years before the soundtrack was officially released. In 2008, Massive Attack and Heritage Orchestra collaborated on a live performance of the score at London’s Meltdown Festival.

3. MISSING (1982)

In a shift away from science fiction, Vangelis also worked on the 1982 film Missing, which earned him a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music and also picked up the Palme d’Or that year at Cannes. Based on a true story, this psychological drama was the first Hollywood film from Greek director Costa-Gavras. A recording was later released featuring Vangelis’ original music with lyrics by Tim Rice sung by Elaine Paige.

4. 1492: CONQUEST OF PARADISE (1992)

Ridley Scott’s big budget blockbuster told a historical account of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas, starring Gérard Depardieu and Sigourney Weaver. Originally Hans Zimmer was approached to write the score until Ridley Scott offered the job to Vangelis. And we were rewarded with this dramatic accompaniment to Columbus’s voyage…

5. ALEXANDER (2004)

This historical drama about Alexander the Great featured an all-star cast including Angelina Jolie and Colin Farrell and is director Oliver Stone’s most expensive film to date. The sweeping, majestic score mixes synthesised and acoustic instruments. But there were a number of setbacks for the film… It was nearly banned in Vangelis’ home country of Greece for the depiction of Alexander’s bisexuality, but fortunately still got its Greek premiere. Colin Farrell also broke his ankle and his arm from falling down a flight of stairs during filming.

Hear Vangelis’s latest score in the world premiere of The Thread at Sadler’s Wells from 15 – 17 March. To book, call the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Christopher Wheeldon: “Most people like to know where they are going, but I struggle with that notion”

“I have never found it hard to turn a corner and walk down a new pathway without a map,” says Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artist Christopher Wheeldon, with a grin.  “I know most people like to know where they are going, but I struggle with that notion.  It’s not who I am at all.  Maybe I will turn the corner and there will be a precipitous drop that I’ll step off, but the risk-taking and the potential for disaster in the end is actually quite good fuel for creativity.

“And maybe that’s why I enjoy working with BalletBoyz, because they’re that way too.”

He laughs.  When you first meet him, Christopher Wheeldon is the man least likely to be branded a risk taker.  He is calm, polite and – despite years living in New York – still has the demeanour of the nice boy from Somerset that he is.  But in more than 20 years as a choreographer and a director, he has changed directions numerous times.  This means he has built a body of work that is essentially uncategorisable from the Broadway musical An American in Paris, to pure classical ballet works for the Royal Ballet and New York City Ballet among other companies, to more contemporary pieces such as Us for BalletBoyz.

It all started in 1993, when, at the age of 19, he defied his destiny. Having trained at the Royal Ballet School and seeming to be on track to spend his entire career with the company, he used the airline flight he won in a competition to go to New York and talk his way into New York City Ballet.  Four years later, he became the company’s first resident choreographer. 

Since then, he has been constantly busy, but his career has taken many twists and turns.  He has founded his own dance company and watched it fold due to lack of funds; he has won a Tony for best choreography, for his award-winning rethinking of An American in Paris, which he also directed and has enjoyed worldwide success. He is an Artistic Associate of the Royal Ballet, where he made the hugely popular The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, a three-act ballet, as well as numerous smaller works.

Christopher Wheeldon in rehearsal with BalletBoyz.

Now, in collaboration with the Michael Jackson Estate, he is working on a musical about Michael Jackson, alongside the Pulitzer prize-winning American playwright Lynn Nottage. Called Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough, it focuses on the moment, in 1992, when Jackson was preparing for his Dangerous World Tour. It is due to open in Chicago in October 2019, before moving to Broadway in 2020.

He accepts he is unlikely casting for such a job.  “The first thing I said to them was, ‘Do you know who I am?’”  He is looking forward to the challenge, in the same way he did when he took the much-loved movie An American in Paris and put it on stage in a radical new form.  “I love doing such different things and being all over the place.  I have to use my brain in different ways, and I think that’s what’s stimulating about being able to jump between different forms of dance and theatre.

“I think that is probably what allows me to work as much and as consistently as I do without getting exhausted.  I have quite a lot of belief in my ability to achieve things.”

Christopher is also capable of working at incredibly high speeds.  For his new piece for BalletBoyz, Us, he is expanding a duet to the music of Keaton Henson, that took him 14 days to create. Its expansion has taken 10 days.  “There is a kind of excitement contained within that breathlessness. There’s no time to mess around.  You just have to get on with it.”

Christopher Wheeldon in rehearsal with BalletBoyz.

He has known the company’s founders, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, since they were all at the Royal Ballet School together.  “They were both seniors when I was a junior. And I love being able to say that now,” the 45- year-old says, with another laugh.

They bonded when Nunn and Trevitt accompanied him to Moscow in 2006, where Christopher was choreographing his first piece for the world-famous Bolshoi Ballet.  The commission turned into a saga of disaster, only retrieved at the last minute; the story was recorded in Strictly Bolshoi, an engrossing tale of triumph snatched from the jaws of defeat. Since then, Christopher has been a regular contributor to the Boyz’s endeavours.

His latest piece will be presented in a double bill, alongside a piece called Them choreographed by the all-male company themselves.  “I love the way that they are always thinking a lot about how to make their programmes entertaining.  How we can make challenging, complex dance more accessible to a broader audience,” Christopher says.

“They are very creative in the room and really hands on, in a way that I think contemporary dancers tend to be more than ballet dancers anyway.  Ballet dancers wait to be told what to do, and there’s an etiquette and a politeness about rehearsals that doesn’t exist so much in the contemporary dance world, and certainly doesn’t exist with the Boyz.

“Which is not to say they are impolite.  I think they are about the most polite group of gentlemen that I have ever worked with, but they’re hands on and they like to roll their sleeves up and be part of it.”

BalletBoyz return to Sadler’s Wells with Them/Us on 5 – 9 March. Tickets are priced from £15. To book, call the Ticket Office on 020 7863 2000 or book online.

By Sarah Crompton

Alan Lucien Øyen: “If I think of the historical weight of the project, it will break me”

As the son of a dresser, Alan Lucien Øyen grew up in a small theatre; the Den Nationale Scene (established by Ibsen himself) in the town of Bergen, Norway. Here he would watch theatre religiously from the age of seven: classical productions as well as contemporary masterworks. Inevitably, he went on to establish himself as a writer, director and choreographer, winning international acclaim that did not go unnoticed by one of the most pioneering dance theatre companies in the world, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.

A decade on from the tragic loss of its founder, Alan was the first choreographer in that time, alongside Dimitris Papaioannou, to be invited to create a new dance work for the company – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that would carry a huge weight of responsibility for even the most self-assured of artists. We spoke to Alan about the challenges of the creative process, meeting the dancers for the first time, the influence of cinema and his earliest memories of the iconic Pina Bausch.

Can you describe the moment you were asked to create a new work for Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch?

I remember standing in the midst of winter outside the white marble Opera House in Oslo watching the frozen fjord.  My fingers were similarly frozen from holding the phone talking to Adolphe (the company’s former Artistic Director). I remember the moment as I hung up the phone as completely still. A feeling of total humility, for sure – but also tremendous excitement. The moment’s burnt into my mind.

When did you first encounter the work of Pina Bausch?

My first encounter with Pina’s work was a little clip played back on a VCR in dance history class in 1998. I was still a young student at the time, completely underexposed to the world of dance. I believe it must have been a scene from the Chantal Akerman documentary One Day Pina Asked. Nazareth, Helena, Bénédicte, Dominique, (all the legendary performers that are still in the company), were dancing and waiting in the sun in the courtyard of Palais des Papes in Avignon.

I remember thinking this was so strange. I couldn’t understand. It broke all my preconceptions and expectations of what I knew dance and theatre to be. It was strange – and wonderful!

“This is also dance…” said our teacher, Roy Lie Jonassen, in response to our feathered faces. “What else do you want to see?!”, shouted Dominique Mercy, from the flickering TV screen as he did his tours en l’air and déboulés. I wanted to see all of it…

But, by the time I first got to see Pina’s work live on stage, she was already dead it was Viktor at Théâtre du Châtelet, September 2016.

Always when experiencing Pina’s work, I feel this tremendous excitement: a reinforcement that the stage is a truly wonderful, magical place where everything can, and should, happen. As a creative artist I feel liberated when seeing her work, and afterwords:  moved, saddened and stricken… It has such tremendous impact. 

Alan Lucien Øyen in rehearsal with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

What was your first day in rehearsal like?

Walking into the Lichtburg, not knowing where to put my bag; knowing it was a ‘temple’ (that’s what it felt like). And there was an empty seat in the room. You could feel it. Wherever I looked was history, and humility: her dancers.

I remember my voice trembling as I first spoke to them – we were sitting in a large circle, all 36 dancers and myself. We spent three days sitting in that circle, getting to know each other. It was overwhelming how generously they opened up to me. Sharing their history, their lives. This is something I will never forget. 

The next three days we didn’t speak – we worked.  I remember crying through closed eyes, and smiling through tears as they presented their movements, scenes and ideas. “Close your eyes and I’ll dance for you”, said Julie Shanahan. The whole experience was a tremendous gift. I realise now it was their way of welcoming me, telling me – telling all of us – it will be ok.

This was the first time the whole ensemble created together after Pina. I’m so honoured to have been part of that experience. All of her dancers – young and old – are incredible. I’m in awe of all of them and still somewhat in a state of disbelief to the fact I’m offered to work with them.

Rehearsals for Bon Voyage, Bob

How do you approach the creative process with a new dance work?

I wait. My work always begins and ends with the performers. We wait together. Whether it is creating text or movements – theatre or dance – it always originates in encounters with real people and real stories: the performers themselves. Fictionalised realities of real encounters.

We will spend a lot of time getting to know each other, so that together we can create the performance that best fits us now. I want to learn from them; from their experience. From their lives just as much as their experience from the stage. I’m working with a cast of 16 dancers, many with a lifelong experience from working with Pina, and some newer members to Pina’s family, who have already been affected by her work.

As for now, we wait.  Until something catches our attention, something strange or unusual that beguiles us, that we together can draw from, to create a new work. Life’s a waiting place… but “there is beauty in waiting”.

The more I learn of Pina’s works and her process with her company, the more I realise how tremendous her influence was on the world of performing art: how we create new work of theatre and dance today.  The weight of Pina’s legacy is tremendous.

I had no idea how strong an influence she has had on my own work, through the knowledge that I have inherited from my teachers and choreographers that I have worked with, who in turn have been looking to Pina for inspiration and new ideas.

The world is a small island. It’s strange, but creating in Wuppertal feels a bit like coming home.

How does cinematographic art influence your work and choreography?

I usually say that my pieces on the stage are excuses for not making movies. There is a truth to that, and I certainly go to great lengths to simulate, and borrow from film. I work a lot with collective memories in my work: universal stories that we believe to be our own. Cinema and television are great providers of these stories and memories that we all share. To me, therefore, it’s incredibly fluid and natural to look to cinema.

As an audience we are very trained in the codes and rules of this highly visual medium. I try to play on these rules when working with light and sound in the theatre and when looking at choreography. The world of film is also a world of stories – I love to discover and learn from other people’s lives through the stories we tell. I’m very happy to be working on the stage, though, because there is a sincerity to be found in the live expression, never to be matched by any moment on screen.

A scene from Alan Lucien Øyen’s Bon Voyage, Bob

Tell us about the piece you have created, Bon Voyage, Bob.

When people ask me what the piece is about I usually say I can’t say. Because the process – the conversations between the dancers and myself, with movements and words  – will dictate this. And the process of a new work is something constantly shifting. I’m extremely interested in the current contradiction between fiction and reality. In the breaking point between the two. This is a recurring topic in my work: how we human beings invent our own narratives as we clamber through life. At the end of the day, my main interest is human beings.

How do you deal with the pressure of historical weight?

I try not to think of it. If I think of the historical weight of the project, it will break me – so I don’t. I’m lucky to sleep well at night. I have a good sleeping heart, as we say in Norway. But I have to keep pinching my skin every time I think of this tremendous opportunity, to reassure myself that I’m not dreaming.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch return to Sadler’s Wells with the UK premiere of Bon Voyage, Bob from 22 – 25 Feb. Tickets are available now priced at £12 – £60. To book, call the ticket office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Images: Mats Bäcker