Rosie Mackie

Everything you need to know about the new production choreographed by Kate Prince, set to the music of Sting

Sadler’s Wells and Universal Music UK have announced a new dance theatre production by Associate Artist Kate Prince, set to the iconic music of multi-Grammy award-winning artist, Sting, and co-produced with Birmingham Hippodrome and The Lowry.

The spectacular production will include hits from across Sting’s catalogue, including Every Breath You Take, Roxanne, Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, Walking On The Moon, Englishman in New York, Shape of My Heart and Fields of Gold.

Sting said: “It’s an intriguing idea to align my songs and music with the work of a successful and highly esteemed choreographer of Kate’s standing. I witnessed one of the first workshops and was very excited by the potential. It’s always interesting when someone from another field offers a fresh and unexpected perspective on your work and I’m so looking forward to seeing the piece.”

This production is the latest work from the creator behind Some Like it Hip Hop; Into The Hoods; Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (choreography) and SYLVIA, and features the astonishing talents of dance storytelling troupe, ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company.

The story follows the determined and daring adventures of three parted siblings in the aftermath of a tragic siege. Timely, moving and vital, an uplifting story of hope will be told with Kate Prince’s trademark spirited choreography.

“I’ve been a fan of Sting and The Police all my life and have seen him play live four times,” said Kate. “As a choreographer, when I listen to any music, I am always inspired to create dance, and Sting’s music, which has been playing in my headphones for over 30 years, kept bringing  me to the same thought, ‘I want to choreograph to this’. As a body of work it is a choreographer’s dream. I mentioned the idea in passing to Alistair Spalding, who has been supporting my career and ZooNation for 15 years. Pretty soon I found myself nervously entering the lobby of a swanky London hotel to pitch the idea to Sting himself. Much to my complete surprise but complete delight, it is actually happening! All of my work has a narrative. I love stories, and you can expect this to be no different. Sting’s lyrics draw on so many themes, from political to the tragic, from death and heartache to love and hope.”

Alistair Spalding, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Sadler’s Wells, said: “We have supported Kate Prince and her company ZooNation for 15 years and Kate became an Associate Artist at Sadler’s Wells in 2010. A little while ago she mentioned to me that she had always been a fan of the music of The Police and Sting – this coincided with Universal Music and Sadler’s Wells discussing possible joint projects and the synchronicity has led to this wonderful project becoming a reality for our Peacock stage and beyond. The meeting of this rich catalogue of music and Kate Prince’s inventive and energy-filled choreography in the rehearsal studios has proven the incredible potential of this collaboration.”

Full cast to be announced following national auditions.

Message In A Bottle makes its world premiere at Sadler’s Wells’ West End theatre, The Peacock, from 6 Feb – 21 Mar 2020. Tickets go on sale from 25 Feb 2019. To book, call the ticket office on 020 7863 8000 or book online. Priority booking is open to members from 22 Feb 2019. Find out more and become a member today.

Images: Johan Persson


It takes a lot of balls to push the boundaries of juggling… but world renowned company Gandini Juggling, masterminded by Sean Gandini whose juggling career spans more than 30 years, has succeeded in filling venues around the world with spectacles that delight the senses.

Gandini have continuously reinvented the art-form of juggling with their cleverly choreographed shows, drawing influences from the world of dance. Here are our top five moments when Gandini Juggling broke the mould…


As it says on the tin, Smashed literally ends with a thrilling and climatic finale in which an afternoon tea party goes rogue. Each performance demands four crockery sets destroyed by nine jugglers. Juggling balls are also replaced with 80 red apples. This multi-layered show is an homage to the late German choreographer Pina Bausch, and is scattered with subtle nods to her work.


Created in collaboration with choreographer Seeta Patel, Sigma fuses juggling with the language of the Indian classical dance style of bharatanatyam. The mirrored set adds layers of symmetry and pattern to distort these intermingling styles.


In this highly technical feat of ingenuity, ten jugglers create an impressive visual display using the latest light technology. The company can programme up to ten million different colours to any kind of music, ranging from the elegant classic Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 to trendy electronica and upbeat Black Eyed Peas


With a soundtrack that includes The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Velvet Underground and Bowie, 8 Songs pays tribute to musical legends. With each song, the choreography enters its own micro-universe, layered with meaning. Plus, it ends with a clever send-up of silent disco!


When there’s water involved, juggling balls get slippery, so this outdoor spectacle was a risk to take for Sean Gandini and his company of 27 jugglers ( not that you could tell – the performance was seamless). But risk-taking is exactly what circus is all about so what better way to celebrate the 250th anniversary.

6. When dancers became jugglers and jugglers became dancers…

In their latest work, Spring, Gandini Juggling join forces with Alexander Whitley, a choreographer at the cutting-edge of contemporary dance, to experiment with kaleidoscopic colour. It’s set to a baroque-meets-techno score by leading composer Gabriel Prokofiev.

Spring comes to Sadler’s Wells as part of London International Mime Festival from 31 Jan – 2 Feb. Tickets are priced from £12. To book, call the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Our Most Memorable Circus Moments

“The circus is the only fun you can buy that is good for you.” Ernest Hemmingway.

Roll up! Roll up! Ahead of the anticipated return of Cirque Éloize to The Peacock this February, we’re looking back at some of the most memorable circus moments in the weird and wonderful history of both Sadler’s Wells and The Peacock, going all the way back to when we first opened our doors!

Old dogs, new tricks

Man’s best friend, and an array of other creatures have featured in productions dating right back to the beginning of Sadler’s Wells’ circus history. While we now have very strict regulations when it comes to using animals on stage, in days gone by these rules were sparse, and rarely even considered. Some of the fantastic animals to grace our stages as far back as the early eighteenth century included Scaglioni’s troupe of performing dogs, a singing duck, swimming horses (I  kid you not, Aqua Drama was a thing) and a very clever pig whose repertoire included telling the time and distinguishing colours. There’s also a pair of particularly naughty dolphins which we’ll come on to later…

Clowning around

Along with animal rights rules, child labour laws are also a missing feature in early circus history. In 1780 Jospeh Grimaldi, or “Joey” as this fabulous toddler clown was professionally known, made his debut on the Sadler’s Wells stage when his performative father took him on stage for his first “bow and first tumble” (We remember doing this in our living rooms performing as the Spice Girls.) By 1782 he was known as London’s leading clown and comic entertainer, enjoying success during residencies at both Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden Theatres. In one particularly memorable moment in Sadler’s Wells’ history, Joey was flung from the stage by his father whilst playing the part of a monkey, hanging onto his father’s waist by a chain and landing face down in the orchestra pit. 

Considered to be the original coiner of the pantomime catchphrase “Here we go again!” Joey leaves behind an extensive legacy of character acting, harlequinade and sheer youthful ambition in the most extreme form.

Here he is, looking like his best self.


Her Majesty’s Theatre has Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (great name, just saying), Theatre Royal Drury Lane has The Man in Grey – some frightening kind of knife-wielding skeleton – and the Adelphi Theatre has William Terriss, a celebrated actor murdered by a disgruntled co-star (brutal). But who has the most impressive theatre ghost in all of the West End? We do, we do! The Peacock has Flipper (not the Flipper, but an actual dolphin) embodying the dear departed spirits of Pennie and Pixie, two dolphins that lived in tanks beneath the stage with the sole purpose of jumping up to disrobe female performers in the then infamous nude revues.

Allegedly the ghost of Flipper haunts the hallowed halls of The Peacock in search of retribution for his untimely death at the hands of his negligent carers but there’s also a strange argument suggesting the dolphins were sold to a theme park in Yorkshire – we’ll let you make up your own minds. Either way, keep an ear out for Flipper’s strange squeaking on your next visit to The Peacock, apparently not dissimilar to that of a crying baby… spooky!

In recent years

Fast forward to this century and Sadler’s Wells is transformed into an international hub of dance performance in all its many malleable forms. With the root of circus in celebration of the body and its many marvellous capabilities, it seems the perfect companion for an organisation that rejoices in movement. We have had the pleasure of working with some incredible circus companies on an array of brilliant shows which look at the fantastic relationship between circus and dance. Some of our recent highlights include James Thiérrée – Au Revoir Parapluie, 2007, The 7 Fingers – TRIPTYQUE, 2016 and the smash hit from returning company Cirque Éloize – iD, 2016.

Don’t miss the incredible Cirque Éloize return to the Peacock with their spectacular new show, Hotel, in celebration of the company’s 25th Anniversary. For more information and to book tickets visit our website.

Cirque Éloize – Hotel, The Peacock, 20 Feb – 9 March.

Tickets from £15.

Top gift ideas for dance fans

Struggling to find the perfect gift? In all the excitement of festive lights, decorating trees, singing carols and filling stockings, we know Christmas shopping can be overwhelming. To make life a little easier, we’ve handpicked our top gift picks for the dance fan or culture-curious friend in your life. Happy shopping!

1. Sadler’s Wells Gift Membership

Featuring benefits including priority booking, exclusive brochures and discounts, our gift memberships offer backstage insight and allow a friend or family member to see more whilst saving 20%.
Gift memberships start at just £60 and come packaged up in our stylish membership packs – the perfect wrapping for a year’s access to world-class dance. Buy here.

2. Sadler’s Wells Keep Cup

Lightweight and eco-friendly – the Sadler’s Wells keep cup is a stylish way to enjoy a hot bevvy on the go whilst reducing your environmental footprint, for just £15. Buy here.

3. Sadler’s Wells Dance House Book

Discover how Sadler’s Wells shaped the world of dance with exclusive interviews with artists including Matthew Bourne, Sylvie Guillem, Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant, Wayne McGregor and Hofesh Shechter, online price just £15. Buy here.

4. DVDs and CDs

From Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! to Pina Bausch’s Orpheus and Eurydike and Akram Khans’ DESH our range of DVDs and CDs let the dance fan in your house enjoy some of the most iconic pieces we’ve presented again and again. From £5. Buy here.

5. Tickets to San Francisco Ballet

Tickets are an obvious choice for any dance lover, but if you’re overwhelmed with choice at our jam-packed spring 2019 season, here’s something that is sure to be a winner. The acclaimed San Francisco Ballet bring their whopper of a programme to Sadler’s Wells in 2019, with four triple bills to choose from. Their work spans classical to contemporary, with new works by world-famous choreographers like Alexei Ratmansky, and music ranging from Björk to Phillip Glass! From £15. Buy here.


In the early 2000s, an architecture student from Japan visited Sadler’s Wells for the first time and fell in love with the theatre. What she saw was Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s iconic dance piece, Rain, in which designer Jan Versweyveld hangs a wall of ropes around the stage. His idea was simple, but the overall experience resonated profoundly with the young designer.

Nearly 15 years later, after completing her MA in scenography and establishing a career as an architect and set designer, she was being invited back to London by choreographers Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez to design a new work for the Sadler’s Wells stage – Dystopian Dream.

“My love for dance is never going to stop,” she tells us. “I wasn’t good enough to be a professional dancer but I was watching a lot of Sadler’s Wells productions. I was doing research about dance theatre whilst in architecture school and realised there wasn’t much out there.”

Her passion for the art form and dedication to her career is undeniable. We are speaking to her from her home in Belgium, 24 hours after returning from the hospital with her new-born daughter and less than a week after giving birth.

Perhaps it is this infectious enthusiasm that has driven her success, having worked internationally with some of the dance world’s elite, creating spectacular architectural spaces for the likes of Alain Platel’s company les ballets C de La B and Akram Khan for his duet with famous French ballet dancer Sylvie Guillem.

“The biggest opportunity I have been given came from Akram Khan. I learnt a lot from how he works with his team and how to trust your collaborators,” she says. “One day I was asked if I would like to make sketches for his production and later they said, oh and by the way, another performer is Sylvie Guillem. I was like, ‘wow’.”

Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem in Sacred Monsters, designed by Shizuka Hariu

Her latest commission, Dystopian Dream, brings together a stellar creative team from across the world with gravity-defying choreography by dance duo Wang/Ramirez, inspired by the 15-track album of the same title by renowned producer and composer Nitin Sawhney.

For this, Shizuka has created a nightmarish world, an everyday life space turned upside down, a dystopian landscape; drawing inspiration from Escher’s staircases, the structure of icebergs, geometric shapes and even Christopher Nolan’s film Inception.

“The feeling or impression of the space is not happy or refreshing. It’s inviting audiences to the twisted and confused geometry. The gravity between wall and floor is shifted – that was my concept. The music is travelling from a really dark, lost feeling to something more comforting and then to discover something something positive, a floating world.”

Scale study for Dystopian Dream by Shizuka Hariu

3D models for Dystopian Dream by Shizuka Hariu

The process took about five months to complete, during which Shizuka made numerous sketches, three-dimensional stage plans, 16 different handmade models and copious Skype calls to her international creative team.

She is fascinated by the choreographic style of Honji and Sebastien, which often incorporates aerial work. Attached to wires, the dancers walk on walls and ceilings and propel themselves from surfaces, gliding through the air – a challenge for any designer to accommodate this functionality whilst emphasizing their movements.

But the biggest challenge, she revealed, was creating her work in synergy with Nick Hillel’s stunning projection design which helps to evolve the dream-like environment and allows for some clever visual trickery and interaction with the performers.

“Nick’s imagery is really fascinating so you don’t want to restrict his visual content by making a set design which is not easy to project onto. The projection mapping is 3D, so he can capture my set in his computer and can project on the outline but also he needs some flat space sometimes so he can show his image clearly.”

In addition to Nick’s projections and Nitin’s music, fashion designer Hussein Chalayan has been brought on board to create the costumes, singer Eva Stone provides live vocals on stage and Olivier Award winner Natasha Chivers sets the mood with her lighting design.

Dystopian Dream. Credit: Johan Persson

It’s clear that Dystopian Dream is an audiovisual feast for the senses. With the music as their starting point, the creative team have each drawn on the themes behind it. It’s an album which was partially influenced by the death of Nitin’s father as well as a feeling of despair at current political events.

“Dance has a lot of abstract interpretation for people and is flexible in terms of story lines and structures,” says Shizuka. “Contemporary expression is open for us, the creators. Evoking a mood, rather than creating a concrete environment for the play. That’s what I like. Not to make a description of a scene and inviting spectator with their own interpretation.”

Dystopian Dream makes its UK premiere at Sadler’s Wells on 27 & 28 Nov. Tickets are priced from £12. To book, call the ticket office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Watch the trailer here:


We speak frankly with Mavin Khoo and choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra about the process of getting ‘emotionally naked’ to create their latest work, Man to Monk, for the Sadler’s Wells stage.

“There is such a joy to being a vessel,” says Mavin Khoo, who has established a career of nearly 20 years as a dancer and is speaking to us from the back room of a rehearsal studio.

“One of the challenges I have now is finding people to make work on me who are interested to really go deep in terms of who I am, as opposed to coming into the studio and my body becoming a kind of superficial instrument.”

This hunger for a new kind of creative process is what led him to work with choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra on an intense period of research where they would literally eat, sleep and rehearse together. Mavin would become Carlos’s muse.

“I spent a lot of time with Mavin. I felt like a journalist in a way,” says Carlos. “Christopher Isherwood famously writes in his novel Goodbye to Berlin ‘I am a camera.’ I really feel like I was a camera that was just following Mavin and it was just so interesting to immerse myself into one person and the essence of that person.”

After two years in creation, their two-part dance work titled Man to Monk emerged: an exploration of raw human desire and an intimate portrait of sexuality, masculinity and relationships, where Mavin partners with Victor Callens in a male duet.

“I can play the very good student or the good dancer, who just listens in the studio,” says Mavin, “but it was important for me that he really understood all the negative things about me. My temperament, my moods, how I sleep at night, my desires. If someone was going to make a work on me about love, they had to really understand this deeply. I’m sure it must have been quite overwhelming and quite intense at times for Carlos.”

“Mavin would cook for us every night. There was a very kind of motherly, caring aspect to him I got to experience because you’re out of the studio. We interviewed each other several nights. I got to pray with Mavin so I got to experience his spiritual life as well. But then we discovered we’ve got lots of things in common. We really love The Golden Girls! It had some intensity at times because you’re negotiating personal space. But, wow, it definitely makes for a very kind of profound work. It makes the research so much more complete.”

Carlos and Mavin, on the surface, might not seem like your most obvious pairing – aside from their mutual appreciation of The Golden Girls. Mavin is a classically trained bharatanatyam dancer, from Malaysian heritage and practising Hindu. Carlos has become known for his gender-bending contemporary dance work questioning queer identity and comes from a Spanish Catholic family.

So, did their differing cultural backgrounds and dance styles force them outside of their comfort zone?

“I think the cultural perspectives of our backgrounds didn’t really have as much difference as we thought it would. There was quite a lot of similarity. It was more the perception and construction of queerness that had more challenges,” Mavin answers.

“Mavin has such a rich physical heritage inside him. There is so much in him that can come out, rather than a challenge I think that was a blessing. It gave us so many options,” adds Carlos.

Mavin’s innate qualities have become part of the work, whether he wanted them to or not, as he explained…

“I feel more that my whole spine is so Asian!” laughs Mavin. “I think there’s something about that certainty that is much more embodied as opposed to constructed. The work is a lot about this element of construction, whether it’s queerness or it’s cultural. There is an interesting subtext that is challenging our perception of what construction is as opposed to embodiment.”

“This isn’t a fusion between bharatanatyam and contemporary dance. What’s really great about this work is Mavin’s ‘orientalisation’. Everything that’s Asian in him is in the work, in the vocabulary, just because he’s there. That relationship between him and Victor, who is so clearly Caucasian, is really strong because of its honesty and not necessarily because of the language that we’re using.”

Carlos was speaking to us from Tennessee where he is currently crafting a work for Nashville Ballet. Here the tradition is still geared towards the male and female pas de deux, he told us. So how conscious was the decision to subvert what we’re used to seeing in a classical context, by partnering two men in Man to Monk?

“It sheds light on one gender. But although this is very clearly a relationship between two men or one man and god, there is a universality in it that I feel like any kind of gender denomination can relate to.”

Man to Monk comes to the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells on 29 & 30 Nov. Tickets are priced at £17. To book, call the ticket office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

Where to find Indian classical dance in London – Darbar Voices

In the second installment of Darbar Voices, a four part blog series delving into the world of Indian dance in celebration of Darbar Festival, BBC’s Young Dancer and Birmingham-born kathak dancer Vidya Patel shares her top tips on where to experience Indian classical dance in London.

I’m a proud Brummie and have been lucky to be able to see a lot of Indian classical dance whilst growing up in the Midlands. My parents had a real interest in the artform and were keen for me and my sister to be exposed to it from a young age, so they frequently took us to see a range of performances.

There are a total of eight different styles of Indian classical dance: bharatanatyam, kathak, odissi, kuchipudi, kathakali, manipuri, mohiniyattam and sattriya. They have distinct aspects and elements to them which are beautiful to watch. You can expect to see a lot of bharatanatyam and kathak across the UK, however I’m happy to say that other styles are now more popularly performed and taught than they used to be.

I love seeing a variety of works of different genres and choreographers and London has been the best place for this as there is always a dance show you can go and watch, whatever the time of day. Indian classical dance isn’t always regularly presented, in comparison to other dance styles such as ballet, so when it is, you have to grasp the opportunity to see it and live it!

Sujata Banerjee Dance Company
During my late teens I started travelling to London a lot for classes with my Guruji – Sujata Banerjee, and conveniently saw whatever Indian classical dance shows the city offered if it coincided with my travels. I now regularly train with Sujata Banerjee Dance Company under the guidance of kathak guru Sujata Banerjee. They regularly hold classes and workshops for anyone interested in learning kathak as well as an annual Kathak Festival which invites national and international kathak artists to perform. You can find out more about classes and workshops here. #

Watch Vidya Patel performing a duet choreographed by Sujata Banerjee on the Sadler’s Wells stage at the BBC Young Dancer Final in 2015:

Akademi is a London based organisation which promotes South Asian dance and introduces it to a wider audience. They regularly produce and create platforms for a variety of dance works throughout the year so I’d definitely recommend checking out their social media platforms to see what they have on.

Vidya Patel performing in Akademi’s production of The Troth, choreographed by Gary Clarke, which is touring the UK in autumn 2018

Alchemy Festival
Some of the most memorable Indian classical dance performances I’ve seen in the UK have been at Alchemy Festival which usually takes place during summertime at the Southbank Centre. I remember seeing the beautiful and awe-inspiring odissi ensemble company from India called Nrityagram and the internationally renowned kathak company, also from India, Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company. I never thought I’d be able to see them live so I’m so glad that they were programmed for audiences in the UK. I’m excited to see Aditi’s latest choreographic work for kathak dancer Gauri Diwakar in Adventures in Odissi and Kathak as part of this year’s Darbar Festival.

I have also seen some great Indian classical dance pieces by both international and UK based artists at the following venues, and would really recommend following them on social media:

• Sadler’s Wells
• Southbank Centre
• Bharati Vidya Bhavan
• The Nehru Centre
• Richmix
• Akademi

As well as keeping an eye on different venues, following various freelance artists, organisations and companies which are training in or promoting Indian classical dance is also a great way to keep track of performances.

Hear more from Vidya Patel by following @VidyaPatel96 on Twitter and _vidyapatel on Instagram.

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

Lead image: Credit Helen Murray

A guide to the music of Bharatanatyam – Darbar Voices

Welcome to Darbar Voices, a four part blog series delving into the world of Indian classical dance in celebration of Darbar Festival, which returns to Sadler’s Wells in November with a dance programme curated by Akram Khan. Discover more about this discipline and hear directly from the artists and experts working in the field as our guest writers share insight into the traditions and ideas behind some of the oldest dance styles in the world.

In the first of this series, we hand over to Praveen Prathapan (AKA The Flute Guy), an Indian Classical musician and former NASA Scientist. Praveen left his academic career in pursuit of music and has now amassed almost 10 million views on Facebook and YouTube. Praveen has collaborated with Emeli Sande, Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, and Cheryl Cole and, at 23 years old, is also a trained vocalist, percussionist, and composer.

Here Praveen offers insight into canartic music, and its relationship to bharatanaytam.

Carnatic music shares many traits with Western classical music, such as the employment of major and minor scales, which comprise just two of the thousands of ragas in Carnatic music. Unlike its Western counterpart however, Carnatic music distinctively does not utilise harmonies or chord progressions. Nevertheless, its largest component, manodharmam (improvisation), makes Carnatic music share remarkably similar characteristics with blues and jazz music (didn’t expect that, did you).

Carnatic music is also known for some of the most complex rhythmic patterns and talas (beat cycles) in the world. Seriously, it gets crazy.

An example of the carnatic music style. Bharat Sundar sings solo the Raga Thodi:

Carnatic music often accompanies the dance style of bharatanatyam, a subgenre of Indian classical dance renowned for its complex footwork, detailed array of mudras (gestures), and storytelling style.

Watch bharatanatyam duo Renjith and Vijna perform with live musicians:

Traditionally, bharatanatyam performances have been accompanied by the Vadya Trayam (Holy Trinity) of Carnatic instruments: Veena (a plucked stringed instrument), Venu (flute), and the Mridangam (drum). These three instruments have specific functions: the Mridangam complements the rhythmic foot movements of the dancer, the Veena enhances the texture with its array of tala strings and main strings, and the flute decorates the melodies with ornamentations.

Praveen performs an Indian classical version of the theme from Titanic on the Venu, accompanied by the Veena:

Since the colonisation of India by the British, the violin has been added to this repertoire, replacing the Veena which in turn is gradually disappearing from bharatanatyam performances. The most important instrument on stage, the Nattuvangam (hand cymbals), is tapped in conjunction with the dancer’s feet. More modern performances of bharatanatyam have seen new instruments being employed, such as the drum pad, for special effects like temple bells, the Sitar, for North Indian bhajan-style pieces, and even the piano, to introduce harmonies. Finally, the vocalist sings the melodic lines, which contain the all-important sahithya (lyrics), which the dancer portrays visually.

The confluence of carnatic music and bharatanatyam is a beautiful thing to behold, and has stood the test of time for centuries. However, like everything in life, art changes and evolves. What does the future look like? I predict three major things to happen.

The first is the likeliest: with globalisation transpiring at an unprecedented rate, I believe genres will merge more frequently; artists have already begun to incorporate elements of ballet into bharatanatyam, and harmonies into Carnatic music. Improvisation in bharatanatyam has not been explored to the extent that Carnatic music has, and so my second prediction is that we will see more of this experimental technique.

Finally, with the explosion of the digital world, well-known artists of the future will be those who have found a way to bring these age-old traditions to our screens and social media. All of these, some of these, or none of these, could happen. However, one thing is for certain: these ancient art forms are still being practised today, and I’m grateful to witness it in the 21st century.

See more videos from The Flute Guy and subscribe to his YouTube channel here, follow @therealfluteguy on Twitter, the_flute_guy on Instagram and The Flute Guy on Facebook.

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

Photo credit: Jananie Baskaran of 3D Media

Maxine Meets… Peregrine the Pony

As Birmingham Royal Ballet brings La Fille mal gardée to the Sadler’s Wells stage, our Publications Officer Maxine fulfils her dream of meeting a very special star of the show… Peregrine the pony.

Before we get started, let me make this very clear: I am not obsessed with this pony. Definitely not. I may have chased him down the street once (more on that later), and even bought him a bouquet. Twice (more on that later too), but that doesn’t mean I’m obsessed. Sure, I like him. But obsessed? No. Never. Not me.

That’s not to say that there are other people who aren’t.

There is a small corner of the internet that is very jealous of me right now. A dedicated fandom, lurking within the larger ballet-loving community. A group of balletomanes (pun very much intended) who have been following the career of this pony with all the ardour of a teenage girl at a One Direction concert circa 2012.

Peregrine (like all the best ballet stars, he’s dropped his first name: Formakin) stormed onto the ballet scene nearly a decade ago in a performance of La Fille mal gardée, pulling the tiny trap that carries Lise (the Fille of the title) and her mother from their farmhouse out to greet the workers in the fields.

Along the way he is led by one of the more junior (two-legged) members of the company, while to his rear he is trailed by another dancer, carrying a trug that, under the cover of a cheerful looking cloth, contains a… well, let’s be blunt here, a not-so theatrical pooper-scooper, to be whipped out should any accidents occur.

And oh boy, do accidents occur, necessitating hasty clean-up and even hastier footwork as the ballerinas shift their pink satin pointe shoes away from the slippy patch.

Since then he has claimed the role as his own, touring it to stages all around the country with such regularity that his name is now pretty much synonymous with the ballet.

Caught on the hoof

I first saw Fille back in 2012. As a former devotee to the more histrionic storytelling of MacMillan, I was initially a little sneery at the thought of this schmaltzy Ashton ballet, where chickens dance, true love reigns supreme, and there’s no need for poison, swords or any weaponry beyond a few cheekily thrown cabbages (even the promising looking sickles are only used to fell wheat, which struck me as a waste).

Which is why it is somewhat surprising that, on a sunny evening in 2015, I found myself sprinting out of Pret, a half-eaten sandwich stuffed into my bag, and popcorn flying everywhere, in a scene that could only match Beatle-mania for sheer enthusiasm and adoration. Because there, trotting down St Martin’s Lane, his white coat gleaming in the evening sun as he headed towards the Royal Opera House for that night’s performance, was Peregrine.

A few second later, very red in the face and filled with regrets about my regular gym non-attendance, I caught up with him. I don’t exactly remember what happened next. It was all a bit of a blur. But I came away feeling like I could pull off even the grandest of jetés.

So, when I found out that Fille (and, more importantly, Peregrine) was heading to Sadler’s Wells with Birmingham Royal Ballet, I acted with both grace and decorum. I absolutely did not start my campaign to interview him the second it was announced.

I waited a full day. At least.

So how do you interview a pony? Enter Tom Davis, farm manager of Peregrine’s current London digs at Mudchute Park and Farm, who has known the equine star for more than eight years and was happy to act as intermediary.

I started with the basics: how old is he? “21.” Old for a pony. “He’s a more mature gentleman,” was Tom’s no-nonsense statement on the matter. “He’s not quite in his twilight years, but he’s doing alright.” But nearing retirement, surely? “What Peregrine does isn’t very taxing,” Tom assured me, noting the panic in my voice. “It’s not a very long stint. It would be entirely up to his owner when he retires, but he’s doing well. He’s still fit and healthy, and until anything shows to the contrary then he’ll carry on doing it, I imagine.”

His owner, George Gold, agrees. Peregrine’s predecessor kept on going until she was 30.

My little pony

Peregrine comes from a long line of hoofers stretching back to the 1920s. They’ve been performing in Fille for over 20 years (Superstar took over from the appropriately-named Lise in 1996). And matters, it seems, are in hand for the next trap-puller. “He’s been running with some mares, so hopefully there’ll be the pitter patter of tiny Peregrine hooves…” says Tom, ever so casually, as if he’s not giving me the journalistic scoop of a lifetime. “…in eleven or twelve months’ time.”

Oh. My. God.

It takes me a moment to recover from this bombshell. Have you ever seen a Shetland pony foal? I haven’t, but a quick Google image search tells me everything I need to know. I recommend you give it a go if you’re having a bad day. I really do.

One day a Peregrine Junior might end up pooping on the Sadler’s Wells stage. What a thought.

Tom hesitates. “If they are as good as he is,” he says. “Ponies, with the nature that Peregrine has, especially from an entire stallion, are very, very hard to come by.” Ah, yes. Shetlands have a bit of a… shall we say a ‘reputation’? “Shetland ponies are known worldwide to suffer from small man syndrome. But Peregrine is a chip off the old block, and I think they did break the mold when it came to him.”

“But, we can live in hope that he’s got a son and heir cooking, in Scotland, inside one of these mares he’s been running with. Hopefully he’s left her with more than just pleasant memories and he’s got a little baby in there that’s going to be as good as he is.”

Tom, as you can probably tell by now, has a way with words that leans towards the romantic.

I can see why though. Peregrine begs for poetry.

When I spot him inside his trailer, the sight of his familiar shape clamps down hard on my heart.

The stubby stockiness of his legs. The rotund fullness of his belly. His gentle eyes fringed with the palest of lashes.

And let’s not insult his colouring by calling him a ‘grey.’

He’s white. Very white. As white as snow. Or paper. Or the White Witch, Jadis herself. Looking at Peregrine, metaphors utterly fail me.

The fact of the matter is, he’s so white that there have even been rumours that he gets powdered down before going on stage. But they’re not true. Right? “Absolutely!” agrees Tom, sounding rather shocked. “No, no, no, goodness me. He might powder his nose but that’s about it.”

“He’s like the miniaturised version of the stallion in Shrek,” he continues, warming to the theme. “When the donkey gets turned into the horse, that’s him in miniature. He’s a poor man’s unicorn.”

Mane appeal

While we’re on the subject, we have another rumour to dispel: Pantene. He doesn’t really use that… does he?

“Well, he has done in the past. For that kind of hair, you use anything. He’s been known to use a bit of L’Oreal.

“Because he’s worth it,” Tom adds, deadpan.

Peregrine’s fulsome fringe is as soft and voluminous as it looks, falling in enviable Veronica Lake fashion over his eyes. As a Mane ‘n Tail girl myself, I’m taking notes.

A stable performer

Peregrine on the farm, image credit: Tom Davis

Apart from being a stunner, and a nice chap to boot, Peregrine is also annoyingly talented. A true triple-threat.

No one who has seen him in action can forget the pawing motion he does with his hoof when his convoy comes to a halt in front of the drop cloth. “Sometimes when Peregrine’s impatient, he’ll paw the ground, because he knows the cues, he knows how long he should be stood in a certain place. There are a few behaviours that he’s learnt to do over the years, and that is one of them. Usually that’s him wanting to hurry everyone along a little bit.”

I’ve always wondered about the cues. What is it that Peregrine is responding to? “The dancers,” says Tom. “The music. Where he’s standing. They all add up, to give him his cue of when he should be doing what he’s doing.”

And he remembers it all? Sometimes years pass before a ballet company revives Fille. “He’s like a seasoned West End performer. To be honest, he knows a lot of it. And remembers a lot of it. Because it’s something that he’s done for many years. He knows when the harness goes on, what he’s meant to be doing.”

He’s certainly well behaved when I’m left holding his lead rope. He stands obligingly as we pose for photos on Rosebery Avenue, with a patience born of the utmost professionalism.

But what I really want to know is, what happens before the harness goes on. What’s his process? Is he method?

“On the days when he’s not there, he’ll be out in the field. But we have to make sure that he’s got a rug on, because of his colour. Because one of the first things he’ll do when you turn him out into the field is to roll. When the ground’s quite damp, he will go from being a nice whiteish-grey pony to being a very dark brown, dirty pony. It’ll be brushing him, giving him a brush off, and making sure he looks well. You might put a bit of hoof oil on his hooves to shine them up a little bit.”

And on the days when there isn’t time? When he’s expected to strut his stuff for the matinee and evening show? “He’ll have an area. It’ll probably be in the lorry, which is the size of a large stable on wheels. He’ll have hay nets and water buckets and a bed to lay down in, or the floor if he wants to. So he’ll relax how all ponies do. Eat a bit of hay, have a little drop of water, and maybe lay down and have a snooze.”


Celebrity stallion

It’s probably for the best that neither Peregrine, nor his owner, indulges in social media. A quick glance through the #NaughtyPeregrine hashtag on Twitter will give you a glimpse into the collective love for this adorable pony. However, the #PeregrinesBouquet takes matters to an entirely different level.

In 2015, cinema goers around the world were treated to the sight of Darcey Bussell presenting an edible bouquet to Peregrine during the live stream of The Royal Ballet’s production of La Fille mal gardée. Paid for by the fans (Ahem…) the pink ribboned basket was put together and delivered by the ballet-bouquet specialists at Bloomsbury Flowers (only the best for this pony).

“It wasn’t until he’d done the last stint at the Royal Opera House and was presented with an edible bouquet, and his owner George came back to the farm with an entire bag of fan-mail, that I realised Peregrine had the following that he did. But then again, he’s a seasoned pro, very professional in what he does, and he’s quite an endearing pony. When people see him they do like him.”

“I have to admit, I did write one of those letters,” I say tentatively, wondering what sort of reaction I’ll get from Tom.

“Well, I imagine up in Scotland he’s got them over his stable wall or something like that,” he says sweetly.

So there. You see. Not obsessed at all.

I’m not the only one. “I was never a fan of Shetland ponies, and then I met Peregrine,” says Tom. “I think he’s a once in a lifetime pony, to be fair.”

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s La Fille mal gardée runs from 1 – 3 Nov. Tickets are available now priced from £12. To book, call the Ticket Office on 020 7862 8000 or book online.

Memories of Ghost Dances

Originally choreographed for Rambert Dance Company in 1981, Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances has seen enduring success as one of the companies most popular pieces and a lasting political relevance that still resonates with audiences today. As Rambert prepare to restage Bruce’s iconic dance piece at Sadler’s Wells for its final London performances, we speak to one of the original Ghost Dancers, Nelson Fernandez.

What do you remember about the creation process?

Most of all, I remember the music, which at the start had been very unfamiliar in spite of the fact I was born in Latin America. The music, coming from Chile, is extraordinary, haunting, otherworldly, and at the same time, very much rooted in the traditions of people of the continent. I will never forget hearing the live music from the talented members of the Mercury Ensemble (as it was then called). I found it hard to believe they were able to produce such music and such sounds and to make that music their own. I also remember watching some of my fellow dance artists in rehearsals – people like the unforgettable Frances Carty – and being moved to tears. Chris felt deeply about the subject matter and this showed through in his choreography.

Describe your first memory of the mask, paint and getting ready for that first performance.

I was in the second cast that performed a day or two afterwards. It was an extraordinary experience as it was evident from the start that this was not just another run-of-the-mill ballet but something that had an impact on both performers and audiences.

During the creation period did you have any idea that Ghost Dances would go on to be have the effect on audiences that it has? What do you think has made it so popular over the years?

It became clear that the work had a strong impact from the start. The movement, the mystery of the masks for the ghosts, the eerie and moving music, the extraordinary individual performances all made their contribution.

Lastly, if we had a plague of injuries and you got a last minute call, do you think you could go on in your original role?

You must be joking!

Rambert return to Sadler’s Wells with Ghost Dances as part of mixed programme, Two, on 6 – 10 November. Tickets are available now priced from £12. To book, call the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.