20 for 20

A behind-the-scenes look at Wilkie Branson’s digital craftsmanship

TOM is a dance for camera installation created by award-winning choreographer and film-maker Wilkie Branson, a Sadler’s Wells New Wave Associate. This cutting-edge new work receives its world premiere in November as one of our landmark 20th anniversary commissions, and new performances have just been added due to popular demand. We spoke to Wilkie to find out more about his unique creative process.

Wilkie is an interdisciplinary dance-artist and film-maker with a talent for storytelling, bringing together the magic of the man-made and the wonder of technology. Self-taught in both dance and film, the roots of his practice lie in b-boying, developing into a unique fusion which emphasises emotional connection (demonstrated in his previous works Varmints and Boing!). Sadler’s Wells first premiered Wilkie’s work in 2011 with White Caps, followed by Varmints in 2013, based on the award-winning book by Helen Ward and directed by children’s theatre specialist Sally Cookson. It was co-produced and commissioned by Sadler’s Wells with the help of East London Dance and Stratford Circus. Following a successful opening run, Varmints went on to tour nine cities in the UK.

Since 2015, Wilkie has been further developing his work in film. This year, as part of our ‘20 for 20’ series of commissions, he has created a digital installation using layers of a special screen to create depth and a three-dimensional effect. Instead of generating models entirely digitally, he has crafted maquettes by hand that are subsequently digitised in a process called photogrammetry. This process creates a poignant, organic physical landscape, questioning our emotional relationship to the real, the digital and ourselves.

“The starting point for TOM was really the essence of a story I wanted to tell about loss of identity and estrangement from the people we were when we were going up – asking questions about who we are as we try to navigate our lives as adults”, explains Wilkie. “Once the idea was there, the narrative and the inhabitants of this world became clearer. It was then a process of working out the best tools to share that vision with an audience.

The intricate process of Wilkie’s workflow and his intertwining of physical and digital crafts can be seen in the above video. Marked by an interdisciplinary approach to the creative and performing arts, Wilkie’s extensive research into technology and development clearly shines through in the seamless blending of film, live dance and animation into a unified three-dimensional digital installation.

“The most difficult part in the creation of TOM has definitely been making decisions on where, and where not, to compromise. The amazing thing about making an animated work like this is that, in principle, it’s possible to create anything that I can imagine. The challenges that arise from the complexity and scale I’m working at forces me to make decisions all the time about what to develop further, leave out or push to include. It’s a real challenge when you know what is possible to do, but impossible to implement. It’s a constant tussle between dreaming, letting go, compromising and pushing on.” 

The world premiere of TOM takes place in the Lilian Baylis Studio on 15 – 17 November. Tickets are available now via the Sadler’s Wells website.

Wilkie Branson is one of Sadler’s Wells’ six New Wave Associates, alongside Julie Cunningham, Hetain Patel, Project O, L’atisse Rhoden and Alexander Whitley. Read more about our New Wave Associates on our website. More of Wilkie Branson’s video work can be found on his Vimeo account