In October 1998, after two intense years of construction, the new Sadler’s Wells theatre opened its doors to the public. The milestone was marked with two opening events. One, a traditional gala opening and performance by Rambert, took place on Tuesday 13 October. The other, in keeping with Lilian Baylis’ legacy of using theatre as a means for social outreach, was a free public opening for the local community, which took place the previous Saturday 10 October. As a nod to the past, but with our eyes fixed firmly on the future, our 20th anniversary celebrations this month reflected these two separate openings.
On Sunday 7 October, we opened our doors to our local communities for Sadler’s Wells’ first Fun Palace, as part of Fun Palaces 2018. The campaign promotes the central role of community at the heart of culture with a weekend of action each October, where arts, science and community organisations across the country are called on to facilitate community-led activities.
For the Sadler’s Wells Fun Palace, we invited local community organisations to lead a variety of activities throughout the day; the resulting programme had a strong emphasis on skills, learning and creativity. Workshops throughout the day were grouped into three main categories – dance, crafts, and mindfulness, with a requisite dance floor on the ground floor. With something happening on each of our foyers, visitors were encouraged to wander throughout the building, drop in and out of various activities or simply sit down to watch, chat and relax. By the end of the day, visitors had a chance to learn Tudor dance, Bollywood and flamenco moves, practice yoga, take part in a drawing class and decorate a paper footprint to be displayed on the wall of the Mezzanine level as part of a collective artwork titled Dancing on the Ceiling.
“I particularly loved the silent disco – 100% certified fun! It is wonderful that Sadler’s Wells reaches out to people in the community with such days, particularly this 20-year celebration.” – Wendy Williams, Holloway Neighbourhood Group.
Four days later, on 11 October, we celebrated again with the world premiere of Reckonings, a mixed bill we commissioned to three bold choreographic voices: Julie Cunningham, Alesandra Seutin and Botis Seva. The dance makers each took different conceptual starting points to create an evening that at its core asked questions about identity and the state of contemporary society. Cunningham’s work interrogated traditional gender binaries; Seutin fused African styles with urban dance language to comment on how we perceive brown bodies; and Seva – inspired by Sally Brampton’s memoir about depression – looked introspectively at his own trials as an artist, using a hip-hop dance vocabulary and representations of violence to question our assumptions about black men and street dance.
“The revised, rejuvenated old Wells theatre took on a new life, ‘purpose-built for dance’, twenty years to the day (feels like yesterday), and has gone from strength to strength since taking dance to realms beyond one’s imagining. Long may it continue to dare and innovate.” – Vera Liber, British Theatre Guide.
Sadler’s Wells’ Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding joined the three choreographers and their dancers on stage after the curtain call to give a brief speech, congratulating the artists for creating and bringing to life an amazing performance. He also thanked the exceptional artists we work closely with at Sadler’s Wells: our Associate Artists, Resident and Associate companies, New Wave Associates, Young Associates, National Youth Dance Company members and alumni, as well as all the international dance artists and companies we support and collaborate with. He acknowledged the great contribution of two formative figures in Sadler’s Wells’ history, who were both in the audience that evening: Ian Albery, former Chief Executive of Sadler’s Wells, who led the campaign to transform the theatre into a building purpose-built for dance; and Roger Spence, Project Director, who managed the construction project.
Finally, he ended with a heartfelt thank you to our fantastic audiences for accompanying the theatre on its journey in the last two decades. This was followed by a confetti drop, showering the audience in golden ticket stubs embossed with the night’s date and the names of the production and choreographers.
As part of our digital campaign to mark our anniversary, we took to Twitter to ask people about their favourite Sadler’s Wells memories of the last 20 years. We received some wonderful responses from artists, performers, patrons and guests, which we compiled in this Twitter Moment. Among those who told us about their favourite memory was Florence Welch, musician and lead vocalist of Florence and the Machine.
Thank you to everyone who came to our Fun Palace and to the opening of Reckonings – to all the artists, audiences, communities and supporters who have been part of the Sadler’s Wells journey these past 20 years. Here’s to many more!
Header image: Ian Gavan.