Sadler’s Wells hosted a free public talk exploring the relationship between art and human rights on the first day of Fly The Flag week, part of a nationwide campaign marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Chaired by Kate Arthurs, Director of Arts at the British Council, the debate examined the role of art in addressing human rights issues. Author, university professor and prominent human rights barrister Philippe Sands QC, Jasmin Vardimon, choreographer and artistic director of Jasmin Vardimon Company, and actor, writer and equality campaigner Kate Willoughby shared insight from their own experiences, work and expertise.

The rich and thought-provoking discussion considered how we are often unaware of our human rights, take them for granted, or think about them as something relating to ‘others’. It highlighted how there is still a lot to be done to build understanding that each and every one of us has a minimum set of fundamental rights at any given time, and how art is uniquely placed to humanise stories, make individual issues universal, appeal to our emotions and foster empathy among people – ultimately advancing the cause of human rights for all.

Alistair Spalding, Sadler’s Wells’ Artistic Director and Chief Executive, introduces the Fly The Flag arts and human rights talk.

The evening began with a video contribution by choreographer Akram Khan. Alongside members of his dance company, in the clip he reflected on why art is such a powerful reminder of our shared humanity.

Fly the Flag 70 / Outwitting the Devil, Akram Kahn Company.
Video: Maxime Dos

“People connect with art because they find themselves in it.”

Akram Khan

Kate Arthurs then invited the speakers to share their thoughts on why, and how, art bears witness to, and shines a light on, our human rights.

“Human rights are the heartbeat of our humanity. They’re the lifeblood of our very existence and the hope for better days ahead – without them, humankind is lost. As creatives, we have incredible power. Art is underestimated as a powerful tool. With it, you can reach people, move and lift them, and change lives.”

Kate Willoughby

“Art is firstly a form of expression, a form of communication. It can shine a new light on subject matter, raise awareness, provoke thoughts, stimulate emotions and present a reality from an unconventional perspective. All of this can open new ways in which to view our world, and potentially lead to making actual change happen.”

Jasmin Vardimon

Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, gender inequality and crimes against humanity are some of the subjects explored in Jasmin Vardimon’s work. Her productions Justitia, 7734, Freedom, Medusa and PARK all deal with themes relating to universal human rights.

Fly The Flag for Human Rights, Jasmin Vardimon Company.
Credit: Jasmin Vardimon Company

Reflecting on their professional experiences, the speakers said:

“My work means that I am always in one of two places: either the classroom or the courtroom. My audiences are therefore either students or judges. But it’s not enough for just those two groups of people to be part of the discussion – human rights issues are just too important for that. Through my work as a writer, I found out that I can reach an audience much wider than I could have ever imagined.”

Philippe Sands

“Courage from the past calls for courage in the present. The fight is tough, but this is not a time to be a bystander. Understanding the history of the suffragettes is understanding that these were brave, ordinary, extraordinary women that we can learn from.”

Kate Willoughby

“Working on a piece, I like to look at an issue from different points of view and ask questions. How much does who we are – our cultural background, our preconceptions – influence how we judge situations? Perspective changes everything. A terrorist can be seen as a freedom fighter from the other side. Does our point of view dictate what we see, or does what we see dictate our point of view?”

Jasmin Vardimon

L to R: Speakers Philippe Sands, Kate Willoughby and Jasmin Vardimon, and chair Kate Arthurs.

On the value and impact of the arts, in society and in our everyday lives:

“What better way to express ourselves than through the body? I think the human body has an endless capacity to communicate and express, to tell a story and to rouse emotions. Using the entire capacity of our body to express can be a very powerful, expressive and communicative vehicle, whether that’s intellectually or vocally. The body is the home for each individual’s thoughts and emotions – it houses what makes each of us unique.”

Jasmin Vardimon

“It’s incredibly important that people recognize that there is a crying need out there to provide support to the artistic world to do what it wants to do. It’s an important time for solidarity right now.”

Philippe Sands

“It’s important to be true to yourself. When you speak from the heart you are heard by the heart. Feelings trump facts and stories matter. As creatives, we can tap into these truths for good.”

Kate Willoughby
Kate Willoughby performs an extract from
To Freedom’s Cause, her play on suffragette Emily Davison

In the Q&A session with the audience, speakers discussed the importance of equality of access to arts and culture for everyone, and of democratising the dialogue in ways that ensure everyone can be a part of the conversation.

We closed the talk with a poem from The Unknown Hour, by renowned poet and novelist Ben Okri, which was read by Cameroonian journalist and English PEN’s current writer-in-residence Mimi Mefo Takambou.

Mimi Mefo Takambou reads Ben Okri’s poem from The Unknown Hour.

To fall is not to fall

From space or height. It is to fall from unity,

From oneness. But it is easier to walk out

Than to work it out. Easier to fall apart

Than to stay together. The romance of independence,

Of freedom, is stronger than the truth of unity.

Ben Okri, from The Unknown Hour

Fly The Flag week runs from 24 to 30 June and is co-produced by Fuel, Amnesty International, Donmar Warehouse, Human Rights Watch, Liberty, National Theatre, Sadler’s Wells and Tate. 

Introducing ‘Dance Mama Live!’ with Lucy McCrudden

In a first-of-its-kind event, Dance Mama will bring together parents who work in dance to share their experiences with each other at Sadler’s Wells next week. Dance Mama Live! will address the challenges faced by working parents, engaging participants with a host of panel discussions, case studies and networking sessions.

We speak to founder and dance specialist Lucy McCrudden about the inspiration behind Dance Mama and what we can expect from the event.

What was the inspiration behind Dance Mama?

Becoming a mum! Back in 2012 when I fell pregnant, the only resource I knew about was a factsheet from Dance UK (now One Dance UK) on being pregnant and dancing. After I had my daughter in 2012, I felt quite strongly that there wasn’t anything ‘official’ to really support me as a parent working in dance. All I could really do was talk to other friends and colleagues in dance who were parents about what their set up looked like, trying to garner as much wisdom as I could.

Lucy Balfour. Image: Pierre Tappon

This phase of your life impacts your physiology, psychology and creativity, and trying to orientate yourself in this new world is tricky without a road map. Although awareness has periodically been raised about parenting over the years, at the time I did think there wasn’t enough consistent energy being put into it.

I was interested in keeping the dialogue going, so I asked to write an article for One Dance UK.  In doing my research, I interviewed colleagues of different genders, ages, stages of parenthood and family set up, and it turned out that their stories were the most interesting ones to share. I set up Dance Mama on a simple WordPress site in 2014, and quickly learned that it had become a reference point for quite a few people. For example, choreographer Rosie Kay commented: ‘Dance Mama has been really invaluable for me to read – I really don’t know how other women do it’.

What has the journey of Dance Mama been like so far, and where do you see the platform going?

I decided to put all my energies into Dance Mama in late 2018 and up-level. It now has a better site with signposts to written resources, organisations and videos, as well as a growing number of some 30 stories which are the cornerstone of the platform. I also developed an online community as well as a mentoring service, Mentor Mama.  

It’s great to have been included in events at the Royal Opera House and Greenwich Dance this year. I’m now looking into research partnerships, particularly post-natal re-entry to the industry, and am currently an Ambassador for the Parents in the Performing Arts (PiPA) campaign. Although Dance Mama is transparently me, I want it to be an inclusive and diverse space that caters to all types of families and dance styles. This will hopefully be reflected in the case studies and community as the site grows.

What, in your opinion, are some of the challenges as a mother working in the dance world?

There are a few! The biggest challenge is definitely childcare and having less time to work and express that creative side of you. This comes down to the shift in priorities: as dance folk, it’s ingrained in us that dance always comes first. Suddenly, when you have this tiny little baby depending on you, it’s family first – and that is quite a big psychological shift. For women who have carried children, the physical aspect is a big one. Especially if you are relying on your intrinsic motivation to train in short bursts when you are chronically sleep-deprived!

What are some of the highlights?

I think a big highlight is having your child take part in cultural opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have experienced. Having been around live music and dance throughout both my pregnancies, I feel that has contributed to both my children picking up language fairly quickly. There’s also something wonderful about sharing a passion with your child. Both my children like dance, and while I don’t force it on them to pursue it as a career (that’s up to them!), it’s brilliant to be able to take my child to something that we both enjoy.  Recently, I took my eldest daughter (now 6) to see Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, which was a real thrill. I do think that having a consciously creative parent can add an extra enriching dimension to childhood.

How would you describe the connection between dance and parenthood?

Very intimate (laughs)! Again, it’s that trinity of the physical, psychological and creative. I feel that dance supports my parenthood; I draw on my 360 dance skills: inviting play, fun, movement and music into what we’re doing, as well as having discipline, organisation and negotiation in my approach to managing the family’s activities.

Equally, parenthood has helped me in my work by giving me insight into the demographic of ‘parents/carers’, which gives me a deeper understanding in my management of learning and participation. It’s well-known that new parents are at risk of social isolation, but I feel this can be magnified if you have followed a creative vocational career, where often the pursuit of that career has led you away from your own family.

How do you balance being a parent and working in dance? Do you have any top tips?

Let’s just say balance doesn’t always happen. It’s something that everyone strives for, but in reality, it peaks and troughs. The main thing is that balance is really unique to each family – you have to find your own rhythm, your own choreography and see what works for you.

For me, I think intrinsic motivation is key. There is a great movement for this now with campaigns like #timesup and personal development experts like Dr Brené Brown coming into focus. Engaging with these keeps me inspired. I want to help empower women, particularly those who are freelance, to have more courage to assert healthy boundaries needed to address that balance.

Being super organised helps – you find that you’re doing a lot of coordinating people’s schedules when you have a family of four! I often joke on my socials using the hashtag #thejuggleisreal. Oftentimes in our line of work, there’s a culture of ‘workaholism’ due to our passion for our art form. The change in priority really helps put things into perspective, which is why at the same time the culture of flexible working in the arts is exceptionally useful.  

Can you summarise what we can expect from Dance Mama Live! in a few words?

In three words, I would definitely say it aims to: inspire, share and connect. The event will inspire parents working in dance, with particular relevance to those working freelance. Interacting with the discussion panel, they will share their experiences and hear stories from #dancemamas. Finally, Dance Mama will connect people together. Once we do this, we can move forward as an industry; by enabling us to be better resourced, and by increasing the presence of women in parenthood within the industry. I am very grateful to Sadler’s Wells for being in partnership with me for Dance Mama Live! and am excited for what the future holds. 

Dance Mama Live!takes place at Sadler’s Wells on Monday 3 June. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.

Sadler’s Wells hosts Cinderella-inspired supper club

To celebrate the return of Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artist Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella on our stage this festive season, we are hosting a number of special pre-performance supper clubs. adidas nmd Held on the Mezzanine level, Supper at Sadler’s transports diners back to 1940s London, the evocative setting of Bourne’s war-time romance. Mochilas Kanken Online From the Union Jack bunting, to the floral table settings and even the ration book-style menus, diners will be immersed in a vintage wonderland. new balance homme Supper at Sadler’s runs before performances of Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella on selected dates between 12th December and 27th January 2018.