learning and engagement

A teachers’ workshop with Hofesh Shechter Company

Charlotte Conroy Legge teaches GCSE dance at Bohunt School in Liphook, Hampshire. She recently took part in a teachers’ workshop we delivered with the company of our Associate Artist Hofesh Shechter, who returned to our stage this month with his latest work Grand Finale. Here, Charlotte shares her thoughts about the experience.

“As a dance teacher in a secondary school, I was excited and intrigued to participate in the Hofesh Shechter dance teachers’ workshop at Sadler’s Wells in July. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was hoping to at least learn some repertoire from Hofesh’s latest piece Grand Finale. I have been teaching in schools for three years now and try and take any opportunity to improve my practice. This in turn helps me to inspire my students and have an impact on the future generation in dance – something I’m always aspiring to do. I looked upon this workshop as a chance to expand my knowledge and gain a better insight into Hofesh Shechter Company.

The workshop was run by Bruno Guilore, the company’s Associate Artistic Director, and Merel Lammers, a long-time dancer in the company. “The spine is a b****!” said Bruno as the class were improvising, attempting to move every muscle they could on all fours. The day started with a session based around how Hofesh Shechter Company dancers usually start their rehearsal. Hofesh works a lot with improvisation and this was what our first session was based around. As we went back to basics and really worked through the body, it reminded me of my training at university, back to a time when you really had to know your body. Reminiscent as it was, it prompted me to think about why I had chosen to pursue dance in the first place. As teachers, we often run out of time in our busy week to take classes for ourselves.

After our improvisation workshop, we were able to watch some of the company’s rehearsal. To our pleasant surprise, they were doing the exercise we had just finished in our first session. This was a nice touch and solidified the feeling we were really getting the full experience. Of course, the dancers were ‘nailing it’. I almost wished we could have watched them before our task, so I could have cheated – although I feel like Bruno was canny and would have known!

Back down to the studio, we got ready to learn some repertoire from Grand Finale. I’ve always enjoyed Hofesh’s style and embodying this was challenging but different. You could see the fatigue and sweat of the fellow teachers around you, but continued to push through. With its high energy and quick, dynamic changes, it was exhausting, but I felt like I was getting my money’s worth! Merel pushed us and really wanted us to keep the integrity of the movement – meaning that, although we were sweating buckets, we were still striving to improve. It wasn’t “here you go, here’s the repertoire, get on with it”; it was “if you’re leaving with this repertoire, it will be in your body and it will be performed how it should be”.

Having two company members take the sessions was fascinating, especially when they talked about the origin of the movement content and the way in which Hofesh works. Going back to primal ways of moving and creating organic, authentic movement came across vividly. Finding the groove and allowing the body to move instinctually was very much encouraged. At the end of the practical session, we took a much-needed breather and sat down. We were then shown the costumes from the show and had a Q&A session with the dancers. This was an opportunity for us all to listen to the first-hand experiences and interpretations from the company members. In another valuable part of the day, nothing was left unaddressed and we had plenty of time to get as much out of the session as what we had come for.

And it wasn’t over. After what seemed like a long but engaging day of moving and improvising, we took a break before arriving at the theatre. We were greeted by welcome drinks, when we were able to network and chat about what we had experienced so far. To top off what had already been an incredible day of learning, we got to enjoy a performance of Grand Finale. I couldn’t help but pick out the repertoire I had just learnt as I watched. What a wonderful way to bring the whole day together and come back around full circle. A truly immersive experience, which not only benefited me but will benefit my students.

The event was advertised as a teacher workshop in support of the new A-Level specification, but what I got out of the day was far greater.”

Inspiring Future Theatre Day: Over 400 Young Dancers Prepare to perform at Eden Project

On Inspiring Future Theatre Day, we’re excited to announce a performance by over 400 young dancers that will take place at Eden Project in Cornwall on 17 July, in collaboration with National Youth Dance Company and Dance Republic 2.

Space Time will see 41 of the most talented young dancers in England from the National Youth Dance Company travel to Cornwall to take part in this unique dance event, joining young dancers from 10 Cornwall schools and the ‘Propeller’ young dancers training programme.

Throughout the afternoon, the Eden Project’s Mediterranean Biome will host performances by the young dancers, specially created for the space.

Each dance group will explore a particular theme related to space or time, located across chosen sites at the Eden Project such as the Lime Steps, Spiral Garden and Avenue of the Senses, culminating in a spectacular finale with 450 young people dancing on and around the bridge near the Core Building.

The finale to the piece was choreographed by dancers and artists from National Youth Dance Company during a residency at Falmouth University in May, and is now being taught to primary school children all over Cornwall in preparation for the performance next month.

Elaine Foley, Projects Manager for Learning & Engagement at Sadler’s Wells, says: “The National Youth Dance Company residency at Falmouth University in May was brilliant. We loved meeting all the dancers from Propeller and were so impressed by all the material they learned in just two days. In the spirit of Inspiring Future Theatre Day, much of the choreography was taught by NYDC dancers themselves or generated in groups using improvisation. Everyone was open-minded, hard working, and brought loads of creative ideas to the session. It was a beautiful example of artistic practice driven by young people. We couldn’t be more thankful to Propeller and AMATA at Falmouth University for the opportunity to bring everyone together in this way. It’s going to be amazing seeing it all come together at Eden Project later this month!”

Space Time begins at 1pm on 17 July, with the finale at approximately 3.30pm.

There’s also a chance to see National Youth Dance Company on tour this summer with their latest work Used To Be Blonde choreographed by Guest Artistic Director Sharon Eyal. Upcoming performances include Latitude Festival on 14 July, AMATA Falmouth on 18 July and Brighton Dome on 20 July. Find out more here.

The Ageless Quality of Dance

Sadler’s Wells’ pioneering Company of Elders – whose dancers range from 60 to 89 years old – has been pushing the boundaries of dance for over 20 years. The dancers’ powerful performances in the UK and internationally have inspired similar companies to be created around the country, offering more and more people in later life a chance to dance. In this interview with The Elder, Sadler’s Wells’ Director of Learning and Engagement Joce Giles talks about the ageless quality of dance, the power of performance and the importance of challenging perceptions of what people can achieve and do in later life.

When and why was the Company of Elders set up?

The Company of Elders dates back to 1989. Back then, Sadler’s Wells started an arts club for older adults, and through that programme, workshops were held with visiting companies. Out of that, some ad hoc performances were organised for anyone in that group who was interested. That just snowballed, and by 1992 the Company of Elders was formed as a proper group.

The Company of Elders actually predates the current building at Sadler’s Wells, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and really it’s at the heart of how the organisation has grown over the last three decades.

I’ve been in my role at Sadler’s Wells for just over a year and a half, but I had been aware of Company of Elders for many years before that. I have always worked in dance, and the company really captured people’s imagination in the dance sector. When its dancers first performed they were pioneers – nothing else existed like that. Now groups inspired by the company have sprung up around the UK and internationally.

Is the Company of Elders made up of former professional dancers?

There are no professional dancers in the group. They come from a range of different backgrounds; some may have danced when they were younger, and this is a chance to reconnect with that. For others, dance is something they have taken up since retiring. The age range is people over 60 – but within that, there are dancers in their late 80s.

At Sadler’s Wells, we want to present dance in all its different styles, and for that to be reflected in the work that we do with programmes such as Company of Elders. So along with contemporary choreographers, the dancers have worked with hip-hop choreographers and people who work in South Asian dance styles, for example – they are very versatile.

Is there anything different about dance in later life?

Obviously there are some physical considerations, but actually, we ask the choreographers to come in and give a true sense of their work – and not to hold back. Company members are always clear to say if anything needs to be adapted for them – they want to be challenged.

I think one of the main considerations though is communication; speaking up if people have difficulty hearing, repeating information and maybe taking a bit more time to go through the movements.

In dance, we are used to seeing young performers at the height of their physical capability – and that’s fantastic to witness. But I think there’s something that an older performer, non-professional or professional, brings to the stage, that only they can – and that has a different quality. The presence that they bring to the stage is something that audiences find very powerful.

Read the full interview on The Elder website.

Company of Elders perform in the Lilian Baylis Studio on Friday 6 July (sold out).

Photos: Company of Elders in rehearsal (c) Johan Persson

Sadler’s Wells distills Elixir at Age on Stage

Sadler’s Wells’ Elixir festival will be among the examples of best practice in highlighting the contribution of older dancers to be presented at Age on Stage this summer.

Following successful editions in 2015 and 2017, Age on Stage – the brainchild of Swedish choreographer Charlotta Öfverholm – returns with a one-day festival of activities on 2 June in celebration of dancing at a mature age. Taking place at Dansens Hus in Stockholm, the event includes a documentary screening, performances by dancers over 45, talks and presentations.

Among the speakers is our Director of Learning & Engagement Joce Giles, who will discuss the Elixir festival at Sadler’s Wells. The festival, which we programmed for the first time in 2014, recognises the contribution to the art form made by older dancers and challenges assumptions about who can dance. By showcasing the richness and benefits of creativity in later life, it wants to promote discussion on the value of dancing at an older age, and to advocate for more work created and performed by older artists to be made and shared with wider audiences. It also hopes to encourage more older people to take up dancing as a way to be physically and mentally active.

Our commitment to this issue is longstanding. We have been running two initiatives aimed at engaging over-60s in dance at Sadler’s Wells for many years: the Lilian Baylis Arts Club and the Company of Elders. The Lilian Baylis Arts Club gives participants the opportunity to learn more about dance and our programme through weekly meetings with artists and performers, workshops and visits to shows. The Company of Elders, established in 1989, is the embodiment of the social and health benefits of dancing at 60+. The company has worked with internationally renowned choreographers and performed in prestigious venues across the UK and overseas, from the Houses of Parliament to the Venice Biennale.

The Elixir Festival was born as a natural continuation and expansion of our work with older dancers. Following the success of its first edition, we presented the festival again in 2017, with a successful four-day programme of performances, workshops and events.

Other speakers in attendance at Age on Stage will be Christopher Roman, former Associate Artistic Director of The Forsythe Company and Artistic Director of DANCE ON ENSEMBLE, who performed at Elixir last year; and Cecilia Ferm-Almqvist and Ninnie Andersson from Luleå Tekniska Universitet, who will present the results of their research on workshops for people aged 65+.

Dance artist Liz Aggiss will be performing excerpts of her show Slap and Tickle, while Charlotta Öfverholm will also give a special performance, in addition to hosting the mini-festival.

Age on Stage is part of Dance On, Pass On, Dream On (DOPODO); a European-wide partnership project devoted to challenging preconceived notions about age and promoting a model of sustainable career and audience participation that values older people on stage and, generally, in society. DOPODO involves nine dance organisations, including Sadler’s Wells, from eight European countries, and receives funding from Creative Europe, a European Union programme supporting the cultural sector. The Elixir Festivals in 2014 and 2017 were kindly supported by the Baring Foundation.

Dance Writes Sampled review: a diverse and life-affirming show

Sadler’s Wells has launched Dance Writes, a new initiative giving Islington residents the opportunity to experience dance performances and gain new skills by writing about what they have seen. Part of our community engagement programme Get into Dance, the pilot scheme is designed to help participants convey their thoughts and feelings about a performance, and to offer them a chance to learn or improve their writing skills and deepen their engagement with dance.

Dance Writes member Joanna Greatwich was at the opening night of Sadler’s Wells Sampled in February. Here is what she thought…

A heady new world awaited you as you entered Sadler’s Wells’ building for its annual Sampled festival. Samba beats and drums, feathered headdresses wafting above. Dancing and smiles all around. The random nature of the mosh pit’s movements and noisy teenagers. And music warming us all, with a booming 70s’ club feel.

Each piece was introduced by a video clip, featuring interviews with the artists to help you better understand the work and its context.

Nederlands Dans Theater 2 grabbed the stage with stop motion, sheer elastic tension. The dancers moved with precise lightening muscle blurring pristine shapes, their strength and control like a speeded up silent movie, all gesture and style. Wir sagen uns Dunkles then changed pace, deftly weaving in short, lyrical phrases. Finally, a masterly male dancer summed it all up, with a surprising touch of sadness. A dazzling, brave performance.

Mass Effect’s cheeky, smoothly stitched moves won us over. BBC Young Dancers Jodelle Douglas and Harry Barnes shared their youthful perception with sharp, quirky ‘look at this’ body sequences. They melted across the floor with sass and humour, shifting the mood up.

Winner of BBC Young Dancer 2017 Nafisah Baba gave us an insight into her fascinating inner life, as she showed layers of potential and playfulness in her creation Inescapable.

In Kin, a duet by Sadler’s Wells New Wave Associate Alexander Whitley, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Jenna Roberts curved sinewy gazelle limbs in flowing classical waves.

Jesús Carmona brought a pure flamenco blast of ‘duende’ (spirit) in sound and charismatic stage presence. He teased, sulked and stomped us all fully alive, from earth to sky.

An excerpt from Humanhood’s Zero   looked at gravity and the physical laws governing the universe through a spellbinding duet. The dancers played with imaginary molecular forces, spinning inside and around two bodies.

As a contrast, Zenaida Yanowsky shone in the high ballet purity of The Dying Swan, but I stopped short of tears.

Candoco’s pieces are often slow-burning  revelations. Dedicated to… was no exception. Its touching choreographic vocabulary and shapeshifting reminded me how contemporary dance is still evolving and broadening our view of how it is presented on stage.

Yeah Yellow’s barnstorming, assured and joyous Yeah Yellow Sunshine blended moves from a variety of hip hop disciplines, from popping to b-boying. It shook the theatre like pepper, with a sing along to ‘Let the Sunshine in’ and crackling moves one after the other. A fitting finale to a wonderful chocolate box of dance.

Our week with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

Cecil Rowe was among three members of the Company of Elders cast as extras by our International Associate Company Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch for their recent performances of Viktor on the Sadler’s Wells stage. Here, he reflects on their extraordinary week with the renowned company.

There are not many shows that come along that are actively looking to cast older gentlemen as extras, so when that show happens to be a Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch production like Viktor and is being staged at Sadler’s Wells, then the Company of Elders is not a bad place to start looking for such gents.

When the  invitation arrived to audition on Sunday afternoon the 4 February for a coveted walk-on role in Viktor, three men from the Company of Elders took up the invitation and were absolutely delighted to make it through. What an amazing week we have had!

The audition was hardly out of the way before rehearsals began, just hours later! We had to work fast, Opening Night would take place on the Thursday evening, just four days later. The elder extras were divided into two groups: those ostensibly invalided by a disaster of some kind, who would be carried across the back of the stage by the younger extras in what is known as ‘the chaos scene’, and those who would be dressed in white doctor’s coats, pretending to make their way over shifting ground with two planks of wood, using them as stepping stones.

Each came with its pros and cons. Being carried across the stage at speed, slung over the shoulder of a young man, might sound a doddle, but if you were picked up and carried off without having established a comfortable posture, it was no fun having a hard shoulder digging into your ribs for the entire journey. Those of us in the doctor’s white coats, had to keep low and try and balance on the two tricky planks of wood we used as stepping stones.  It was murder on the knees! And woe betide you if you got caught up in the traffic jam that would sometimes develop as you headed for the wings and the music cue to exit caught up with you.

Our favourite scene by far was in the second act, when all the older gents gather around a table to quaff some wine and play cards while some of the women in the company grab hold of rings hanging from the flies and swing back and forth out into the auditorium, their heels not far from our heads as they swing back over the stage.  The wine was real and very drinkable and the card games totally fictitious but great fun.

We all, also, just before interval, had the opportunity to waltz briefly with a member of the company. That was pure magic! At the end of each performance, what a thrill too, to take a curtain call on the main stage at Sadler’s Wells, hand in hand with members of Tantztheater Wuppertal! For all three of us, I think, a huge honour to share the stage, if only for a few minutes, with them.

All in all, a week etched in our memories and one we will treasure and never forget.

“To work with the company was truly amazing, the work ethic of them all is awe-inspiring and they are all so friendly. And to stand on the Sadler’s Wells stage at the end and be part of the company receiving the audience’s appreciation was just wonderful. It is an experience I shall not forget, especially the chaos section!” Christopher Dunham

 

Image: (L to R) Company of Elders members Cecil Rowe, Christopher Dunham and Damien Murphy.

East London Pupils Take Part in Rambert Dance Workshop

Dance company Rambert enthused pupils from an east London school with a workshop held on Sadler’s Wells main stage during the run of its production A Linha Curva & Other Works.

In November, a class of 11 year-10 students from Bow School in Tower Hamlets worked with Laura Harvey, Artistic Director of Rambert’s youth dance company Quicksilver, to learn and perform an extract of A Linha Curva, one of the iconic works in the company’s repertoire. Choreographed by Itzik Galili, the piece was inspired by the Brazilian carnival and is part of the GCSE Dance syllabus.

The pupils had been learning sequences of the work in class since the beginning of the month. Working on a stage for the first time at Sadler’s Wells gave them the opportunity to learn more about performance and projection techniques, and to experience the professional environment the Rambert dancers perform the piece in. After the workshop, the young participants enjoyed the matinee performance of the show.

The students will now use sections from the extract they have learnt as part of a group project, which they will present in examinations for their GCSE Dance qualification.

Bow School is the first Associate School Sadler’s Wells has appointed in east London. This forms part of the Learning & Engagement work that we are developing with young people and communities in the area, ahead of the opening of our new venue as part of a new cultural and education district in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Pupils explore solar system through dance

Following the successful premiere of his latest work 8 Minutes on our stage in the summer, Sadler’s Wells’ New Wave Associate Alexander Whitley has worked with Islington pupils to engage them creatively with the science curriculum through dance.

Alexander was inspired by solar science research to create 8 Minutes, a full-length piece combining dance, music and film to investigate concepts such as gravity, orbiting and magnetism through movement. Supported by our Learning and Engagement team, his eponymous dance company devised workshops to be delivered alongside the stage production.

In October, the company spent a week at the Gillespie School in Islington, one of Sadler’s Wells’ associate schools, working with a class of year-5 students to explore the similarities between artistic and scientific processes and using each of them to shed light on the other. The aim was to introduce the children to often abstract and complex scientific concepts by illustrating them through the medium of dance.

The participating class worked with two professional dancers from Alexander Whitley Dance Company, as well as a scientist and a choreographer, to explore solar science and specifically the themes of planets, scale, magnets and orbits through choreography. At the end of the week, the students presented their work to the whole school.

In November, the class performed in our Lilian Baylis Studio to an audience including parents, patrons of Sadler’s Wells and our Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding. Alongside the students’ performances, the evening included a speech from Alexander Whitley about the project, a Q&A with Alexander and the students, and the performance of a short excerpt of 8 Minutes.

We were proud to support this project and work closely with Alexander to encourage primary school students within our local community to approach their science curriculum in a creative way, and to emphasise the role of dance in inspiring curiosity, imagination and knowledge in young people.

Images by Stephen Wright

Sadler’s Wells participates in Japan conference on how art benefits the elderly

Sadler’s Wells staff and members of our Company of Elders discussed how the arts benefit the over 60s at an international conference in Japan in September. The four-day World Gold Theater Kickoff symposium at the Saitama Arts Theater featured workshops and panel discussions with performers and speakers from Japan and the UK, who shared programming and best practice, as well as exploring the role of ageing communities in the arts. Besides Sadler’s Wells, other UK organisations in attendance included London’s performing arts centre the Albany and Entelechy Arts, a participatory arts company working with older people from diverse communities.

Our Director of Learning and Engagement Joce Giles, Lucy Clarke-Bishop, Projects Producer in the Learning and Engagement team, three members of our Company of Elders – Betsy Field, Chris Havell and Catriona Maccoll – and the company’s rehearsal director Simona Scotto gave a presentation on Sadler’s Wells’ over-60s programme. They shared an overview of our work with the Company of Elders, our outreach activities, including the Silver Routes community group, and the Elixir Festival, which celebrates lifelong creativity and the achievements of older dance artists. Joce also took part in a panel discussion alongside David Slater, director of Entelechy Arts, which was chaired by Yoshiyuki Oshita, chief director of the Center For Arts Policy and Management for Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting. The debate looked at how theatres’ future programmes could focus on creative opportunities for elderly people.

Simona led a Company of Elders’ taster session and three introductory dance workshops designed for the local over-60 community in Saitama. There were 20-30 participants in each workshop, who were given the chance to learn introductory dance skills and some of the Company of Elders repertoire.

Sadler’s Wells’ relationship with Saitama Arts Theater is a long-term one, centred on a shared vision of connecting older audiences with dance. The Japanese theatre’s late artistic director, Yukio Ninagawa, founded Saitama Gold Theater, an over-55 theatre company that has been performing and touring internationally since its inception in 2006. Saitama Arts Theater has also been involved in ambitious community engagement: in 2016 it delivered the 10,000 Gold Theater project, which saw 1,600 professional and non-professional performers over 60 from the local community perform a new production at Saitama Super Arena.

We were thrilled to be able to discuss how arts and culture can contribute to elderly people’s mental and physical wellbeing with international colleagues. We look forward to continuing our work with the Saitama Arts Theater and other like-minded organisations to support and promote lifelong creativity worldwide.

To find out more about Company of Elders, visit the website

Community dance group and NYDC alumni create piece inspired by Lyon Opera Ballet show

If you are coming to see Trois Grandes Fugues by Lyon Opera Ballet at Sadler’s Wells on 20 October, make sure to arrive early to catch a special performance by community dance group Silver Routes and alumni of National Youth Dance Company.

Silver Routes meet weekly at the St Luke’s Centre in Islington and are part of Sadler’s Wells’ outreach programme for over 60s, while NYDC is one of the artist development programmes we run to nurture the next generation of talent. Both projects are part of our Learning and Engagement work, which aims to make dance accessible to all and to inspire new and existing audiences, young people and communities by connecting them with dance and our programme.

The curtain raiser ahead of Trois Grandes Fugues sees 21 dancers from Silver Routes and alumni of NYDC collaborate on a thought-provoking piece inspired by the Lyon Opera Ballet production. Similarly to the three pieces in the programme, it responds to Beethoven’s Grande Fugue op.133. The work has been choreographed by Catarina Carvalho, a former dancer with Company Wayne McGregor.

This is a joint initiative between Sadler’s Wells and Dance Umbrella, an international dance festival celebrating 21st-Century choreography by presenting dance across the capital, including the performances of Trois Grandes Fugues on our stage.

The intergenerational project aims to bring together dancers of different backgrounds to create work in response to our artistic programme. There are two opportunities to watch this piece, at 6:45 and 7pm on the Mezzanine level, before the Lyon Opera Ballet show begins.

We hope you enjoy it!