William Forsythe


Sadler’s Wells produces an eclectic mix of world-class dance shows and tours them both at home and abroad. At least 10 of our productions are presented on stages worldwide each year, showcasing styles as rich and varied as tango, salsa, hip hop and contemporary dance.

Since 2005, our productions have toured to over 300 venues in more than 200 cities in 48 countries, with over 2,100 performances enjoyed by audiences of over 1.9 million across the globe.

On International Dance Day, we go behind the scenes for an exclusive look at productions we are currently touring, speaking to the people who produce our shows to find out just what it takes to bring them on the road and onto world stages.

National Youth Dance Company: MADHEAD

National Youth Dance Company dancers. Image: Manuel Vason

Under the creative direction of acclaimed 2018-19 Guest Artistic Director and Olivier award winner Botis Seva, our National Youth Dance Company (NYDC) – comprising 38 of the UK’s best young dancers – premiered its new work MADHEAD in Ipswich on 20 April. The show blends contemporary dance, physical theatre and hip-hop, combining Botis Seva’s choreographic style with the young dancers’ energy and talent to deliver an enthralling and energetic performance.

From June, the production embarks on a national tour across Plymouth, Newcastle, Essex, Brighton and Birmingham, closing at Sadler’s Wells on 19 July.

NYDC General ManagerHannah Kirkpatrick.

Can you describe producing MADHEAD in one word?

As with all NYDC productions, the challenge is also part of what makes NYDC. Just by nature of the company, it is a huge challenge: a full-length work developed in just 4 weeks, with high production values, with almost 40 young people, all with different training backgrounds and dance styles. It needs to be a work that is strong enough to stand alongside professional work in some of the leading theatres in the country. We don’t want people to think that work by young people is lesser in any way; it just has a different energy.

Personal highlights?
I think Botis and the Far From The Norm artists (Vicky, Jordan, Ezra and Joshua) have been inspiring role models for the company. We were on residency when Botis won the Olivier Award for best dance for his work BLKDOG. They had been rehearsing with the company all day, got changed in the dressing rooms at Sadler’s Wells and then went to the awards ceremony. And then the next day they were back in the studio at 9am warming up. That dedication and work ethic is really inspiring for our company dancers to see. It sets the standard and I think that’s really important.

NYDC in rehearsal for MADHEAD, February 2019

It’s also a highlight to see the dancers’ faces when they do a run and it goes well and they feel the high of performance. Seeing that they are proud of what they have done and seeing them starting to own the piece as theirs, that’s pretty special.

William Forsythe’s A Quiet Evening of Dance

Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts in DUO2015. Image: Bill Cooper

Forsythe continues to innovate in this FEDORA award-winning production of new and existing works, stripping dance back to its core, rawest form. Performed by seven of his most trusted collaborators, the dance roster is extensive, technical and multi-dimensional as the result is intimate, personal and free from clutter.

A Quiet Evening of Dance has just toured in Germany – it will continue to tour Europe, appearing in Oslo in May and at the Venice Biennale in June.

Assistant Producer, Florent Trioux.

Can you describe producing A Quiet Evening of Dance in one word?
Special (in the best possible way).

This piece is touring over 21 weeks this year. With a team of seven international dancers and three British technicians, it involves a huge amount of international logistics. The team is composed of American, German, Albanian, British, Canadian nationalities, and we had to overcome some challenging situations in order to bring some of these people into the UK, not only for the production of the show but also during its tour.

An early-stage technical run of A Quiet Evening of Dance in Brescia, Italy

During production it was difficult to manage our expectations. We had no idea what would become of the piece. Bill has a very specific creative process and I don’t think he knew himself. It was hard to foresee how the programme would be structured a few days before the premiere, or what music would be used in parts of the show. It’s like working in the dark, but being very excited about it!

Personal highlights?
Having the honour to meet and work with Bill Forsythe has been a fantastic working and human experience. He is a creative genius and an amazing human being. The people he brought together for this project are all very unique and have amazing personalities. We’re like a family.

I have seen this show over 10 times already and I am still always looking forward to seeing it again in a different place. It is such a tasteful and clever piece. When our Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding said “William Forsythe changed my view of what dance can be”, I understood why, because he did it for me too.

Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance

Natalia Osipova in Yuka Oishi’s Ave Maria.
Image: Johan Persson

In Pure Dance, superstar ballerina Natalia Osipova brings together a handpicked programme of exciting and eclectic dance works. Through a medley of five elegantly breath-taking pieces, which see her accompanied by three exceptional dancers, Pure Dance takes the audience on a journey from the world of classical ballet through to a more contemporary repertoire.

Pure Dance premiered in London last autumn and has recently toured to New York. ”Ms Osipova, a principal at the Royal Ballet in London, uses the program to cultivate new partnerships: with other dancers and with choreographers she has handpicked to showcase the range of her artistry,” said the New York Times’ review. Next up will be Lyon, France, in June.

Senior Producer, Ghislaine Granger.

Can you describe producing Pure Dance in one word?

It was tricky scheduling rehearsals involving four very busy dancers, on top of six equally busy choreographers, as well as the creative teams around each piece. There were a lot of people and places to juggle!

Pure Dance poster at New York City Center

Personal highlights?
Getting a personal thank you from each artist involved – that was a real treat.

Yang Liping’s Rite of Spring

Yan Liping’s Rite of Spring. Image: Li Yijan

Choreographer Yang Liping is known as the “Peacock Princess” in her native China. This affectionate nickname stems from her most famous dance work, Spirit of the Peacock, inspired by the traditional peacock folk dancing of her youth. In this stunning new work, a Sadler’s Wells’ co-production, she reunites with Oscar-winning designer Tim Yip to create a unique take on Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring – utilising the iconic score alongside original compositions inspired by traditional Tibetan music. Returning to her roots for this piece, Yang’s sacrificial Chosen One takes the form of a peacock.

Following its world premiere in Shanghai in October, the production will embark on a global tour in cities including New York and Amsterdam, making its UK premiere at Sadler’s Wells in May.

Farooq Chaudhry, Producer.

Can you describe producing Rite of Spring in one word?

Trying to reimagine a story and make it relevant and accessible to western audiences, while respecting and retaining the Chinese context and aesthetics that have driven the creative process. That and the awful dilemma of trying to transform Yang Liping’s vision without changing her! 

Yan Liping’s Rite of Spring premiere in Shanghai, October 2018.

The biggest producing challenge is always finding an authentic alignment between intention, action and context.

Personal highlights?
Watching and discovering a relatively inexperienced young cast grow and flourish and knowing this work has made a big difference to Chinese contemporary dance. 

Yang Liping (in red) and Farooq Chaudhry on stage at the Rite of Spring premiere in Shanghai, October 2018.

Sadler’s Wells wins FEDORA prize

We are delighted to announce that William Forsythe’s A Quiet Evening of Dance, a new commission by Sadler’s Wells, has won the 2018 FEDORA Van Cleef & Arpels Prize for ballet.

Forsythe’s ground-breaking production was chosen by the expert jury as having most closely represented FEDORA’s values of innovation and creativity. The award is propitiously timed, as A Quiet Evening of Dance forms part of our ’20 for 20’ series of commissions celebrating 20 years of Sadler’s Wells in our current Rosebery Avenue theatre.

The programme includes new and existing pieces performed by some of Forsythe’s most trusted collaborators, who aim to provide insight into the workings of ballet and the mind of the man that has dedicated his artistic life to furthering the art form. Exploring new shapes and modes of movement, the evening features artist Rauf “RubberLegz” Yasit, who is known for his unique breaking style and contortion abilities.

FEDORA, a European Circle of Philanthropists of Opera and Ballet, is a non-profit organisation that aims to promote excellence and innovation in the two art forms. It has awarded two annual prizes for opera and ballet since 2014. The organisation coordinates 80 cultural bodies across 20 European countries in order to create a Europe-wide platform for the celebration of opera and ballet in all its forms. Since 2017, FEDORA has received funds from Creative Europe, the European Commission’s programme of support for the cultural sector.

A Quiet Evening of Dance is showing at Sadler’s Wells from 4 to 6 October 2018. It is co-produced with Théâtre de la Ville-Paris, le Théâtre du Châtelet, Festival d’Automne à Paris, Festival Montpellier Danse 2019, Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, The Shed, New York, Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens, and deSingel, Antwerp. Tickets are available on the Sadler’s Wells website.

Image: William Forsythe, Sibylle Gallardo-Jammes and Alistair Spalding. Credit Susanne Schramke. 

Help Sadler’s Wells win €100,000

Sadler’s Wells has commissioned a new work from one of the world’s most renowned choreographers, William Forsythe, and this production has been shortlisted for the FEDORA prize – with a potential €100,000 prize attached.

For Sadler’s Wells to be eligible, we are required to create a crowd-funding campaign to raise €10,000, which would allow us to take this exciting production on tour to smaller venues throughout Europe.

There are a range of benefits available for anyone donating €10 or above to this campaign, with donations starting at €5.

Donate €25 and you’ll receive a personalised email from our Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding and a digital programme booklet of A Quiet Evening of Dance.

Donate €150 and as well as the above benefits, you’ll also receive two exclusive production photos, exclusive access to a filmed Q&A with Alistair Spalding and William Forsythe, and one year of Sadler’s Wells membership.

To donate, please visit the FEDORA website, and select the amount you’re able to give.

William Forsythe’s A Quiet Evening of Dance will be a combination of new and existing work, performed by seven of Forsythe’s most trusted collaborators, who promise to provide insight into the workings of ballet and the mind of the man who has dedicated his work to this task.

The FEDORA Platform is a collection of cultural institutions from across Europe. Sadler’s Wells has been a member of FEDORA since 2015 and we are very excited to be one of four nominees for this prestigious prize. The prize, a grant of €100,000, will be given to the project the jury feel most closely articulates the Platform’s values of innovation and creativity.

Alistair Spalding: My Favourite William Forsythe Dance Pieces

“William Forsythe changed my view of what dance can be”, says Sadler’s Wells Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding, who has closely followed the work of this ground-breaking choreographer throughout his career. Forsythe’s style, which questions and reimagines the norms of dance, continues to inspire artists across the world.

As a master of contemporary dance, his work features prominently in our programme this year, as we mark the 20th anniversary of our current theatre building. We present two of his pieces – including the world premiere of Playlist (Track 1, 2) – as part of a mixed programme by our Associate Company English National Ballet this month; a triple bill performed by Semperoper Ballett in June; and produce a new evening of work by him in October. In this blog, Alistair Spalding picks the William Forsythe pieces that, in different ways, changed the way he thought about dance.

1. Eidos: Telos

Ballett Frankfurt, Eidos:Telos

“Under Bill’s 20-year tenure, Ballett Frankfurt became an internationally renowned company. The first time I ever saw them was in Montreal, at a festival called FIND (Festival International de Nouvelle Danse). They performed a piece called Eidos: Telos. The promoters of the festival were allowed to go to the dress rehearsal, so we watched this piece being directed by Bill. We were in the circle and he was somewhere in the stalls. I heard his voice on a microphone and it was like the voice of God. This piece still remains my favourite. It’s extraordinary and operatic – a huge, epic, three-part evening. Former dancer Dana Caspersen, Forsythe’s wife, performed an extraordinary solo in it. There were wires across the stage and the dancers would pluck them to create a soundscape, and three trombonists would come on. Bill made the piece following the death of his second wife, Tracy-Kai Maier, and it was a kind of roar of mourning. Eventually we brought the piece to London, and it’s still number one in my view.”

2. Enemy in the Figure

Semperoper Ballett perform Enemy in the Figure

“I was working at the Southbank Centre in 1998 and came to Sadler’s Wells to see a triple bill, which included Enemy in the Figure. The choreographic material is fantastic, he invented new ways of dancing and making ballet. He took this centuries-old and fairly formal art form, ballet, and took it forward, made it current. He divided the stage in two parts with a curving screen and lit it with a mobile light moved by the dancers. These weren’t like other creatures; they were extraordinary human beings and he made them look so cool. He played with light and shadow, order and chaos, movement and stillness. I saw this work and thought “my god, you can do this with ballet”. Lots of people have followed in Bill’s footsteps pushing the boundaries of ballet, but at the time there weren’t many people doing that and it just felt like that was the sexiest thing. I got out of the performance and thought to myself: I have to be where this is happening! Nigel Hinds, who was Programming Director at Sadler’s Wells at the time, invited me on a tour of the theatre, as it had just reopened. A year later, he rang me up and told me he was leaving and encouraged me to apply for the job. I always say that, in a way, Bill Forsythe brought me to work here.”

3. Kammer/Kammer

Ballett Frankfurt, Kammer/Kammer

“Once I joined Sadler’s Wells in 2000, I managed our relationship with Bill and his company, and we gradually got to know each other. I would regularly travel to Frankfurt to see his works – including Kammer/Kammer, another of my favourite pieces, which blends dance, theatre and film. I saw it in an old railway depot that they had turned into a theatre. The dancers are often behind moving walls – so you can’t see the dancers from your seats, but there are cameras filming and screens on stage and around the auditorium showing the audiences what’s happening. It is a complex set up that I thought couldn’t be replicated in a lyric house like Sadler’s Wells. I said to him: “Bill, that’s a fantastic piece but it’s never going to work at Sadler’s Wells!” He told me that it would. One of the lessons I’ve learnt is that dance makers like him know. He knew the space at Sadler’s Wells and how he could make the production work in it and when Kammer/Kammer came here, it was fantastic. It also had two extraordinary performers in it: Dana Casperson, who played French actress Catherine Deneuve, and Tony Rizzi, who impersonated a young man in a relationship with a rock star.”

4. Three Atmospheric Studies

The Forsythe Company, Three Atmospheric Studies

“The first work made for his new company after leaving the Frankfurt Ballet, this three-part work was made as a response to the Iraq conflict. The last part is a kind of enactment of people in a war situation, so the choreography was about people being knocked down, hiding or running away from firing, explosions and devastation. His pieces always mix choreography and theatrical elements, and Dana Casperson played this American officer who approaches a woman who has just learned her son has died in the war, telling her ”This is not personal, Ma’am”. It was an incredibly powerful and moving work, which stuck in my mind. We brought it to our stage soon after it first premiered in Berlin in 2006.”

5. DUO2015

The Forsythe Company, DUO2015

“When Sylvie Guillem put together her final programme Life in Progress, which Sadler’s Wells produced, she asked for something from Bill, but not necessarily a piece made on her. He gave her this duo. I saw it many, many times because it came here twice and then it was on tour around the world for a year. Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts, the two former dancers of The Forsythe Company who perform it, are so incredible. Bill makes movement that’s captivating because the dancers inhabit it and are allowed to play with it. DUO2015 is comic, virtuosic and minimal – hence the title. It exemplifies the essence of dance and is all about movement, so everything else is stripped away. The piece will feature as part of A Quiet Evening of Dance, the new Forsythe programme we are producing and presenting later this year.”

6. You Made Me A Monster

The Forsythe Company, You Made Me A Monster

“In You Made Me a Monster, audiences were led on stage to tables set out with unfinished brown-paper skeleton models. The performance began with an assistant inviting people to continue to build these by adding pieces wherever they want, creating this kind of abstract sculptures. There was ticker tape text going across the stage on a screen and three dancers would come in and improvise around the models, contorting their bodies and faces, making inarticulate sounds or uttering words in distorted speech. Gradually, the words on the screen told the story of Tracy, Bill’s wife who died of cancer. It was about the moment when they found out and its aftermath. When she was really ill, someone thought it was a good idea to give her a kit for assembling a cardboard skeleton as a Christmas present. Years later, Bill started to play with it without following the instructions. He created this thing and it was like he created a monster, because it was a model of his own grief. On stage, you gradually realised the story and that you were helping to build this thing – it was really extraordinary.”

English National Ballet present a mixed programme of American-inspired choreography including the work of Forsythe in Voices of America from 12 – 21 April, followed later in the season by Semperoper Ballett with All Forsythe. Forsythe himself will present four works, including two new pieces, in A Quiet Evening of Dance, which has been shortlisted for the FEDORA Van Cleef & Arpels Prize for Ballet 2018.

Main image: William Forsythe; photo by Dominik Mentzos.

Vote for us to win the FEDORA Prize

We are pleased to announce our membership of the new FEDORA Platform, a collection of 18 other European organisations committed to showcasing innovative ballet and opera projects.

As a platform member we are lucky enough to have access to funds provided by the European Commission’s Creative Europe fund. This year we have been shortlisted for the FEDORA – VAN CLEEF & ARPELS Prize for Ballet for our new commission, William Forsythe’s A Quiet Evening of Dance.

In order to make sure this commission is considered for funding by the jury, we need your help! Please follow the link below to vote.


Thank you.

Image: Sadler’s Wells Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding announces our membership of the FEDORA Platform