Yang Liping


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.