Matthew Bourne, Akram Khan, Katy Arnander and Alistair Spalding are all part of what makes Sadler’s Wells so great. Here they talk about the venue’s importance and what’s to come in July
Founder of New Adventures and Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist
What was the initial inspiration behind your reimagining of Carmen?
I wanted to do something that was a bit rawer, a bit more relevant to the dancers I was working with. I had done Swan Lake around that time, where the dancers were playing swans, princes and princesses, and it’s hard for them to identify with that in some ways. Car Man was about young people in a small town setting in America, so much closer to them. I was drawn to the music of Carmen, but not necessarily the story. So I have used the fantastic music and created our own story around revenge and guilt and all those things. It’s exciting to create our own story – and it’s exciting for the audience too.
When working on new productions, are you always looking at ways of doing something differently?
I try to. I don’t want all my shows to feel similar. Yes I have got a style I use to tell stories – the character and narrative based approach remains the same, but I always try to create a different take on that. Even with familiar stories I want to do them in my own way, so the audience doesn’t know what’s coming. I like surprising people.
How important is Sadler’s Wells to you?
Sadler’s Wells is always the main run for our shows – and of course it’s home too!
I live in Islington and it’s such a major venue – but it always has been. It’s one of the most historic venues in London, and it’s world famous – so for Islington to have that is amazing. Also having that as New Adventures’ home is great as you mention it and it’s known around the world. It’s right up there with the top artistic success stories.
And is it important to dance in general?
Incredibly important. What Alistair [Spalding] has done is brought in all forms of dance. He’s not snobbish about dance at all, whereas so many in dance are unfortunately. He celebrates all kinds of dance at Sadler’s Wells and the Peacock Theatre. Now he’s looking to have a mid scale venue as well [at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park]. Sadler’s Wells is a way of discovering different forms of dance. I have discovered things about hip-hop there, and flamenco, and tango. I love that.
Is London perfect for youngsters wanting to see – or take part in – dance?
Oh yes, we are so lucky. London is the dance capital of the world now. It used to be New York – they probably think it is still – but I am not so sure. Sadler’s Wells had a big part to play in that. Here there is the flexibility to play for a couple of nights, so you do get to see a lot. If you are a young dancer in London there’s always extraordinary theatre going on to see. That’s what I advise young dancers to do – I learnt a lot just watching shows.
Choreographer and Associate Artist
Your show Torobaka opens on 30 June – what initially inspired it?
It was actually through a friend of mine, Israel Galvan, who is a performer from Barcelona. He mentioned that we should see each other perform as maybe there’s something there, and when I saw him I realised there was a parallel interest in our two forms, so we should get in the studio. It became very exciting looking at the forms of kathak and flamenco.
Is going into the studio for the first time to work on a new piece an exciting process?
The actual realisation of something is the most exciting part. Sometimes it doesn’t come together, but for me it’s probably the most important part of the process. What I like to do and see are all these parts fitting together and then going on a journey. That’s probably the reason I do what I do, putting things together and seeing if it will work.
Can you explain what we will see on stage?
It’s basically a concert with six musicians. Two of those musicians are playing instruments through their body, Israel and I, and I do look at it like it’s a concert. It based on the traditions of kathak and flamenco, two dance forms that are celebrated in their own way.
Do you thrive in working on collaborations?
I do. I thrive mostly from where you feel it is a joint collaboration between the two. I find it a little dispiriting when it’s one sided. Not all collaborations get results or are successful, but for me my most successful pieces have been collaborations with equal balance. It’s a bit like a marriage, when you have a child and you have to think what’s best for them.
Are you always excited when one of your productions opens at Sadler’s Wells?
It’s the tip of the iceberg. For me London is home and Sadler’s Wells is the venue for dance – and it has become the centre for dance in Europe. This space is extremely important, it’s like a beacon – and it’s not home for a particular style, it’s opened doors to all different genres of dance. That’s very rare – and it’s still rare. People are now following Sadler’s Wells as an example. This is home equally to a ballet dancer as it is a contemporary dancer. For me, it’s a very sacred place.
How important is Sadler’s Wells to your career?
Alistair [Spalding] has been very important. Sadler’s Wells has been important yes, but to answer the question specifically it’s my relationship with Alistair that has helped a lot with what has happened for the company over the last ten years. Our first major work was zero degrees in 2005, which a collaboration with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. That was where it all started.
Director of Artistic Programme
What do you aim to achieve with the programme at Sadler’s Wells?
We always keep a very close eye on quality. Essentially it’s down to quality and the best of whatever genre. Part of the role that’s very important is what the work means to our audience: we need to question if a show is different, challenging and exciting. We want to stage work that is continually challenging and that’s pushing the boundaries.
Do you ever get a chance to sit back and watch the work?
I do get to sit back and enjoy it. Sometimes we have three openings a week, so I am always going to shows. I love the art form of dance, the variety and quality of work that we see on stage. The only thing I don’t have time to see is other art forms like theatre and music concerts. We had the BBC Young Dancer of the Year here and that was a complete joy. Four dancers celebrating the art form in different ways and they were all astounding, and you could see how hard they had worked.
How important is it to make shows accessible to the whole family?
I feel very strongly that if we are presenting family shows that we make them as high quality [as adult productions]. We want to make it a memorable experience for children, that coming to the theatre is a meaningful experience. We have a big children’s programme that culminates with three different shows at Christmas for different age groups: The Snowman at The Peacock, The Little Match Girl at the Lilian Baylis Studio, and New Adventures’ Sleeping Beauty at Sadler’s Wells. The older children can go and see the Gothic experience of Sleeping Beauty, whereas the younger ones can enjoy The Snowman. We hope all three pieces will be an unforgettable experience.
What’s exciting you about what’s on in July?
We have got a really incredible range of work on. We have Inala, a collaboration between Mark Baldwin and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a really lovely piece with singers on the stage and the dancers working around them. It’s a very nice and unique show. We have also got the Dutch National Ballet performing Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella at the Coliseum – it’s not always work performed at our venues – then Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man in the summer. Then we have Hercules down at the Peacock Theatre, which is very interactive with audience participation. We also go to the Latitude Festival in July and programme a dance stage down there.
Do you still get a daily buzz doing the job after over a decade as Artistic Director?
The thing is there is so much happening! There’s certainly no boredom involved. Just this past week I have been on the jury for an architectural company for our new theatre building out in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and on Saturday we hosted the BBC Young Dancer of the Year award, which was live on BBC 2. In between that I was out in Paris and Belgium. With that and this new theatre in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Sadler’s Wells has really come of age. That’s a huge buzz and it will stretch me personally.
What role do you think the likes of Akram Khan and Matthew Bourne have played in the success of Sadler’s Wells?
It’s been absolutely central, there’s no doubt about that. The Associate Artists are the core of Sadler’s Wells now. We did our first big production with Akram and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, zero degrees, and ever since he has been absolutely key. Christmas is incredibly important here and Matthew has now done five shows, and has also been able to stage shows like Dorian Grey and The Car Man this summer, which are more experimental. It’s the perfect fit and he produces really strong work. They both have exciting things coming up and that is also something that drives me on.
What things do you look for in terms of the Associate Artists you bring in here?
We started with five and now we have got 16. This year one of them, Sylvie Guillem, has stopped performing and that’s the first time one of the Associates has stopped. That’s pretty amazing for a ten year period. But we are always open to others – we have the New Wave Associates for young people, a two year programme looking for new people all the time. We have got to keep it fresh. Crystal Pite is the last Associate to come in and she recently won the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance.
Do you constantly think about how to entice more youngsters into dance?
Totally. That’s why we have such an interest in education work. Breakin’ Convention really brings in the very young – and now it’s really young, we had toddlers here last time out! If they can come in and see shows and be excited, they will have an appreciation of theatre and dance. It’s got to be a great first experience, so they then know what they are going to come back to. I’m really happy we have a younger audience, but we have to keep that going.
Do you still have grand plans for the future?
We have to keep this going to a high level and we have a focus on Stratford too. That’s a new project for us, it’s exciting to have the opportunity to have a theatre that’s slightly smaller where people can develop their work. There will be a choreography school and a hip hop academy. It’s very much about all genres being able to work with all out theatres in the future.
Finally, what excites you about July’s listings at Sadler’s Wells?
The big thing is The Car Man, Matthew Bourne’s new production. If people haven’t ever experienced dance, they should come and see it. It’s really exciting, quite steamy, a good way to try something out here.
Words: Mark Kebble / Photos: Anton
See the full listings at sadlerswells.com