Quality marks Sadler’s Wells dance, home and on road

Wayne McGregor's UNDANCE is one of the Made in Sadlers' Wells pieces chosen to feature on tour. Picture: Contributed
Wayne McGregor's UNDANCE is one of the Made in Sadlers' Wells pieces chosen to feature on tour. Picture: Contributed
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If you could pick up a dance piece, turn it inside out and look at the label, the words “Made at Sadler’s Wells” would be a guarantee of quality. Since 2005, the north London theatre has been a hotbed of dance creativity, commissioning and supporting some of the world’s finest choreographers to make work.

Eight years later, those residing outside London can finally see what they’ve been up to. This is thanks, largely, to the man who turned Sadler’s Wells into a theatre that produced work (rather than just showed it) shortly after coming into post in 2004: chief executive and artistic director, Alistair Spalding.

Currently touring the UK, Made at Sadler’s Wells is a triple-bill of contemporary dance, featuring works by three of the theatre’s associate artists. It’s part of a wider plan, initiated by Spalding, to ensure the world-class work being created at Sadler’s Wells can be enjoyed by a wider audience.

“We see ourselves as a national organisation,” says Spalding, “and we represent a lot of the dance field and where it’s going. But it’s not good enough just to be staying in London and doing it. We’ve been touring extensively abroad for a while, and have sort of neglected the UK a bit – so we’re attending to that and have lots of projects running around the country this year.”

Sadler’s Wells has a long and illustrious history of producing new ballets and operas, but those days had long since passed by the time Spalding arrived. Re-inventing the theatre as a place where creativity flourishes, and dedicating it solely to dance, has made Sadler’s Wells the success story it is today.

But with 10 per cent of the theatre’s budget provided by the taxpayer, Spalding feels a “moral obligation” to share the work he has commissioned with the rest of us. This new tour won’t be the first time Sadler’s has gone on the road – the hugely successful Breakin’ Convention hip hop festival comes from their stable – but for Spalding, Made at Sadler’s Wells is more indicative of the theatre’s output.

“This is our calling card,” he says. “We do show other kinds of dance – like hip hop – but mostly what we do here is present new contemporary dance work. So we wanted to say ‘this is Sadler’s Wells, this is what we represent – very highly accomplished contemporary dance’.”

Since 2005, a number of well-established associate artists have been brought into the fold, including Matthew Bourne, Akram Khan and the three choreographers whose work we’ll see in Edinburgh: Russell Maliphant, Wayne McGregor and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. With such a wealth of talent choreographing under his roof, why did Spalding pick these three men to represent the theatre on its first Made at Sadler’s Wells tour?

“Well, we just think that they’re the best,” he says, “and that they really show off what we can do. Obviously there are lots of other things we produce, but this is the best representation of where we are right now.”

All three choreographers are well known to Scottish audiences – Maliphant created work for the BalletBoyz’ recent tour, McGregor’s own company Random Dance often tours to Scotland, and Cherkaoui’s stunning work with Shaolin monks, Sutra, played in Edinburgh earlier this year. But it’s unusual to see work by Maliphant, McGregor and Cherkaoui performed by their own dancers in a triple bill, rather than a repertory company. But that’s part of what makes Made at Sadler’s Wells so special. All three pieces will be presented exactly as they were on the London stage – in effect giving us three companies in one night.

All three choreographers are also known for their astute use of collaboration. Maliphant’s long-running relationship with lighting designer Michael Hulls has produced remarkable results over the years. His piece for Made at Sadler’s Wells – Afterlight – won Maliphant two National Dance Awards and an Olivier nomination.

Cherkaoui’s contribution, Faun, was inspired by Nijinsky’s famous ballet, L’après-midi d’un faune, set to Debussy’s original score, but with additional music by Nitin Sawhney.

McGregor presents UNDANCE, a piece for ten dancers inspired by American sculptor Richard Serra and pioneering English photographer Eadweard Muybridge. A big hit with audiences at Sadler’s Wells in 2011, UNDANCE is a perfect example of what Spalding’s theatre does best – bring together artists at the top of their game.

“Dance by its very nature is a collaborative artform, so it’s very natural and open when it happens; it’s not forced,” says Spalding. “And UNDANCE in particular represents something we try to encourage here at Sadler’s Wells, which is collaboration between artists from different disciplines. That project brought Wayne together with Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Wallinger and composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, and it was a real three-way collaboration. They all bounced off each other and I think it’s one of Wayne’s best pieces.”
• Made at Sadler’s Wells is at Edinburgh Festival Theatre, tomorrow and Wednesday. www.sadlerswells.com