Interview: Katy Arnander at Sadler’s Wells gives us the inside scoopCultureTheatre
Katy Arnander is Director of Programme at London’s iconic dance hub, Sadler’s Wells. The Upcoming met with her to hear more about the exciting Spring/Summer season under way at the theatre and what it’s like to be at the centre of UK dance.
What steps did you take on your career path to bring you to your role as Director of Programme?
Funnily enough I started my career in the international travel business, working a lot in the Middle East, including cruise ships on the Nile! I then moved into performing arts, starting off in marketing before moving into programming and producing through jobs at the Barbican and South Bank Centre, and then at Sadler’s Wells.
What’s the secret to concocting a substantial and varied programme of shows?
Thinking about the audience and what they’d like to see, whether that’s young people, older people, those who love contemporary dance or those who love more commercial work. The key is to keep it varied and interesting so that as far as possible there’s something that appeals to everyone, with a good mix of national and international work. Quality is always a major consideration – work has to be of a high quality – and of course we like to introduce new artists and work that can challenge audiences too.
What’s a typical day like for you?
It is very varied and involves a lot of forward planning and budgeting, often working three or four years in advance. I might spend time meeting and sharing ideas with colleagues, planning companies visits to our theatres and of course wherever possible looking for the best new artists and companies that we can present in future.
As well as its main theatre, Sadler’s Wells is made up of the Lilian Baylis Studio and the Peacock. What is involved in deciding which space best fits each show?
The shows in the main house at Sadler’s Wells are world-leading national and international contemporary dance companies. In the smaller Lilian Baylis Studio we programme more emerging artists whose work is less known, so those performances are a great opportunity for discovering new talent. At the Peacock our programme tends to be more commercial and has a broader appeal, for example we often present tango, hip-hop and Bollywood shows there.
How much of the Spring/Summer season is produced by Sadler’s Wells Associate Artists, and how much is received from outside?
Sadler’s Wells has 16 associate artists, as well as a three resident companies, an Associate Company and two International Associate Companies, so we do work very closely with those artists. This season we have three Sadler’s Wells Productions on the main stage, and work from many of our associate artists including Crystal Pite, Akram Khan, BalletBoyz, Michael Hulls, Kate Prince and Nitin Sawhney, as well as our associate company English National Ballet. Earlier this season we presented work from both our international associate companies: Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s company, Rosas. We also have around 20 visiting companies, so it is a very busy season!
Could you let us know a couple of the upcoming shows you’re most excited about?
In the main house I am very excited about our summer show, ¡Vamos Cuba!, which is a new Sadler’s Wells Production choreographed by Nilda Guerra, who created the smash-hit show Havana Rakatan (that has toured very successfully around the world and had six West End seasons at the Peacock). I am also really looking forward to ENB’s She Said, a celebration of work by female choreographers, as well as associate artist Crystal Pite’s new work, Betroffenheit, and our annual hip-hop festival, Breakin’ Convention. NoBody is a really innovative new Sadler’s Wells production that looks at the elements of a dance show that don’t involve dancers, focusing on the lighting and sound. It’s a promenade production and audiences will be able to go into areas of the theatre that they won’t have seen before. In the Peacock, ZooNation’s Into the Hoods is a great family show, as is Merchants of Bollywood, so I’m looking forward to both of those, too.
Are there any new choreographers on the scene who particularly impress you?
Marcos Morau is a brilliant up-and-coming Spanish choreographer, who is working with Canadian circus company 7 Fingers on their new show Triptyqe, co-produced by us and premiering on the main stage in April. Also Alexander Whitley – he is a New Wave associate artist at Sadler’s Wells whose work explores the relationship between movement and technology. We are presenting his new show Pattern Recognition at the Platform Theatre (Central St Martin’s) in April.
What can we expect from the Sadler’s Wells Family Weekend, and who is it aimed at?
Family Weekend is great fun for all ages and we hope it is accessible for everyone whether they are new to dance or not. This year we have balletLORENT’s Snow White in the main house, and Tom Dale Company with Digitopia in the Lilian Baylis Studio. There are also lots of free family workshops and activities to take part in that happen in the foyer spaces over the weekend.
What sort of feedback do you receive from your audiences? Does this affect how you choose future shows?
Audience feedback is very important to us because it is useful for us to know what appeals to audiences and what doesn’t, which informs some of our programming choices. But it’s also incredibly useful for artists who value feedback – particularly if presenting a new work or those at the start of their career.
Where do you discover new, unheard-of dance works?
As a team we go out and look for work, often at festivals and platforms around the world – not just dance festivals but ones that include many art forms. Word of mouth within the industry is very important. We also go to showcases at conservatoires to find emerging talent, and we go to see work by artists we come across through recommendations from other artists and colleagues, or who may write to us and ask us to see their work.
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch feature regularly on your programmes. What is the importance of late choreographer Pina Bausch on dance today?
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch is one of our international associate companies and we have a very close relationship. We tend to present them here every year, and in 2012 we presented 12 of Bausch’s productions, with the Barbican, as part of the Cultural Olympiad. Pina Bausch was ground-breaking and had a huge impact on dance because she really shaped what we understand from the term Tanztheater: putting ideas and words and images on the stage that hadn’t been seen in dance productions before. Her work has influenced many other choreographers.
What is it like working in London, and how are feelings about dance different elsewhere?
I enjoy being based in London, it feels like a creative hub and there is a broad cultural demographic here. We do have a national remit, so we tour as much as possible, for example, we have toured Breakin’ Convention, Havana Rakatan and Sutra around the UK in recent years, and we have links with Dance Consortium and other touring organisations to present dance as widely as possible. We also work very closely with theatres and companies around the country to co-produce new work together.
Is there an international dance act that we should keep an eye on?
Crystal Pite is a really hot ticket at the moment. She has just won a National Dance Award and she won an Olivier Award last year. She is from Vancouver, and is our newest associate artist. TAO Dance Theatre from China is also one to watch, and we’ve helped commission their work before.
These days, do you ever find yourself stumbling on any completely new forms of dance/movement?
There are sometimes dance performances that blur boundaries between art forms and that can be very exciting, such as blending circus and dance (like 7 Fingers) or productions that are closer to performance or visual art than dance. Hip-hop is a really exciting genre because new moves and styles are being invented all the time; it is constantly evolving its language and vocabulary.
Photo: Alicia Clarke