Known for its eclectic and diverse programme, Sadler’s Wells has recently announced a new long-term initiative, aimed at emerging artists. Under the name Wild Card it will take place three times per year, inviting choreographers and makers who might not be part of the venue’s main programme to perform at Lilian Baylis studio; more importantly Wild Card also allows the artists to programme an event of their own – thus expanding the circle of new, perhaps less known names who gain access to Sadler’s Wells.
Emma Gladstone, Sadler’s Wells’ artistic programmer and producer, defines the intention as “bringing fresh work on that stage, not necessarily what we programme or what we might know about.” Wild Card’s agenda also stretches beyond simple openness to new voices, and focuses on the audiences as well, with a hope that a slightly offbeat programme will attract a slightly offbeat audience.
The diversity of shows and names on offer is the expected result of the differences between the Wild Card artists, but Gladstone points out that programming is a creative job one that, in pushing the artists to think more generally from the audience’s point of view, also allows them to develop in new directions, and expand their experience. One of the artists-programmers, Dan Canham sees this opportunity as a way of strengthening the overall dance scene: “Allowing artists the chance to curate work is another way of building links between them that might not normally occur. Those links are both personally pleasing and also instructive as a way to increase the health of an arts scene.”
This year’s Wild Card artists perhaps reflect the range of different preoccupations and styles that can be found out of the mainstream, although it’s worth mentioning they are all far from unknown. BELLYFLOP are well known within dance and critical writing circles alike, and have worked hard to open new perspectives on how making dance and writing about it can not only coexist but also mix and influence each other. Dan Canham has toured with DV8, and shown his work internationally; Ivan Blackstock spent a year on tour with Pet Shop Boys, was involved in West End musicals, and awarded Back To The Lab Bursary for young choreographers.
With major technical, press, marketing and logistical support provided, these artists were given complete freedom when it came to programming and shaping their events. BELLYFLOP already had a chance to check how this concept works in practice, and Alexandrina Hemsley sees the experience as effective in promoting different views, styles and artists: “On the nights, I felt as if we were able to make visible concerns, trends and happenings that had been occurring outside/beneath/to the left of the mainstream. To some extent, our concerns and motivations for the curatorial choices we made – and their accompanying languages and aesthetics – felt elevated into a world who had previously only caught a glimpse of this younger generation.”
The initial selection, in Gladstone’s words, was made out of “very opinionated people, people with a spark”, who went on to devise three very different events. BELLYFLOP’s members presented their own work, but invited other dancers to offer critical feedback – this decision being a mirror image of their written practice. It’s a simple, but smart curatorial approach, that not only conceptually unified the two strands of their work, but also managed to expose their more general reasoning: “I think the picture of the collective was enacted in our process of inviting guest artists to respond to the work they saw and also to have two artists responding per work – a double review. This promoted our ethos of dismantling the sole voice of the expert critic and of instigating subjective debate about performance. Beyond introducing our dance practices to an audience, having members of BELLYFLOP perform reflected a critical gaze back on ourselves – highlighting our own immersion in dance and writing practices and how linked they can be.”
Dan Canham has programmed Pig Dyke Molly and Augusto Corrieri, artists that have influenced his own work, with a bit of comic relief attached: “I think somewhere, deep down, I’ve been waiting for the chance to unleash a group like Pig Dyke Molly on a London audience at a well-known venue. They’re so disarming at the best of times so it’ll be really exciting to have them dance in that context. Given the preoccupations of my next piece (Ours Was the Fen Country) and the wider interests that feed into my work, each of the artists and things on show have a direct connection to my practice. In that respect, despite the diversity of the programme, there’s a clear line running through it all.” Finally, Ivan Blackstock is taking his programme outside the designated Lilian Baylis studio, and into the space of the entire building– his events include both work made with the Company of Elders, and a piece on young people commissioned by Hoxton Hall, with the age of performers ranging from 14 to 89.