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Sadler's Wells Theatre is a major London performing arts venue located on on Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell in the Borough of Islington. The present day theatre is the most recent of six theatres that have existed on the same site since 1683. The building, which stands today consists of two performance spaces: the 1,500 seat main auditorium and the Lilian Baylis Studio, with extensive rehearsal rooms and technical facilities also housed within the site. It is recognised as one of the United Kingdom's foremost dance venues and producing houses, with a number of associated artists and companies who produce original works for the theatre. Sadler's Wells is also responsible for the management of the Peacock Theatre in the West End.
First theatre and pleasure gardens
Richard Sadler opened a "Musick House" in 1683, the second public theatre opened in London after the restoration. The name Sadler's Wells originates from his name and the rediscovery of monastic springs on his property. The well water being thought to have medicinal properties, Sadler was prompted to claim that drinking the water from the wells would be effective against "dropsy, jaundice, scurvy, green sickness and other distempers to which females are liable – ulcers, fits of the mother, virgin's fever and hypochondriacal distemper".
In 1698 Thomas Guidott the noted Doctor of Physik who popularised the waters of Bath wrote what he called "A true and exact account of Sadler's Well, or, The new mineral-waters lately found out at Islington treating of its nature and virtues: together with an enumeration of the chiefest diseases which it is good for, and against which it may be used, and the manner and order of taking of it".
This brought the health giving properties of the hot mineral waters to the country and soon the aristocracy started to arrive to partake in them.
Thus, this still quite rural London location became famous for both the water and for music, but as more wells were dug and the exclusiveness of Sadler's Wells declined, so did the quality of the entertainment provided – along with the quality of the clientele who were described as "vermin trained up to the gallows" by a contemporary. By 1711, the theatre was characterized as "a nursery of debauchery".
By the mid-1700s, the existence of two "Theatres Royal" –in Covent Garden and Drury Lane– severely limited the ability of other London theatres to legally perform any drama combined with music, thus rather limiting for opera. And Sadler's Wells continued its downward spiral.
The theatre was closed, reopened, and its focus modified six times between then and the opening of the current Sadler's Wells Theatre.
Sadler's Wells Theatre London: The Sixth theatre
The current theatre opened on 11 October 1998 with a performance by Rambert Dance Company. The £54 million project was one of the first projects to receive funding from the National Lottery– which contributed £42 million. The new design gave a stage which was wider and deeper and able to accommodate much larger companies and productions than the one it replaced. A new layout to the auditorium accommodated more seats. An extension at the side of the building provided a new ticket office and foyers rising to the full height of the theatre, provided easier audience access to all levels and included bars, cafes and exhibition spaces. As well as the 1,500 seat main auditorium, Sadler's Wells also has a base at the Peacock Theatre near Aldwych. The rebuilt theatre retains the Grade II listing applied to the former theatre in 1950. It also retains access to the remains of the historic wells that still lie beneath the theatre. The architect was RHWL, the acoustic consultant was Arup Acoustics.
When Ian Albery retired as Chief Executive in October 2002 he was succeeded by Jean Luc Choplin, who had recently worked for Disneyland in Paris and Los Angeles and at one time worked with Rudolf Nureyev as a Managing Director of the Paris Opera Ballet.
Although his contract ran until 2007, in January 2004 Choplin announced that he would be taking up a post at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris in 2006 and left shortly afterwards.
Under the Artistic Directorship of Alistair Spalding since 2004, The Sadler’s Wells Theatre has expanded to become a production house as well as a receiving house hosting performances by visiting companies from the UK and around the world. Balletboyz Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, Sylvie Guillem, Akram Khan, Jonzi D, Russell Maliphant, Wayne McGregor, Jasmin Vardimon and Christopher Wheeldon are all Associate Artists/Companies at Sadler’s Wells. This creates opportunities for them to work alongside each other and other collaborators in developing new work. It also contains the 200-seat Lilian Baylis Theatre. Sadler’s Wells also programmes the Peacock Theatre, Portugal Street, in London’s West End.
Breakin' Convention , the International Festival of hip hop dance theatre has been produced annually by Sadler’s Wells since 2004.
Featuring 24 live performers with magnificent costumes, an 80 piece traditional Chinese orchestra and breathtaking projections, this spectacular and mystical production of Xuanzang’s Pilgrimage tells a story of Chinese monk Xuanzang (602-664), who travelled the Silk Road across China on a pilgrimage to India, visiting Buddhist holy places and discovering sacred scriptures.
As the world's first traditional Chinese musical drama, Xuanzang’s Pilgrimage is epic in scale and themes, combining music from China's Han, Uyghur, Kazak and Tajik ethnic groups amongst others, and featuring exotic instruments such as zither, Chinese harp, dulcimer and eagle flute. It is a celebration of the diverse but connected cultures found along the legendary Silk Road. Xuanzang perseveres to achieve his goal through challenges and reflections on his personal spiritual journey.
With a storyline based on Journey to the West, one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature from the 16th century and best known in English-speaking countries in Arthur Waley’s translation Monkey, Xuanzang’s Pilgrimage is a fully-staged multimedia spectacular. With beautiful and intricate costumes and stunning scenography, this show will fire the imagination with its evocative colour and dramatic power.
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