Curating Sadler’s Wells ‘Wild Card’ with Neil Callaghan

“Four European artists presenting very different pieces”

London’s premiere dance house, Sadler’s Wells Wild Card series showcases the next generation of dance and choreography. The next Wild Card ‘Transforming Matter’ has been curated by choreographer Neil Callaghan, who is also presenting his latest duet, Someone Something Someone. Neil shares his curation experience with The Wonderful World of Dance.

Transforming Matter comprises three pieces which explore how we engage with the world and each other, what can audiences expect from the programme?

It will be a long night but it will be a very special intimate evening. As you say there are three pieces – A new duet from myself and Simone Kenyon, and two solos from Mette Ingvartsen and Jeremy Wade.

Four European artists presenting very different pieces, but each pursuing their own thread. There will be time for quietness, observing, listening and also a lot of fun. 

What was your inspiration for selecting the pieces and artists?

I wanted to use my instalment of the Sadler’s Wells Wild Card series to present artists who are very established in Europe, but whose work rarely makes it to the UK. I wanted to present choreographers who have a practice in which they are engaging with ideas and who make work where one piece can be quite different from the next.

I am interested in artists who are constantly evolving and questioning, and I think each of the artists in the programme is a great example of that. I invited them as much for the history of their artistic practice, as I did for the individual pieces. 

Neil Callaghan and Simone Kenyon. Photo Maria Sideri
Neil Callaghan and Simone Kenyon. Photo Maria Sideri

You’re performing your own work, can you describe your piece?

The work I’m showing is the latest duet I have made with Simone Kenyon. It is a piece in which we look at each other, we move very slowly towards each other, leaning into each other, our bodies merging and finally we emerge again alone. This structure is reflected in the title – Someone Something Someone. We have shown the piece a little bit before and people seem to find a ‘wonder’ in it, because we depend on each other to maintain our balance throughout the show. 

Who are your choreographic influences?

I am a big fan of watching work. So I can say that I have been influenced by everything I’ve seen on some level. I have quite a diverse taste and I would say that I am influenced choreographically by artists who are not just working in dance but visual artists, film directors and theatre artists.

I would definitely say I was changed through seeing the work of Pina Bausch, Alain Platel, Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker, Jerome Bel, Goat Island, Lone Twin, Lea Anderson, Romeo Castellucci, Meg Stuart, Boris Charmatz, Guilermo Gomez Pena, Jan Fabre, Ken Campbell, Werner Herzog, Jim Jarmusch, Bela Tarr, Wim Wenders, Lars von Trier, Werner Nekes, William Forsythe, Gisuppe Penone, Gillian Wearing, Miranda July, Alvin Lucier. I could go on! 

How do you describe your choreographic language and approach?

With this latest piece Simone and I are really interested in the idea of the ‘extraordinary’. I am interested in dancers doing something a little extra-ordinary. Not doing something spectacular, like a performer in Cirque du Soleil doing lots of backflips or incredible feats, which we appreciate but would never think is possible without many years of training and commitment.

Rather I am interested in something in which audiences, through their imagination, can put themselves in the position of the performer, they can understand and relate to the physical task that is happening before them.

Neil Callaghan and Simone Kenyon Photo: Manuel Vason
Neil Callaghan and Simone Kenyon Photo: Manuel Vason

I made a solo in which I spin around as fast as I can for 10mins. This is probably something that everyone did as a child, they can related to it or if not they can go home and try it. It is not virtuosic, but there is a kind of virtuosity or ‘wonder’ in the persistence, and I think audiences can really connect with these extraordinary moments.  For me choreography on one level is about focusing attention, and this is one way to go about it. 

How did you approach the curation process?

Decisions needed to be made very fast. Something I was clear about was wanting to find a way to bring people over from outside the UK. There is a lot of great work being made in mainland Europe that never makes it to the UK. So I wanted to try and bring some of these exciting and established artists, so that a London audience could have the chance to experience some of these works. Once it was whittled down to Jeremy and Mette, I had to discover what it was that connected these three pieces.

The idea of ‘Transforming Matter’ was a title that related to all three pieces in very different ways. Simone and I approach the body as material, as matter; cells that come together. The piece that Mette will show relates to a triology of work she has made that is a lot about choreographing, foam or glitter; matter in another sense. Jeremy’s piece is much more social and for me his piece will really transform the social dynamic and energetic matter of the space. It will be an interesting evening of many different transformations. 

The theatre will be stripped of seating, how do you anticipate this will affect the audience’s experience?

The way the audience will watch the work will change for each piece, and in some cases during the work. I think for the audience this will draw their attention to being an audience member. They will be aware that they are sharing this space with a group of people; that we are all in this together.

Neil Callaghan
Neil Callaghan

I am also a big fan of sitting in the dark and watching a piece, I don’t have to be interacting physically to have a good time as seems to be a popular trend at the moment. I think when we sit in the dark we also interact and participate. But for this evening the audience will keep changing configuration and this is one other dimension of transformation.

What challenges did you experience curating the Wild Card event?

The biggest challenges are always trying to stay focused and finding clarity. Not getting distracted with other ideas, or tangents. When you are given the chance to curate something such an evening you want to do everything. The ideas around curating could have filled a whole festival, but you only have one night, so you have to use it wisely.

I think from experience I have learned that to do less better is more advantageous rather than to try and do too much and then people don’t get treated right and the work does not have the right conditions. I think the biggest challenge, and joy, has been to make sure that each of the pieces can be shown in the conditions that they need, and not asking people to compromise beyond reason. 

Transforming Matter - Neil Callaghan, Simone Kenyon. Photo: Manuel Vason
Transforming Matter – Neil Callaghan, Simone Kenyon. Photo: Manuel Vason

Do you have a specific message you would like audiences to take away from the programme?

There is not a specific message to take home from the programme, but I think the way the programme operates will have something to say. It will be a long evening, the audience will have to work a bit, but the payoff will be great. For me, in this face-paced, information overloaded time we live in, it is important to create spaces where people can come and spend time together having a live collective experience. 

What advice do you have for other artists for curating an event like Wild Card?

For other artists curating Wild Card evenings, I would say dream wildly and plan concretely, and hopefully the dreaming and the planning won’t be too far apart. It feels like a fantastic opportunity and I’m very glad that we have made it happen. I think the most important thing is to enjoy the ride. 

Neil Callaghan will present his evening Transforming Matter at Sadler’s Wells’ Lilian Baylis Studio on Friday 7 November, 7.45pm, as part of the Wild Card series

by Savannah Saunders