London’s home for contemporary dance has roots reaching as far back as the 18th century, where jugglers, clowns and rope dancers entertained enraptured audiences. Since then Sadler’s Wells has gone through many theatrical guises, entering its formative state under the leadership of Lilian Baylis in the 1920s (she strongly believed art and dance should be for everyone). Nowadays the theatre focuses on innovative forms of contemporary dance – everything from ballet to flamenco. Its rich programme commissions new works, experimental workshops and collaborates with international companies and associate artists, such as Matthew Bourne and Sylvie Guillem.
As part of the London School of Economics campus, The Peacock leads a dual existence of lecture hall by day and theatre by night. It is home to Sadler’s Wells’ West End programme, featuring all-singing, all-dancing musicals such as Footloose. Although the current building is an unassuming 1960s tower block, its site holds an incredible history of London theatre, including being the location of the first-ever performance by a woman on stage.
This contemporary conservatoire offers training in every imaginable vocation related to dance. The Place theatre holds over 200 performances a year, covering experimental works and up-and-coming talent that often break down the boundaries between dancers and their audience. Their latest project is Pivot Dance, a two-year initiative across the UK, Italy and Netherlands funded by the EU’s Creative Europe programme. Choreographers and audiences from The Place, Operaestate Festival and Dutch Dance Days Festival have collaborated to create six new, unique dance pieces staged in those countries.
Royal Opera House
This is perhaps the most glamorous setting to enjoy dance in London, right off Covent Garden. The stunning, classical building was burned down twice – the present version was completed in 1858. The Royal Ballet is world renowned, but it began life as a small company founded by dancer and choreographer Dame Ninette de Valois, who began her new venture at Sadler’s Wells before finding a permanent home at the Royal Opera House after World War II. The ballet programme has a fantastically broad remit, performing traditional iterations such as Romeo and Juliet and Sleeping Beauty as well as groundbreaking new works from resident choreographer Wayne McGregor.
English National Opera
Under the bright lights of the Coliseum you’ll find another fantastic venue that shows world-class ballet as well as opera. The venue has housed the English National Opera (or ENO) since the 1960s, as well as English National Ballet productions, but its entertainment history stretches right back to 1904, when it was billed as ‘the people’s place for entertainment’. Once again the programme is committed to pushing the boundaries of the art form as well as respecting tradition, such as Akram Khan’s recent production of Giselle that reimagines the classic love story in a garment factory run by migrant workers.
Cross-disciplinary practices are at the forefront of the Barbican’s vision, which means you are just as likely to encounter dance as part of a contemporary art piece in the Curve Gallery as you are in its dedicated theatre setting. Recently the institution went one step further by inviting contemporary choreographer Trajal Harrell to stage a full-scale performative exhibition in the main art gallery, which blended a series of 14 performances from throughout his oeuvre over a period of four weeks.
Housed in another iconic Brutalist building just across the river, the National Theatre programmes a huge amount of outreach and interactive dance as well as its core programme. It also makes the most of its riverside location with the River Stage festival, which features a takeover by the Rambert dance company this summer. Events include a work-in-progress piece by choreographer Patricia Okenwa and a series of participatory workshops.
Next door you can find the multidisciplinary Southbank Centre, which cites its dance performances as everything from ‘ballet to bhangra’. Its truly international outlook has brought dancers from as far away as Finland and India, as well as looking closer to home with the likes of the English National Ballet. This year it even celebrated the relationship between hip-hop and forms of urban street dance and parkour, with demonstrations taking place in and around the centre.