Crystal Pite Polaris. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Founded in


Sadler’s Wells has been presenting theatrical productions in Rosebery Avenue, Islington for over 300 years

Artistic Director

Alistair Spalding

Since 2004

Sadler's Wells logo


Sadler’s Wells is a world-leading dance house, committed to producing, commissioning and presenting new works and to bringing the best international and UK dance to London and worldwide audiences.

The theatre’s acclaimed year-round programme spans dance of every kind, from contemporary to flamenco, Bollywood, ballet, salsa, street dance and tango. Since 2005, it has helped to bring over 100 new dance works to the stage and its award-winning commissions and collaborative productions regularly tour in the UK and overseas.

Sadler’s Wells supports 16 Associate Artists, three Resident Companies, an Associate Company and two International Associate Companies. It nurtures the next generation of talent through research and development, running the National Youth Dance Company and a range of programmes including Wild Card, New Wave Associates, Open Art Surgery and Summer University.

Sadler’s Wells’ community, schools and learning programmes offer access to dance and opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to take part in high-quality productions and learning activities, both on and off the stage.

Located in Islington, north London, the current theatre is the sixth to have stood on the site since it was first built by Richard Sadler in 1683. The venue has played an illustrious role in the history of theatre ever since, with The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Opera all having started at Sadler’s Wells.


Building based, three spaces

Company Type

Building based

We present work in our buildings and commission, produce and tour our productions. Three auditoriums: Sadler’s Wells’ main stage, 1.500 seats, and Lilian Baylis Studio, 180 seats, in Islington, north London; and The Peacock, a 1,000-seat theatre in London’s West End.

Sadler's Wells - Total subsidy from Arts Council England in the 2015/16 financial year

Public Funding


Arts Council England subsidy for 2015-16 (9% of annual income)

London, England


Islington, north London



Staged in the 2015-16 financial year. Of these, 33 were produced, co-commissioned, or co-produced by Sadler’s Wells.


Staff - Sadler's Wells

* 16 Associate Artists; 3 Resident Companies; 3 Associate Companies

Our Question

What challenges can women encounter in building and sustaining a career in choreography? How might Sadler’s Wells tailor its working processes to support the development of women’s careers better?

Sadler’s Wells aims to stimulate people’s enjoyment of dance and their understanding of it, and to develop the art form by supporting artists and the creation of new work. We want to ensure dance continues to reflect and shape the way we think about the world, and to reach an ever wider public. We were aware of a decrease in the number of women choreographers transitioning from emerging or mid-career to established artist. Understanding the issues preventing a greater number of women from creating dance work therefore became one of our priorities.

What We Did

In 2015, we held a private roundtable discussion with a group of women choreographers we support in order to discuss the challenges they face and how Sadler’s Wells might help them to overcome these.Taking part in the Advance programme was the ideal vehicle through which to deepen and further our inquiry, and progress our commitment to support women better.

In collaboration with us, Tonic carried out a wide-ranging investigation that included discussions with staff members responsible for artist development and programming decisions; conversations with women dance producers; one-to-one interviews with 18 women choreographers and a focus group with four women choreographers, at all stages of career and across a range of different artistic practices.

What We Learned

The investigation highlighted a number of areas that can present challenges for women choreographers.

Although the experiences and career paths of the women consulted varied, these findings reflect the themes that emerged most recurrently in the conversations held.

  • The development of creative voice and sense of authorship
    Tonic’s investigation found that most girls enter the dance world through ballet school or some kind of formal dance training. The journey towards becoming a professional dancer, from which one would typically become a choreographer, is a very competitive one. Conscientiousness in training, coupled with self-consciousness in the teenage years, appears to result in some girls becoming less assertive. Their creative voice can become hidden or submerged. As there are fewer boys than girls in training, boys tend to receive proactive attention in order to encourage them through to a professional level. Without such proactive attention, girls’ creative abilities can go unnoticed or unattended – see Northern Ballet’s page for more on this.This set of circumstances is likely to feed into the way some women present themselves as choreographers and the way they author work. Women may not push themselves forward as readily as men, and some may tend towards making work that is collaborative and participatory, without necessarily foregrounding themselves as artists and authors. This can lead to the artist and the work missing out on the attention it might deserve.
  • The role of arts organisations in taste-making
    Some of the women consulted felt that funders, producers and venues could widen their lens further, to seek out and look in expanded ways at a wider spectrum of artistic practices, as well as be considerate to artists at all stages of career. In particular, the investigation highlighted that some types of artistic practice favoured by women dance makers seem to be less attractive to arts organisations. These include choreographic work that involves working away from a theatre stage or which questions format (e.g. may be made outdoors or in other contexts), as well as practices involving collaborative authorship and more process-led work. Those works appear to be programmed less frequently than work that bears strong singular authorship and is more readily made for the stage and traditional modes of presentation.
  • The necessity and challenge of managing multiple roles as artist, producer and administrator, especially if working outside established structures
    The investigation found that emerging and mid-career women choreographers frequently find themselves working with little funding, from project to project and outside of established structures. It can be challenging to engage a producer and/ or administrator in this situation; instead, women tend to take on the work themselves. The perception is that men are less likely to find themselves in this position, and/ or are less willing to take on administrative tasks. While it appears men are more likely to find their way into an established structure, many women find themselves operating in the middle ground for a prolonged period of time, eligible for only small-scale, time-limited project grants without access to more sustained, larger-scale, mid-career development opportunities.
  • The experience of being offered fewer and lesser opportunities than men
    In a tight funding environment, some women commented on having been advised to keep work and ambition small as a way to continue practicing, and felt that such advice would be less likely given to a man. Some women spoke about delivering more activity for the same statutory funding as their male peers and there was a common feeling that, overall, producers are offering women smaller stages, shorter runs, smaller budgets, less marketing and press, and therefore less audience and profile.
  • The challenge of managing family, personal and financial circumstances
    Starting a family often coincides with the point at which a career is ready to mature. The desire and need to progress has to be balanced with managing challenges such as the costs of childcare, long rehearsal days, travel and time away from home. Other factors such as caring for elderly parents or the impact of ageing or ill health also need to be managed, and financing a life through a career in choreography can be challenging at every level of practice.

What We’re Doing in Response

We have developed an Action Plan, which contains first steps towards our ambition of achieving greater gender equality on Sadler’s Wells stages.

We understand and embrace our planning as a phased and open-ended process, which we will review and refine regularly as we move forward. Our plan is structured around the following areas.

  • Information Gathering
    We have developed Tonic’s gender tracker to capture the number of women and men we commission, produce and present on each of our stages, separately, so that we can monitor these figures in a systematic way and check our progress with each platform. We are also developing a more systematic way of building and sharing knowledge of women choreographers and dance curators through our organisation.
  • More Opportunities
    Sadler’s Wells staff with responsibility for commissioning and artist development will make use of the information we gather as they make curatorial decisions and we are paying immediate attention to how to offer a greater number of opportunities to women choreographers in a more proactive way. We are looking at employing structures where longer-term support, including financial, is available – as we already offer through our Summer University, which supports artists over four years.A key project for Sadler’s Wells in the next five years is the development of a new venue in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, east London. This will increase the number of artists and the work we can present, allowing us to offer women a mid-scale platform, together with mid-career development opportunities.
  • Sector
    We commit to working even harder, individually and together with colleagues in the dance sector, to widen and strengthen the pipeline of creative female talent in dance. As we plan for our new venue in the Olympic Park, we are working with colleagues in east London to ensure that we provide a connected offer
  • Workplace Culture
    As a result of taking part in Advance, we have interrogated our decision-making on more than just the subject of gender. To see change happen you have to dig deep into the culture of an organisation and, as part of a commitment to change, we have included unconscious bias training in our new equality, diversity and inclusion training at Sadler’s Wells.

Is This Work a Step Towards a Bigger Goal?

Yes, it is. Our long-term goal is to achieve a more even gender balance in the choreography we present on all of our stages. We aim to achieve a measurable shift in the number of women choreographers, perspectives and narratives we present and to inspire and affect positive and lasting change at Sadler’s Wells and in the wider cultural sector.

Sadler’s Wells: Alistair Spalding CBE, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Sadler’s Wells, in conversation with Eva Martinez, Artistic Programmer and Artist Development, Sadler’s Wells, about the experience of participating in Advance.

Sadler's Wells creative team statistics

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