Lord of the dance: Michael Hulls sees dance in a new light at Sadler’s Wells

Three groups of pendant lights hanging over a stage.
Opening on 7 June, Sadler’s Wells presents a dancer-less performance celebrating the backstage heroes of contemporary performance art. Pictured: LightSpace, at No Body, by Michael Hulls. Photography: Heathcliff O’Malley.
(Image credit: Heathcliff O’Malley)

Sadler's Wells is expanding the scope of its programming, to include the theatrical buzzwords of the moment – 'immersive experience'. With the help of longstanding associate artist and renowned lighting designer Michael Hulls, the theatre is encouraging audiences to see dance, quite literally, in a different light.

No Body is a dance performance without any dancers; instead, movement is interpreted through a variety of installations. It is an unprecedented exploration of lighting, sound and projection, championing the theatre's backstage talent, and turning the building inside out. Audiences will experience the performance en promenade, gaining unique access into the Wells' sub rosa passages, wardrobe rooms, sound boxes and underground pits.

On this addition to the venue's scheduling, Sadler's Wells director Alistair Spalding tells Wallpaper*, 'We try to disrupt the normal flow whenever we can – we like to mix things up a bit. At the moment, dance audiences love this idea of immersion and we try and respond to that as best we can.'

What the performance will actually consist of is hard to say at this stage – all we know is that it involves some seriously impressive contributors, a 48 speaker sound system and around 1000 lights.

Intriguingly, the creators are keeping schtum about the ins and outs of No Body. Speaking just a week before the premiere, Spalding comments, 'I don't really know how it's all going to look, or how it's going to come together – ask me again after opening night.'

Michael Hulls elaborates: 'The project is still just an idea, a vision, a wing and a prayer. It doesn’t exist yet. It’s not like we are working in a space with hundreds of lighting instruments and 48 sound speakers every day, so we are trying to model that "virtual" installation as best we can. We will have all those things for the first time two days before the first performance, so it’s all a "guesstimate" at the moment as to what the show will actually be.'

Despite the content being shrouded in mystery (even to those involved), there's no doubt this performance is going to be something special – the collaborators are theatre royalty. Hulls has been dubbed 'the choreographer of light', and has an impeccable track record of creating stunning lighting for dance at Sadler's Wells and globally. His on-stage lightwork will be bolstered by a sound installation from composers Andy Cowton and Mukul, with whom Hulls has worked closely since the mid-1980s and 90s respectively.

The immersive experience continues with other big name artists, including Nitin Sawhney who presents his 'animation trail', where sounds are played on individual headsets, silent-disco style, while guests tour the front of house. Finally, visitors end up in the Lilian Baylis studio, with Russell Maliphant's triptych film installation.

Along with these artists, Hulls has shaken the industry to its core. Nowadays, a dance performance can be made or broken by the quality of its lighting, set and sound design. It seems only fitting that these crucial disciplines are being given their own spotlight, centre stage. When asked what new and exciting projects Hulls has been coming up, he quips, 'A long beach holiday'. Well deserved.

Many glowing light bulbs on a black background.

Audiences will experience the performance en promenade, gaining unique access into the Wells’ sub rosa passages, wardrobe rooms, sound boxes and underground pits. Pictured: LightSpace, at No Body, by Michael Hulls. Photography: Heathcliff O’Malley.

(Image credit: Heathcliff O’Malley)

Rays of different coloured lights over a stage.

Sadler’s Wells director Alistair Spalding explains, ’We try to disrupt the normal flow whenever we can – we like to mix things up a bit. At the moment, dance audiences love this idea of immersion and we try and respond to that as best we can.’ Pictured: LightSpace, at No Body, by Michael Hulls. Photography: Heathcliff O’Malley.

(Image credit: Heathcliff O’Malley)

Two images. Left, a group of people standing in smoke with rays of light shining through it. Right, people in a smoky room pressed up against a glass pane.

Pictured left: LightSpace, at No Body, by Michael Hulls. Photography: Heathcliff O’Malley. Right: Nick Hillel’s projections, at No Body.

(Image credit: Heathcliff O’Malley / Nick Hillel’s projections)

The Running Tongue, by Siobhan Davies and David Hinton, 2015, a film being shown as part of No Body.

The Running Tongue, by Siobhan Davies and David Hinton, 2015, a film being shown as part of No Body

(Image credit: TBC)

INFORMATION

No Body runs from 7 June to 12 June. For more information, visit the Sadler's Wells website (opens in new tab)

Photography courtesy Sadler's Wells

ADDRESS

Sadler's Wells
Rosebery Avenue
London, EC1R 4TN

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Elly Parsons is the Digital Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees Wallpaper.com and its social platforms. She has been with the brand since 2015 in various roles, spending time as digital writer – specialising in art, technology and contemporary culture – and as deputy digital editor. She was shortlisted for a PPA Award in 2017, has written extensively for many publications, and has contributed to three books. She is a guest lecturer in digital journalism at Goldsmiths University, London, where she also holds a masters degree in creative writing. Now, her main areas of expertise include content strategy, audience engagement, and social media.