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Our story

Sadler's Wells exterior © Philip Vile
Sadler’s Wells has been a home for the arts for more than three centuries.

Our ambitious year-round programme explores and celebrates dance in all its forms. Each year, over half a million people come to our London theatres with many more visiting our nationally and internationally touring productions or exploring our digital platforms.

We create and share more new work than any other dance organisation in the world. We support artists, giving them the opportunity to develop their practice, seek out innovative ideas and collaborations, and present world-class work. And we invite people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to take part in our events and workshops.

In 2023, we’re opening a new theatre in Stratford, east London. Sadler’s Wells East will be a centre for creativity, learning and innovation at the heart of an exciting new cultural district in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

History

From maverick music house to leading global dance organisation

Sadler’s Wells started life as a mineral spring, discovered in 1683 by Richard Sadler in the grounds of his music house. Audiences came for the ‘miraculous healing properties’ of the well, but stayed for the entertainment.

The well dried up but the performances didn’t. Shakespeare, vaudeville and opera drew crowds for hundreds of years. And in 1925, when Lilian Baylis took charge, dance became a more regular feature. Baylis held the belief that ‘great art should belong to everybody’ – a sentiment that still guides our approach today.

Sadler’s Wells has played an important role in the history of theatre, with The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Opera all starting life here. And in the 1990s, the Sadler’s Wells site in Angel, London, was transformed into a purpose-built dance theatre. It was redesigned with a bigger stage and more seats as well as three rehearsal studios and a smaller studio theatre, Lilian Baylis Studio, for small-scale work. While Sadler’s Wells in Angel was rebuilt, we put on shows at Peacock Theatre in London’s West End – and have done so ever since.

In 2004, Alistair Spalding took up the role of Artistic Director and Chief Executive. Under his direction we introduced an Associate Artists scheme, putting dance artists at the heart of our organisation. The work that we have produced and commissioned as a result has put Sadler’s Wells firmly at the forefront of the global dance world.

2004 was also the year that Breakin’ Convention joined Sadler’s Wells, representing the origins and evolution of hip hop culture through performance and education. In 2005, we become a producing organisation, working with world-renowned companies and artists to bring new, innovative and inspiring works to audiences around the world. He has In 2013, Sadler’s Wells became the host organisation for National Youth Dance Company (NYDC). NYDC draws together some of the brightest young talent from across the country and helps them get a head start in their dance careers.

We launched Sadler’s Wells Digital Stage in 2018. It’s now a core part of our artistic programme, with a wide range of dance performances, films, workshops and other ways to experience dance across a range of formats, accessible wherever you are.

What’s next? We’re excited to be opening a new theatre in Stratford, east London, in 2023. Sadler’s Wells East will be a centre for creativity, learning and innovation in the heart of an exciting new cultural district in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

For more Sadler’s Wells history, take a look at Sarah Compton’s article and Al Senter’s Complete History