Sadler’s Wells Young Associate John-William Watson comes to YASS Magazine

In November 2021, the second cohort of the Sadler’s Wells Young Associates introduced their refreshing voices at sell-out performances in the Lilian Baylis Studio. The next step of their journey sees John-William Watson, Magnus Westwell, Olive Hardy and Vidya Patel take to the Sadler’s Wells stage with the World Premiere of To Start With on Wednesday 26 October. Under the artistic guidance of Ben DukeCo-Founder and Artistic Director of Lost Dog, the young choreographers will be presenting an ambitious evening of new works.

Ben Duke is an experienced choreographer and creative. He has created work for many acclaimed dance companies including Candoco, Rambert, Scottish Dance Theatre, Dance Umbrella, Phoenix Dance Theatre and Barely Methodical Troupe. Throughout the creation process Ben has encouraged the Young Associates to communicate with each other and share their experiences. They have collaborated with a team of young creatives from a range of art-forms, giving a platform to a new generation of artistic voices. Each Young Associate brings a unique voice to the work.

credits: Jack Thomson

John-William Watson is a dance theatre maker from Leeds. Drawing influence from Surrealism, John’s work focuses on the tragi-comedic, their work explores narratives that deal with the relationship between existentialism, the comedy of the mundane, nostalgia and time.

Magnus Westwell is a Scottish Artist who works with choreography and music composition. Their creations can be raw, romantic and haunting, often looking at the extremes of ecstasy and emptiness.

Olive Hardy was born in London and raised in Bristol. She graduated from London Contemporary Dance School in 2019. Olive’s approach focuses on a collective agency with her collaborators; through improvisation they find a movement language innate to the performers. Born, raised and living in Birmingham as the first-generation of an immigrant British Gujarati household, Vidya Patel began training in Indian classical dance from a young age.

Vidya’s work focuses on autobiographical narratives by drawing on themes of identity, belonging and empowerment. In 2015, Vidya represented the South Asian Category in the Grand Finals of the inaugural BBC Young Dancer 2015 at Sadler’s Wells.

The Young Associates programme supports talented 18-24-year-olds and 18-30 for d/Deaf and disabled choreographers, providing a crucial first step into their career as choreographers.

Artistic Guide, Ben Duke said, “It is a pleasure to work with the four Young Associates. Their work is so different in style, and it shows that the idea of choreography and what it means to be described as a choreographer is an expanding field. It is also amazing to see how the conversations around the wellbeing of the dancers is central to all their processes and how this demonstrates real progress in how we prioritise the wellbeing of freelance artists. My role has been to oversee the evening and to suggest subtle connections between the works, but most importantly my role is to be there if I’m needed and to stand back when I’m not. They are an inspiring group of artists who need the space and opportunity to do their thing and that is what this evening is about.”

Projects Producer, Learning and Engagement, Lucy Clarke-Bishop said, “Sadler’s Wells is delighted to be able to offer this platform and programme to these four exceptionally talented artists. The Young Associates programme aims to invest in and support new voices and we believe that these choreographers are important new voices in dance. We are also excited to offer the Young Associates a chance to benefit from Ben Duke’s excellent artistic guidance and talent for To Start With. He has provided them with care and support, and has been an important part of the artistic process. Ben’s knowledge and experience is an invaluable resource as the Young Associates take to the Sadler’s Wells stage.”

YASS Magazine met Sadler’s Wells Young Associate John-William Watson

credits: Jack Thomson

How does it feel to be part of Sadler’s Wells Young Associates and to represent the next generation of choreographers?

I feel so incredibly grateful, it’s rare to find an opportunity that offers so much support whilst also allowing so much freedom; personally and artistically. It’s so important that young voices are heard within all industries, so to be one of the four young voices working with Sadler’s Wells is a real honour.

Can you introduce yourself to us?

I’m John-William Watson (he/they) and I’m a Yorkshire based dance theatre maker and director.

How would you describe your work and what are the areas that your work explores?

My work draws a lot of inspiration from Surrealism, abstracting and playing with every-day, utilitarian and pedestrian movement. Over the past years especially, my work has a big focus on the tragi-comedic. I’m interested in exploring narratives that deal with the relationship between existentialism, the comedy of the mundane, nostalgia and time. 

There’s something so silly but also very profound in everyday encounters and mundane situations. My work sits in the centre point of the most ordinary scenarios and existential big picture stuff you know! Like thinking about what consciousness actually is, whilst waiting to go see the dental hygienist.

Where do you find your inspiration in your work?

It might sound like bit of a cop-out but truly everywhere and anywhere. There is such a visceral absurdity in the everyday and the mundane that I think I’ve always been aware of since I was quite young – even if I had no idea what I was feeling at the time.

Looking back on the films, photography, video-games and music that I’ve been drawn to, ever since I was a kid, there’s always been an element of this absurdity. A self-aware and surrealist angle on the world that has a very specific point of view but more importantly a sense of humour.

The work of say Buster Keaton (Silent Film Actor) and Jacques Tati (French Film Maker) are huge inspirations for example – especially from a physicality standpoint. With Buster, there’s this heightened person-ey-ness about the way he moves and such a beautiful juxtaposition in the hilarity of the situations he finds himself in and the loneliness his work evokes. Of course it’s comedy but it’s much more than that, he almost sits on-top of the world around him. His relationship with a chair, a door and a light switch is dysfunctional and silly but at the root of it he’s struggling to connect with the world and people around him; or at least that’s what I take from it!

When did you realise you wanted to become a choreographer?

I trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, and the course there was heavily focused on your own artistic identity. However, there was a moment sort of half way through, as I was thinking about myself as an artist, myself in dance, where I thought shit, do I actually want to study film?

After moving country, and getting so much support from my family to do this, I found myself struggling with this feeling for a long time. But there was an almost cartoon-ish lightbulb moment where I realised that I could play with everything I love about film and storytelling but with the tools I had at the time; bodies, time, movement and music.

Every artist has their own tools, a painter paints a picture, a writer writes a play, but ultimately we’re all kind of telling stories I guess, and allowing the viewer to peer into our own viewfinder – to see how we see the world. I’m a choreographer because that’s what the random collection of left and right turns (red and blue pills for the Matrix fans out there) I’ve taken in my life have made me I guess. In another life, along different forks in the road I think I’d still be talking about what I want to talk about, to the same effect, or with the same style or viewpoint but maybe with some oils and paintbrush – it just happens that the tools in my belt are dance.

How has your style evolved over the years?

I think the main thing that I can track is the theatricality and stylistic elements of my work that have just become more present over the years. Over time one has hued the other and I think they really support each other now; in building the worlds that I like to work in. With each piece my work has become more cinematic and theatrically focussed, and Hang in there, baby, which is my new work for Sadler’s Wells, is definitely a clear marker for this.

What will we see at the premiere of To Start With?

A lot of things, well more specifically four things. The evening is a mixed bill of four new works by myself and the three other Young Associates; Magnus Westwell, Olive Hardy and Vidya Patel. All of our works are so beautifully different. Collectively we have such a range of voices and it’s going to make for one incredible evening. I’ll be presenting Hang in there, baby, a new dance theatre work exploring our relationship with destiny and fate; from the depths of a new years office party.

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