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Members of Compagnie Maguy Marin have also alleged they were subjected to 'aggressive' and 'intimidating' treatment by Sadler's Wells staff.

Exterior of Sadler's Wells
Photo: 

Alena Kravchenko

Renowned French choreographer Maguy Marin has accused Sadler's Wells of "censorship" after claiming the venue's management prevented her from reading a statement onstage that urged artists to raise awareness of “ongoing genocidal acts” in Palestine.

The 72-year-old presented her seminal production May B, an interpretation of Samual Beckett’s work first performed in 1981, over two nights at the north London venue last month.

Speaking to Arts Professional, she said that, at the end of the performances, she had hoped to read a statement addressing the conflict in Palestine, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, as she had done at the company's previous tour stop in Bobigny, France. But she says Artistic Director Alistair Spalding asked her not to read the statement in public for fear of “frightening and shocking its audience.” 

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“I wanted to deliver a statement to the audience at Sadler’s Wells after the performances, on my behalf and on behalf of the artists and technicians of my company. This was not possible, as the management did not permit its reading within the theatre premises," said Marin.

“I consider this refusal to be censorship that has no place in a democracy."

Marin claims she was also told the statement could not be read on stage because “artists should primarily express themselves through their work” and that cultural institutions should “remain neutral in a conflict between two political entities.”

As an Arts Council England (ACE) National Portfolio Organisation, Sadler's Wells receives £2.4m of investment each year. ACE’s relationship guidelines for NPOs state, “We expect all organisations we invest in to support freedom of expression.” 

'Aggressive behaviour'

Following their final performance on 22 May, members of Compagnie Maguy Marin (CMM) distributed Marin's statement outside the venue. Several of the dancers claimed they were subjected to "aggressive" and "intimidating" treatment by Sadler's Wells staff when handing out the fliers and afterwards when they returned to the theatre to change out of their costumes.

In a series of testimonials published by the activist group Culture Workers Against Genocide (CWAG) and verified by a CMM spokesperson, dancers said they were followed by Sadler's Wells staff into the changing room and shower area, leaving them feeling “uncomfortable” and “vulnerable".

One dancer said: "[They were] constantly keeping an eye on us even in the space we were showering."

Another said: "[Staff] came into the dressing room while some of us were still showering, urging us to hurry up and leave the premises."

CWAG says that at least 1,000 people have used a template it created to write to Sadler's Wells, expressing concerns about "the censorship and aggressive treatment experienced by Compagnie Maguy Marin". 

'Banking groups involved in war economies'

The contested statement had called on international governments to ban the export of weapons to Israel and end diplomatic relations with the country if it fails to comply with the UN’s ceasefire resolution.

Since October 2023, Sadler's Wells has faced increasing criticism, protests and questions over the ethics of its funding relationship with Barclays amid claims the bank invests in Israeli arms companies.

Barclays is a "principal partner" of the venue and, through its Dance Pass, offers £10 tickets to 16- to 30-year-olds.

“We believe it is essential for artists - and the theatres that host them – to raise awareness about the ongoing genocidal acts and to refuse any financial support from banking groups involved in war economies,” said the statement from CMM.

“We consider it our collective responsibility to fight against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and all forms of discrimination. It is our duty to combat the appropriation of the fight against anti-Semitism - by the far right - fueled by the radicalisation of major public and private media outlets, ” it continued.

"It is our collective responsibility to oppose the criminalisation by European countries of the voices which denounce a situation in Palestine - and in particular in Gaza - whose genocidal nature is now being discussed.

"We will not be able to say that we didn’t know."

A Sadler’s Wells spokesperson said: “No artist was instructed that they couldn’t say anything on our stages. Sadler’s Wells respects the views of all artists and acknowledges the broad diversity of opinions on topical issues such as this.”

The spokesperson did not respond to allegations of aggressive and intrusive behaviour toward the dancers but claimed that the company was allowed to hold a protest without interruption in a space outside as the theatre was unable to safely accommodate the statement being read indoors.

They added that the safety of audiences and performers was important to Sadler's Wells.

Previous complaint

A few weeks prior to CMM's performance, Sadler's Wells received objections from Jewish audience members who reported feeling "intimidated" and "harassed" when attending a performance by British/Palestinian Movement Creative Sasha Shadid as part of hip-hop festival Breakin' Convention, according to The Telegraph.

Billed by the venue as “a love letter to the values inspired by his Palestinian father, full of harsh realities through a British Palestinian lens", some Jewish audience members at Shadid's performance subsequently approached UK Lawyers for Israel to lodge a formal complaint against Sadler's Wells claiming the performance breached the Equality Act.

The venue told The Telegraph: “We are aware of the complaint and are investigating it.”

Arts Council England declined to comment, citing pre-election sensitivity restrictions, but signposted its recent statements over changes made to its Relationship Framework, noting that anyone wishing to raise a complaint about an ACE-funded organisation can do so on its website.

Author(s): 
A headshot of Mary Stone