Russell Maliphant’s ‘The Thread’ promises a Greek epic over three nights at Sadler’s Wells

Rehearsals have lasted almost two years, now with just a day to go dancers from the show tell of their admiration for choreographer Russell Maliphant

Oliver Barnes
Mar 17 · 3 min read
Performers from the dance school of the Greek National Opera rehearse for Russell Maliphant’s ‘The Thread’. Credit: Sadler’s Wells.

Sadler’s Wells is London’s temple of dance. Entering the hallowed stage door, I was met with a scene of feverish and unflagging preparation. The backstage area was a melee of set designers, prop people and production staff — all orbiting around 18 Greek dancers, whose job it is to make tangible acclaimed choreographer Russell Maliphant’s experimental dance piece The Thread.

The show, which starts a three-night run on Friday, stitches together the traditional Hellenic dances of sirtaki and zonaradikos, among others, and the unmissable modernity of Maliphant’s oeuvre. The movement on stage is all set to the eerily futuristic score from Academy Award-winning composer Vangelis, the mastermind behind the music for Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner.

Rehearsals for Maliphant’s latest project have been taking place for almost two years. The lengthy build-up to the show is a consequence of the choreographer’s heady ambitions. Maliphant has mishmashed traditional Greek and contemporary dance in a way never seen before on the London stage.

A quartet of dancers reach up to the sky during Russell Maliphant’s ‘The Thread’. Credit: Sadler’s Wells.

“This is not a narrative work, it’s not a retelling of the myth — there is no minotaur, no actual thread on stage, no labyrinth,” Maliphant told The Times. “The title alludes to the thread between the classical and the present day; the piece is an abstraction of movement, of patterns and vocabulary.”

Dancers from the show revealed The Thread, which audiences will see for the first time on Friday night, is the culmination of “hundreds of hours of arduous practice”. Maliphant would fly out to Athens for two weeks at a time. While he was there the performers would practice for up to eight hours a day, with no R&R time on weekends.

Alexandros Stavropoulos, one of the show’s ensemble who’s performed at Sadler’s Wells before, praised Maliphant’s vision and dedication. “He’s amazing. First of all, he gives you so much space — he never presses you; instead, he makes you want to commit and perform,” he said. “He’s really open but he still manages to build his vocabulary of movement.”

“Even though you might think that nothing is clear to his mind, somehow everything clears up,” added fellow dancer Dafni Stathtou. “Russell has his own world and he manages to put you firmly inside of it”. For Stathtou, who’s only 23 years old, performing a Maliphant-choreographed piece at Sadler’s Wells is “a dream come true”. “It’s a bit scary,” she confessed, “I only finished school two years ago and I haven’t very much experience at this level.”

‘The Thread’ dancers Alexandros Stavropoulos, 27, and Dafni Stathatou, 23. Credit: Oliver Barnes.

Both Stahtou and Stavropoulous, as with most performers in The Thread, trained at the dance school of the Greek National Opera. Reflecting on the soundtrack to the show, produced by their compatriot Vangelis, they agreed that his highly stylized melodies forced them to “take a different approach to the music”. “When we first listened to the music, I found it a bit extreme but it grew on me. It’s different but that’s a success — we want different.”

Vangelis’ eccentric score and the distorted, provocative choreography tailored to it by Maliphant matches the forward-thinking, boundary-pushing philosophy that has come to define Sadler’s Wells, which traces its origins back to Drury Lane in 1683. Its Nicholas Hare reconstruction in 1998 put it firmly on the map as one of the world’s foremost dance venues. This Greek epic over three nights will reaffirm that status.

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