In Conversation with Directors of Sadler’s Wells’ Family Weekend’s ‘Underwater’ Xenia Aidonopoulou and Georgia Tegou

Underwater is part of Family Weekend 2022 (15-16 April) at Sadlers Wells in Angel and is suitable for babies and toddlers aged 0-24 months and their grown-ups. We caught up with Directors Xenia Aidonopoulou and Georgia Tegou about their multi-sensory show and dance theatre piece ‘Underwater’.

We loved watching the trailer of ‘Underwater’. What stimulated your imaginations to create this beautiful dance theatre piece?

XA: Since I first attended -as a young mother back in Athens, performances for babies and their families, I knew, one day I was going to create a show for this specific audience. When I moved with my family to the UK, four years ago, this idea started to take shape in my head and the right moment had come for me to put my thoughts into words and create the script for Underwater. By that time, I had a career break and the opportunity to spend more time with my baby daughter and focus on exploring her world.

Underwater was conceived as an attempt to visualise our relationship to water, which is our first environment while living in our mother’s womb, a common experience that connects us all. I was lucky enough to meet Creative Producer Lia Prentaki who specialises in dance for family audiences. Lia introduced me to director/choreographer Georgia Tegou and that’s how the journey began.

What thoughts and ideas went into choosing the soundtrack and how important was it to use some familiar melodies?

XA: Sound played a central role in creating the right atmosphere for Underwater. From the beginning we have discussed with Jeph Vanger, our composer, the idea of using ambient and womb sounds in combination with remixed versions of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ to form the soundscape for Underwater. ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ was chosen as a point of reference because it is a global lullaby, with different verses from countries all over the world. Therefore, it is a tune connected to many people’s babyhoods even if they were born miles apart.

Tell us about any similar projects you’ve worked on in the past?

XA: This is the first time I created something for babies though I have worked as an associate director on productions for CYP Audiences in Greece.

GT: This is the first time I have worked on a project for early years audiences after an invitation by Xenia. My other choreographic work follows a similar aesthetic of embodied visuality, driven by my practice of dance-as-design. It is an expanded approach to choreography which blurs the boundaries of dance and movement with other visual and spatial arts more readily associated with design, highlighting their interdependent relationship. Dance-as-design uses volume, movement, embodied rhythm, textures, the connection to the space, sculptural and architectural mediums to reveal and portray aspects of the human condition, an approach that has also been incorporated into Underwater.

Is this the first time you have worked with Sadler’s Wells and Family Weekend?

XA: Yes, it is the first time and we are very excited about it. Sadler’s Wells is one of the world’s leading dance organisations and we feel honored and privileged to be offered this opportunity to participate in Family Weekend with Underwater.

Congratulations on selling out at your premiere at Watford Palace Theatre in February. What’s the secret to your popularity and your success on stage?

GT: One of the facts that inspired us to make this project is that as parents ourselves we were also seeking out this type of experience. After two years of staying at home, families with babies are welcoming the opportunity to experience something creative together. Underwater is a dance theatre piece that takes our audience through a mesmerising story, with a beginning, middle and end, while layering a variety of sources for sensory stimulation for babies and their grown-ups.

How would you suggest children to get involved in Underwater ideally? How can they get the most out of it? Would this kind of dance theatre appeal to children with special needs?

XA: The piece is made to be viewed from close proximity, we invite the audience to sit close to the action so that the sounds surround them. Each family has different ways of introducing their babies to theatre however, the auditorium is a difficult barrier. Therefore, we invite the whole audience onto the floor on special sensory islands we have created for the show. The gentle multisensory approach makes the work accessible.

What is it about lights, bubbles and sound that engage babies and children do you think?

GT: I think they engage babies, children and adults alike. For me these are elements that take you closer to that little bit of magic, a bit of fairy dust around the space by creating illusions, engaging the senses in a calming way and triggering the imagination. During creation, our research was supported by a baby focus group who took part in a series of sessions and offered feedback on their baby’s experience with ideas and tasks we were trying in rehearsals. This dialogue helped us to develop ideas and sound frequencies that are highly engaging for our baby audience.

Can you tell us about your online workshops for babies and grown-ups that accompany your performance?

XA: This is an idea by Creative Producer, Lia who has over the years delivered many parent and baby activities. The workshops aim to offer the chance to revisit the world of Underwater from the comfort of the home and to explore creative play using the soundtrack and some of the creative devices of the show.

When did you start working as artists? Has being a mother inspired your artistic creations?

XA: I started my career twenty years ago. I have worked extensively in dance, including large-scale projects for the National Theatre of Greece, Athens & Epidaurus Festival & other institutions, mostly for adult audiences. I believe all our lived experiences define us and affect the way we create but mostly in a subconscious way. I guess being a mother has affected me but I am not a different person or a different artist. For me, art is a way to communicate thoughts, ideas, and emotions, and my objective is to do it in the most imaginative, inclusive and powerful way.

GT: I started directing my own choreographic work in 2011, having worked as a dancer before. When we started making Underwater I was a new mother experiencing the incredible moments of the first months of my daughter’s life that strongly informed the work. In many instances, I felt I was making work for her and her friends to enjoy.

Are you working on any other exciting artistic projects at the moment?

XA: Actually, Underwater is the first part of a trilogy for early years and now I am working on developing the script for the second part, Skydiver, again a multisensory experience during which we will be transported up to a fluffy sky. I am also involved as a Dance Dramaturg in REVERIE, an amazing work by Georgia and Michalis Theophanous.

GT: I am restaging REVERIE, a multidisciplinary dance-led work with some exciting collaborations. The piece was previewed in 2020 just before the pandemic started and it is now coming back to life to premiere at Dance Umbrella International Festival and The Lowry in Autumn 2022. I’m also developing a new dance theatre work that uses VR technology and movement aiming to premiere in 2023.

Underwater image by Nikolas Louka.

Books tickets and watch the trailer of Underwater here:

For more information about Sadler’s Wells Family Weekend (15-16 April) click here:

By Julia Nelson who does operations and marketing for Abundant Art.