Glamour gig for Gary

Suffolk star of the Royal Ballet Gary Avis will be putting on the ritz, tap shoes - and more besides - when he sings and dances alongside Katherine Jenkins and Darcey Bussell in their new Viva La Diva tour.

Lynne Mortimer

Suffolk star of the Royal Ballet Gary Avis will be putting on the ritz, tap shoes - and more besides - when he sings and dances alongside Katherine Jenkins and Darcey Bussell in their new Viva La Diva tour. Lynne Mortimer reports

ONE of the biggest success stories of the last year has been the all-singing, all-dancing partnership of Darcey Bussell and Katherine Jenkins in their Viva la Diva tour.

Now they are on tour again, visiting some of the biggest arenas in the country, and this time Ipswich-born dancer Gary Avis is to join them as a guest star.

Gary, who has partnered Darcey Bussell many times, most recently in her farewell performance at the Royal Opera House, will be on stage with the ballerina and the dazzling mezzo soprano - who last week appeared at 83 in FHM's list of the world's sexiest women - from tonight as the tour gets underway in Newcastle.

Gary, who recently added Assistant Ballet Master to his Principal Dancer status with the Royal Ballet, is keen to stress that he is not giving up his ballet career, but is just taking a short break to go on stage with Bussell and Jenkins - the envy of surely thousands of men who would give their eye teeth to get anywhere near, let alone dance alongside this stunning pair of performers..

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Speaking from London, where he is currently dashing between performances as the King and French Prince in Sleeping Beauty at The Royal Opera House and rehearsals for the show, Gary says: “I am thrilled to be on stage with Darcey again. Rehearsals have been full on but loads of fun and I can't wait to finally get out on to the massive arena stage with 'the divas'.

“Of course, the world of ballet is where I've made my mark, but in this show I'm performing just about every style of dance imaginable - one minute I'm Fred Astaire to Darcey's Cyd Charisse, the next we are dancing a steamy flamenco. There is a newly commissioned ballet tribute to the Red Shoes made famous by Moira Shearer and Robert Helpmann and, in tribute to the Royal Ballet heritage, there is also an extract from Sir Kenneth Macmillan's Elite Syncopations with music by Scott Joplin.''

“It's especially fantastic to get the chance to use my musical theatre training too, I even sing a little which is daunting enough when you standing next to Katherine but really scary when you are being watched and listened to in rehearsals by Take That's Gary Barlow,” (who wrote the song 'Viva Tonight' especially for the show.)

The nine-date tour ends on May 14 in Manchester with two sell out nights in front of 16,000 fans at the O2 Arena in London on May 10 and 11, where the show is being filmed for DVD release later on in the year.

Gary Avis is one of the world's leading dancers and yet he regularly returns to Ipswich to help with the choreography for the Co-op Juniors annual Christmas Spectacular - the troupe with whom he first danced on stage.

He says: "It gives me a huge kick to help youngsters developing their dance skills and I really want to see the next generation of Juniors right up there with the top ballet and musical theatre talent of the future. I'm really looking forward to working on the next Christmas show which will start rehearsals later on this summer. The show just keeps on growing and breaking box office records every year, but best of all, it is a great experience for the fabulous young cast.''

Gary is also very quick to acknowledge the part that highly-respected Ipswich dance teacher Linda Shipton played in helping him make it in the competitive world of dancing. ''I owe so much to Linda, she is a great teacher and I'm really sorry that her school has faced some really tough challenges in recent times, particularly when she lost her town centre premises in Bolton Lane. With all the investment that Ipswich has made to create a custom built dance performance space, I really feel strongly that it should not be forgotten that this particular dance school has been one of the most successful schools in the world in producing professional dancers, three of whom are currently dancing with the Royal Ballet, an amazing achievement.

“It is a huge relief to know that Linda has now found a home at Copleston High School in Ipswich, but I hope she will get the official support she deserves to ensure her school continues to go from strength to strength.”

As for the future, well as soon as Viva La Diva ends Gary will return to The Royal Ballet to perform one of his favourite roles of all time, Tybalt in Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. Then it's straight on with a Royal Ballet tour of the Far East taking in Shanghai, Japan, Hong Kong and Beijing. And it doesn't stop there. In passing Gary says there is something “very very exciting'' planned after that but won't be drawn. “I'll tell you more as soon as I can,” he says.

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