It got to the point where I wanted to get out of London says Royal Ballet star Gary Avis
- Credit: Archant
Dancer Gary Avis has travelled the world with the Royal Ballet Company, but his favourite adventures come from exploring his home region.
After two decades living in London, Gary Avis needed room to breathe fresh air again. The decision to move back here came not while visiting his home county of Suffolk, but walking his dogs along Norfolk’s Brancaster beach. “We stood and the beach was deserted, it was absolutely heavenly; big open skies, we saw seals in the sea. That was a defining moment, when we suddenly realised we needed to get out of London; there was more to living. So for us, it’s a very special place,” says the Royal Ballet Company’s ballet master and principle character artist, who moved to Gislingham three years ago with partner Tim Holder and their three miniature schnauzers Ella, Louis and Hoagy.
“The convenience (of London) was brilliant but it got to the point where I wanted to get out, have a bit more of a social life. It’s difficult living and working in London; you’re in the same environment whereas you can be home, catch up with friends you’ve grown up with.
“When we were in the Isle of Dogs we just had a balcony to run around in so for the dogs the region’s one big playground. They’re our pride and joy, we do everything with them as you can tell from Twitter,” he laughs. “That was part of the reason we came back because we wanted them to have a better life as well.”
When it came to house-hunting, it was Suffolk or nowhere; especially as Tim’s from there too. They weren’t necessarily sure what they were looking for.
“We came across this amazing property in a village I’d never heard of. It seems strange, if you’re born and bred in this area you feel you know everywhere but I think that’s what’s so wonderful and amazing about the place - it’s vast and still has hidden surprises, treasures you suddenly stumble across,” says Gary, who grew up in Whitton, Ipswich. He had a nice childhood, although has lasting memories of being bullied as a youngster because his hobby, dancing, was different to other people’s.
While he had just one week to help unpack before a month-long tour with the Royal Ballet Company, knowing he was coming home to East Anglia was a wonderful thought.
“It’s weird because I can be at home and yet you can go out on day trips and find extraordinary things and lovely, interesting places to visit that you’d never experienced before so you do feel like you’re constantly exploring and finding. Even though it’s home, it’s still an adventure.”
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“That’s why I think I haven’t ever thought of getting an overnight pied-à-terre in London. I like the thought of getting on the train, passing the M25 on the train and then you exhale because you suddenly think ‘I’m on my way to Suffolk’,”
Gary’s spent his five-week break from work enjoying everything the region has to offer; although fitting everything in is hard.
“We really want to be involved with the village as much as we can... I find that I can do that during the summer but you know it’s really difficult when the season starts at the opera house. One of the great things we’ve been doing this summer is going to the Snape Proms which have been amazing. We went to Aldeburgh and the Jubilee Hall, their summer theatre was wonderful. There is a wealth of talent and performance here.
“Whenever we get the chance we head immediately to the east coast and Aldeburgh is a favourite of ours; Orford, anywhere you can do a dog walk. We also venture up to north Norfolk,” says Gary, who trained with The Co-op Juniors Theatre Company and the Linda Shipton School of Dancing where his talent for ballet was spotted.
He credits the lessons learnt at both as one of the reasons he’s enjoyed such a successful career.
An amateur photographer, Gary won the Facebook cover photo for BBC Suffolk’s first ever Suffolk Day. “The winning view was over my garden fence so it goes to show we chose our perfect spot of Suffolk when we moved home.”
He’ still the same home boy he was as a kid.
“I still find it a bit of a wrench to leave Suffolk. Growing up, I knew I had to if I was going to pursue the career I wanted. I used to get on the train on Sunday nights at Ipswich station, get to Colchester and I’d get off and come home. My parents would be great about it on the understanding I had to be back on the train on Monday morning.
“I was only going to Sidcup in Kent so it’s literally just a hop over the Dartford Bridge, but to me at 16, who hadn’t really travelled much it was a big deal; it seemed like a million miles away.”
Staging the Gary Avis and Friends fundraiser last year with DanceEast and the Suffolk Community Foundation, was an eye opener for Gary to the hardship faced by many in the region.
“I don’t want to throw numbers and statistics at you but one of the big challenges people come up against here is that there are 19,000 children and 25,000 older people living under the poverty line. “It’s difficult to understand and put that into perspective when you know how rich and fruitful this area of the country is.
“You think ‘gosh, if there was more I could do to help’. Whatever I can do to raise awareness and create funds to change that then I’m on board. It’s shocking but hopefully by raising awareness and doing what we do people will benefit.”
Anybody who follows Gary on Twitter will know one of his other bug bears.
“It’s the trains, I find it very difficult that I have to pay such an astronomical amount of money for the pleasure of not only having a train journey but also having a bus journey. I know they’re saying the infrastructure is getting better and I know they’re trying to improve but it’s difficult to understand how and when it’s going to happen.”