The perfect birthday present

DanceEast has taken possession of the tallest building in Suffolk which will not only form their new headquarters but will also provide new state-of-art dance facilities for East Anglia.

Andrew Clarke

DanceEast has taken possession of the tallest building in Suffolk which will not only form their new headquarters but will also provide new state-of-art dance facilities for East Anglia. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke accompanied dance director Assis Carreiro on a tour of the new building.

It's been a long wait but DanceEast have taken possession of the DanceHouse building and are now in the process of fitting out the performance areas, dressing rooms, rehearsal studios and office space.

The DanceHouse, the new £8.9 million performance space and headquarters for dance in the region will be open in September 2009. It will be a focus for dance in the region - providing facilities for performance, rehearsal, education and community projects.

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DanceEast artistic director Assis Carreiro said that the opening of the DanceHouse was the perfect way to mark the organisation's 25th birthday.

DanceEast, which was founded as Suffolk Dance in 1983, has had a number of homes over the years but has largely been associated with Northgate Arts Centre, where many of the classes are held.

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From next year the classes will be transferred to the new purpose built facility down on the Ipswich Waterfront. The DanceHouse will also be a place where associate artists and companies can develop new work and preview them to Suffolk audiences before taking them out to London or on tour to the rest of the country.

The DanceHouse, part of the 234 foot tall The Mill, will be one of the key production facilities in the country. DanceEast already has a long association with choreographer Wayne McGregor and his company Random Dance.

They also have struck up an important relationship with multi-media dance innovators Isobel Cohen and Heather Eddington. These leading industry figures will be based at the DanceHouse helping to make Suffolk one of the nation's leading centres for dance.

Assis has also announced that the new venue will be named The Jerwood DanceHouse in recognition of the substantial donation that the Jerwood Institute has made towards the project.

Suffolk-based West End star - actress, singer and dancer Ruthie Henshall is the campaign champion tasked with leading the final push to secure the final £500,000 of The Red Shoe Appeal which will be used to put the finishing touches to the building, making sure that the facilities are the finest in the country.

Assis said: “Through the generosity of so many people, businesses, foundations and trusts we have raised over £8 million so far and we just have a final £500,000 to go. We need that money to equip the DanceHouse to the standards expected of a state-of-the art facility.

“The DanceHouse will put Ipswich and Suffolk on the map nationally and internationally and will attract talented young dancers from right across the East of England - people who want to make dance their career.”

But, she stressed that the DanceHouse wasn't just for the professionals but also for community use - to be used and enjoyed by people from all walks of life and all standards who just want to come together for enjoyment or exercise.

The idea that the DanceHouse will be a meeting place for like-minded souls - or just the curious - will be encouraged by the presence of a healthy-eating coffee bar which should tempt potential dancers and audiences down to The Waterfront.

Conducting a tour of the shell of the building starts off at the location of the bar which, for many people will be there first introduction into the DanceHouse. “We hope that this is will be a meeting place for people. It will sell, coffee, sandwiches, healthy food. It will service not only the Dancehouse but will hopefully attract people who don't have any special interest in dance or perhaps are intrigued by what we do and are a little bit nervous and it will be a welcoming introduction.

“You can sit upstairs and work on your laptop, or you can meet friends and sit and talk, mums can come in with strollers. It will be a very welcoming place and we will have posters up telling everyone what we are doing.”

From the coffee shop visitors will be able to access the main building. The main entrance foyer will be open and spacious, floor to ceiling windows will offer an unrivalled view of the Wet Dock and the Neptune Marina. The foyer will also feature a host of plasma television screens which will feature information about forthcoming classes, workshops and performances as well as footage of work from resident and touring companies.

Box office and reception will be based in the foyer, so people can book and get information on classes and upcoming performances. Assis added that a dancewear shop will also be based in the ground floor foyer to supply all the various needs of dancers - including specialist, hard to find, items.

Beyond the reception area there will be an impressive, giant staircase which will take visitors upstairs into rehearsal studios and to DanceEast offices. In the shadow of the main stairs will be the main performance studio -fronted with glass and with a bar for interval drinks during performances. Walls will be decorated with eye-catching dance posters creating a lively and eclectic atmosphere.

“The one thing you will notice when we come to the main studio theatre and the rehearsal studios upstairs is that we are creating rooms within rooms, so that they are acoustically sealed and we will not be disturbing the residents in the apartments either upstairs or next door,” she then adds with a nervous laugh: “What we do not want is complaints about the noise or we will have to buy those apartments.”

Running along the outside of the studio theatre will be a specially commissioned s-shaped wooden seat for audiences to sit on the evenings and for children to clamber over during the day. “The idea is to have lots of those brightly coloured bean bags to sit on, high metal round tables, which you can cover up if necessary - so the space has a different feel to it depending on what we are doing.”

The main performance studio will be 16 by 20 metres and will have retractable seating for 200 audience members. If the seats are out then the performance space will be 12 by 12 metres. Because of the versatility of the seating, companies can set out the audience in any way they wish. Audiences can also access the theatre from above and look down on the dancers, thanks to the balcony and high ceiling. The height of the studio mean that DanceEast occupies two floors spread over four storeys.

“It really is a place to make work, to talk to your audience, to preview it, premiere it and then tour it. It's about giving people the precious time they need to develop new work. It will have a beautiful, sprung wooden floor and that will be mirrored in the walls which will have wood panelling.”

Dressing rooms and changing rooms, as well as an extensive scenery dock and floor to ceiling get-in doors are situated at the rear of the studio. The sound-proof doors open onto a courtyard which will allow lorries to drive up the building and deliver scenery and props right to the back of the performance space.

The DanceHouse will also house state-of-the-art lighting and digital sound systems which will be kept permanently in the studios, and will therefore reduce hire costs.

Also on the ground floor there will be the Well Being studio which will house yoga and pilates classes which faces out onto College Street and like all the rooms will have lots of natural light coming into the room.

Upstairs the mezzanine level is again flooded with natural light thanks to the large windows. There are a number of changing rooms and a second pilates studio with pilates machines behind the balcony to the main studio.

Looking out of the pilates studio window is the courtyard and will be used for projecting images at night. During the day it will be a sun trap and will reflect soft light into the DanceEast building. Assis said that they liaised with architects to lay out the building so that dancers and class members were not subjected to either overlooking from neighbours or from harsh sunlight while still giving the building a light airy feel.

There is also going to be a dedicated ballet studio, again largely lit by natural light which is to be called the Sir Frederick Ashton studio in honour of the Royal Ballet director who lived for many years at Eye in Suffolk.

Hanging over the stairwell will be a specially commissioned sculpture by Stuart Haygarth. “It will be a specially designed, site-specific sculpture which will attract a lot of attention,” said Assis. “We're not going to say anything more at this stage. We have seen some designs and some models and it will be a dramatic feature in the DanceHouse.”

The only clue has been offered by the artist who has described the commission as being rather like a giant chandelier, composed out of materials relating to the site.

Nestling alongside the DanceEast offices will be studio two which will be 16 by 20 metres and can be divided into two spaces by retractable soundproof doors. The floor will have a sprung dance floor but will also have a hard lino covering which will allow them to do flamenco and tap work which they are currently unable to do.

Inside the DanceEast offices will be a major dance library which will be available to dancers, choreographers and the general public where they can carry out research, with newspapers, books and magazines or watch DVDs and videos of performances.

She said that although the DanceHouse will be the focus of dance in Suffolk, Assis said that they will continue outreach and community work and staging their annual Snape Dances performances in conjunction with Aldeburgh Music.

The DanceHouse will also be home to the DanceEast Academy, one of six national, government-funded centres providing young dancers, aged 10-18, with non-residential advanced training in dance.

Assis said: “The DanceHouse will increase the ambition and aspiration of our young people. It will create a hub for arts and leisure in Ipswich and Suffolk in general and will be open and available for people of all ages and abilities.

The Jerwood DanceHouse will be opening in September 2009.

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