An exciting first year but tough times are ahead for DanceEast

It’s been a year of tremendous achievement, of stunning premieres, sneak peaks of works in progress and the day-to-day business of running a dance facility which is open to all. Classes for all ages and abilities, held in state-of-the-art studios, is the back bone of what the Jerwood DanceHouse and DanceEast is all about.

The high profile performances by international dance troupes are the icing on the cake but the real work goes on everyday providing dance classes for the people of Suffolk and spreading the word about dance to the world at large.

There is so much going on, so many projects happening at once, that artistic director Assis Carreiro describes managing their diary as rather akin to patting your head while rubbing your stomach. They having to manage the day-today requirements for 2010, while putting the finishing touches to the 2011 programme while lining up events for 2012.

“Our 2012 diary is already on the go,” she says but she does admit that they are being fairly cautious about bookings at this stage because no-one yet knows about the level of Arts Council funding for that far ahead. “All we can be certain of is that it won’t be as much as we need or as much as it is now.”

It’s worrying times and Assis makes no bones about the fact that belts are being seriously tightened. Four staff have gone from DanceEast through natural wastage and they have only had one-and-half replacements.

“It’s worrying times but we are here now and the DanceHouse really feels like home.

“I am just glad we got in when we did. Raising money for the DanceHouse in the current climate would have been a lot more challenging.”

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November is always a busy time for DanceEast as they host Snape Dances – a showcase event, held on the big stage at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall, where international artists with strong links to DanceEast get to perform their work to Suffolk audiences. Assis is justifiably proud of Snape Dances, which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary, and for some artists this is the only UK performance outside London.

Assis said: “Snape is expensive to stage but I believe it is worth it. It means that you don’t have to travel to London and pay London prices to see some of the very best performers and choreographers in the world. We bring them to Suffolk and provide them with a world-class venue where they can be seen to the best effect.”

This is the other side of the DanceEast’s work, the aspirational side. It provides audiences and would-be professionals with a dance gold-standard. It gives young dancers something to aim for, to aspire to. It helps provide a focus for the youngsters that DanceEast help through their Academy programme.

Snape Dances is programmed with an eye on the work of the many long-term supporters of DanceEast and their associate artists. Both this year’s performers Richard Alston Dance Company and Akram Khan both have a long-lasting relationship with the Suffolk-based dance provider.

This year’s performance by Akram Khan, entitled Vertical Road, on November 19 and 20, was developed and trialed at DanceEast and audiences may have a caught a sneak peak earlier this year when Akram staged a studio performance as a work in development.

“Programming Snape is based on many things. There are certain artists that need to come back, they have built audiences in Suffolk. Also it’s case of what’s available. What’s touring nationally, internationally, but this year we felt that Richard has a huge following locally so it was important to have him back and Akram was here in July developing his new work and I felt it was important to put him on at Snape so everyone can see how it turned out and we will continue to support his talent. He’s coming back in the spring with a new solo work.

“We try and mix British dance with international work. It’s expensive to stage but having said that we have many more seats we can sell at Snape than we do here at the DanceHouse. Snape is a very important part of our programme.”

She said that one of the joys of having the DanceHouse was that they could host residencies for choreographers developing new work and they have quickly built a healthy audience for people wanting to attend works in progress. “Hopefully all those people will come and see the finished piece. They will see it is very, very different and hopefully be intrigued to see how it has developed. I am quite keen to continue supporting artists here in the DanceHouse.

“I was talking to Akram and he said that after taking it from here, he premiered it in Leicester and then onto London and the London performance was totally different from the Leicester production so I am going to be curious to see how different it is again.”

She said that one of the real joys of the DanceHouse and its ability to play host to choreographers with work in development is that local audiences get to help shape works and provide feedback for work that will later be seen across the country or even on a world stage.

“It’s all about involving people in the creative process. Getting feedback from an audience is so valuable for a choreographer. An audience’s reaction itself makes a choreographer think and it gives the dancers a different type of energy.”

Obviously with funding becoming a serious issue Assis says that she is looking at ways of providing performances differently but stressed that they hoped that the Snape Dances showcase would continue. “The original plan was to do four big performances a year – two British and two international. We have already had to scale that back to three but we are looking to redress the balance with performances in the DanceHouse. Next year we have the Sydney Dance Company coming from Australia which is a fantastic coup because they have been taken over by Rafael Bonachela, the Spanish choreographer and they will be presenting a mixed programme of his work and pieces by other choreographers. Then in 2012 we have the Cubans back. We were the first to bring them to the UK and now they’re coming back for a second national tour.

“We are very privileged to be able to attract these acts through the contacts that I have. The Sydney Dance Company is only playing here and in London. Hopefully the rest of the country will go ‘Wow. That’s great we want some of that.’

She said that it was important that these high-flying companies are seen outside London – that Suffolk and East Anglia was recognised as an important cultural centre. “You don’t need to be in a big city to be world class – Aldeburgh has proven that, Glyndebourne has proven that, Hay-on-Wye has proven that and we are looking to take our place on that stage.”

Looking back on this first year, Assis said that it has been a dazzling whirl of highlights and firsts - starting with the opening parade which launched the building in October 2009. “Who could top the sight of 3,000 people dancing through the streets of Ipswich? That was just amazing. You forget now but we were at one point, two years behind schedule and we ended up opening on the day that we said we were going to open.

“There are still snags, the contractors are back in the building this week, fixing things but we got there. I would say I am proud of 99% of all the performances we have brought into the building.

“Butterflies, last year’s Christmas show for young children was amazing. I was so pleased with that because it was something different, something completely magical. I like trying things out, seeing what works and what doesn’t. This year we’ve got that same company back doing The Japanese Garden.

“The other thing I was hugely proud of was the fact that the Royal Opera House asked us to premiere Will Tuckett’s new work Pleasure’s Progress; based on the prints by Georgian social commentator William Hogarth. That was terrific. It was premiered here in Ipswich, at the DanceHouse before going into The Royal Opera House.

“It all about establishing partnerships with people like The Royal Opera House, Dance Umbrella, Sadler’s Wells and Aldeburgh, so we can bring world-class performances to Suffolk.”

She added that as well as developing partnerships with organisations DanceEast have worked hard at developing good relationships with performers on a individual basis. They are encouraged to regard the Jerwood DanceHouse as a safe haven where they can work quietly out of the spotlight to develop and rehearse new work before it is launched into the world spotlight.

They have long-list of associate artists who have a long-term relationship with DanceEast and offer classes and education work with local schools in return for their room and board.

“It isn’t a case of their here for two months and they’re gone. These are artists with a long-term interest in DanceEast and the DanceHouse. We have wonderful relationships with people like Akram Khan, the multimedia choreographer Heather Eddington, Darren Ellis and just a few weeks ago we invited Cameron McMillan to become an associate artist. His And Then You Were Gone was originally created for a Rambert Dance Company workshop and was specifically re-worked for the Platform East showcase held at the DanceHouse. “Cameron has also worked alongside the DanceEast Academy in collaboration with Aldeburgh Young Musicians, for the Sound Moves Music and Dance festival at the Royal Festival Hall.”

The relationship with Wayne McGregor and Random Dance goes back to the days when the Royal Ballet choreographer was a recent graduate and looking to establish himself and Suffolk Dance, DanceEast’s predecessor, took him under their wing.

Assis said that the presence of such high-profile artists in the building added a buzz to the normal everyday life of the DanceHouse and provided people who attended classes, people of all ages, with opportunities to see or have conversations with top flight professionals in the cafe or travelling between studios. “It’s about meeting people as part of your day, talking together, making connections that is what it is all about. It makes the building come alive.”

It’s also about providing professional training as Suffolk New College, UCS and DanceEast’s own academy programme uses the studios for classes. They all benefit from having some of the best artists in the dance world having a professional and an emotional involvement in DanceEast.

However, the future is going to be a challenge. Money is tight for all and the arts is having to compete for a diminishing slice of people’s leisure money. Assis doesn’t shy away from the fact that the future is uncertain. “I wrote a business plan in April which I am currently in the process of rewriting. We are having to re-apply to the Arts Council for funding. There are some aspects that we definitely want to keep like the community programme in this building. We are reviewing how we work in the districts because we have some fantastic projects like Boys in Babergh. We are going to focus more on ten and 11 year olds, projects that link in with the Academy and our work in hospitals.”

She said that at the end of the day what was exciting was seeing 600 people come to classes every week. “The DanceHouse is a community building. It’s about making the DanceHouse part of the fabric of people’s lives.”

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