Stepping forward - DanceEast brings back live performances

Botis Seva’s BLKDOG, performed by Far From the Norm, opens DanceEast's autumn programme in Ipswich

Botis Seva’s BLKDOG, performed by his company Far From the Norm, opens DanceEast's autumn programme at the Jerwood DanceHouse in Ipswich - Credit: Camilla Greenwell

After more than a year without live shows, DanceEast is back - and all set for an exciting autumn season at the Jerwood DanceHouse Studio Theatre in Ipswich.

Artistic director and chief executive Brendan Keaney said: "It's very exciting, but a little bit daunting as well. There is a wonderful sense of excitement, together with a bit of caution." 

Brendan Keaney DanceEast chief executive outside the Jerwood DanceHousein Ipswich

Brendan Keaney, DanceEast chief executive, is looking forward to the autumn season - Credit: Charlotte Bond

He said they had been getting encouraging comments from supporters, and bookings were going well so far, but stressed that it is early days.

"There is a demand out there from people who want to come back, but there is an element of uncertainty. We are also very aware that other companies across the country are experiencing staff members being pinged."

The whole world of dance has been hard hit by Covid, along with the rest of theatre. As performances return,  to ensure things go as smoothly as possible and that the audience feels safe, DanceEast has Covid-19 safety measures in place, including regular testing of staff and maintaining a level of social distancing,  

Brendan, who was made an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list this year, said people were very excited about the first live shows after such a long closure, and the chance to see leading dancers.

"We have a fantastic line-up of artists - they are among the best in the world."

He said leading dancers loved performing within the Jerwood DanceHouse, which is very different from some of the larger venues they are used to, such as Sadler's Wells.

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"They really like coming here. It's a very intimate setting, but it's a big playing space." He added it was incredibly well designed, so that everybody in the audience could get a good view.

But it's not just the physical space which draws dancers to the Waterfront. "They also love the Ipswich audience, which has a really good reputation."  

All the artists and companies in the autumn season have performed at the DanceHouse before. Some are returning with crowd favourites, while others will be presenting new works.

Botis Seva’s BLKDOG, performed by his company Far From the Norm, is returning to the Jerwood DanceHouse in Ipswich

Botis Seva’s BLKDOG, performed by his company Far From the Norm, is returning to the Jerwood DanceHouse in Ipswich - Credit: Camilla Greenwell

The curtain will rise on September 17-18 with Botis Seva’s BLKDOG, performed by his powerhouse company Far From the Norm. A blend of hip hop dance and free form antics, it explores the inner battlefield of an ageing artist trying to retain his youth.

The work was the last sold-out performance before the DanceHouse closed due to lockdown in 2020, and now it is back for the reopening.

Brendan said: "Botis Seva is one of the most talked-about choreographers in the country at the moment."

The original version of BLKDOG, which was staged at Sadler's Wells, won the award for Best New Dance Production at the Olivier Awards in 2019.

Although the version being staged within the DanceHouse is not the same as the one which won the Oliver, Brendan said it has the same energy and is "a little bit edgy".

Choreographer Didy Veldman's company, Humanoove, will perform their new work @Home at the Jerwood DanceHouse 

Choreographer Didy Veldman's company, Humanoove, will perform their new work @Home at the Jerwood DanceHouse - Credit: Chris Nash

Another highlight of the new season is a performance created by choreographer Didy Veldman. Her company, Humanoove, will perform their new work @Home on September 24.

This production looks at what being "at home" actually means, an idea which has a stronger poignancy after the past year.

Former DanceEast associate artist Alexander Whitley, who is a New Wave associate at Sadler's Wells, will perform Anti-Body on October 8, a work which explores the biological form of the human body and the technological drive to transcend it.

Then, as part of SPILL Festival, DanceEast will present Gone, Gone Beyond on October 27, an immersive audio-visual spatial cinema work by People Like Us.

Political Mother Unplugged performed by Shechter II, Hofesh Shechter’s apprentice company

Political Mother Unplugged performed by Shechter II, Hofesh Shechter’s apprentice company - Credit: Agathe Poupeney

And, from November 25 to 27, Shechter II, Hofesh Shechter’s renowned apprentice company, will perform the acclaimed Political Mother Unplugged.

Tickets  will also soon be released for DanceEast’s Christmas show, Pinocchio by Jasmin Vardimon Company.

The DanceEast programme of dance classes and workshops is currently limited because of Covid-19 and social distancing.

However, some dancing for young people has been resumed, and DanceEast's Centre for Advanced Training, which trains young people aged from 10 to 18, ran a session at Christchurch Park in Ipswich last weekend.

"It was inspiring  to see them coming out and taking part in the session,  after the circumstances they have had to work in," Brendan said.

During the long period when live dancing was impossible because of lockdown, DanceEast has moved a whole range of classes online, teaching everything from ballet to hip hop and contemporary dance via Zoom.

This was helped by a £60,000 grant from the Jerwood Foundation in December to create a new digital suite, helping to put DanceEast at the centre of digital dance innovation.

"At the beginning, we decided to concentrate on what we could do, rather than what we couldn't, and I think we have managed to stay incredibly positive," Brendan said.

To book tickets for DanceEast, visit the website.

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