Gary Avis brings the Royal Ballet to Suffolk

Gary Avis & Friends, Ipswich Regent, September 11

Gary Avis & Friends, Ipswich Regent, September 11

Magnificient! Ipswich-born Royal Ballet star Gary Avis certainly lived up to his promise and delivered an extraordinary, star-filled ballet spectacular which not only echoed the high points of his own career but delivered a Suffolk-centric record of East Anglia’s own contribution to the work of the nation’s greatest ballet company.

Host Angela Rippon informed the audience that Gary was not the only Suffolk member of the Royal Ballet – that local dance school Linda Shipton School of Dance, which also took part in the performance, has supplied three members of the present Royal ballet company: Gary, Helen Crawford and Liam Scarlett. It’s a feat that no other dance school has matched.

The Suffolk connection does not stop there as Royal Ballet founder and choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton lived in Eye for most of his life and featured heavily in the programme.

Gary Avis promised that there would be more principal dancers from the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet on stage at the Regent than there ever would be for one performance at Covent Garden and he was true to his word.

The tone for the evening was simple elegance. The stage was largely bare, leaving plenty of room for the dancers to move in, with imaginative lighting providing mood and setting.

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Highlights included Gary Avis and rising star Melissa Hamilton’s extracts from Lieder, accompanied by baritone Nigel Cliffe and Kate Shipway from the Royal Opera House, followed in the second half by a dazzling performance of Michael Nyman’s DGV – Danse A Grande Vitesse.

Injury forced a last minute change to the programme and Liam Scarlett was not able to premiere his new work as a choreographer and so he danced the quirky and hugely entertaining Texan Kangagroo Rat from Still Life At The Penguin Cafe.

Angela Rippon revived memories of her appearance on the Morecambe and Wise Show when she danced, with Gary, an excerpt from the Fred Astaire film Bandwagon – while Steven McRae went onto prove that ballet dancers can also be hoofers and delivered a stunning, fast-paced tap dance which had the audience up on their feet.

It was a unique evening pooling the combined talents of The Royal Ballet with the English National Ballet, celebrating the career of an Ipswich-born dancer and raising funds for The Hunger Project. It was a startling performance which also spared a thought for the memory of those who died ten years ago in the World Trade centre. A magical night.

Andrew Clarke

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