Music legend embraces the world of dance to stage Waterfront premiere

Joss Arnott teaming up with percussionist Dane Evelyn Glennie to create a new dance work to celebrat

Joss Arnott teaming up with percussionist Dane Evelyn Glennie to create a new dance work to celebrate her 50th birthday - Credit: Archant

DanceEast will be playing host to two world premieres and launching Dame Evelyn Glennie’s 50th birthday celebrations. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to the two choreographers hoping to make a splash on the Ipswich Waterfront

Evelyn Glennie

Evelyn Glennie - Credit: Contributed

Internationally celebrated choreographers, world-class dancers and one of the nation’s most treasured musicians will all be busily creating new work on the Ipswich Waterfront during the next fortnight.

DanceEast is playing host to young British choreographer and rising dance star Joss Arnott who has teamed up with composer and virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie to celebrate her 50th birthday with a show called 5/0 and then a week later the DanceHouse will be hosting the world premiere of Akram Khan’s family friendly dance spectacular Chotto Desh.

DanceEast artistic director Brendan Keaney said: “It’s a quite astonishing autumn season, if I say so myself.

“It was a case of the stars aligning really. We are always having lots of on-going conversations with various companies and it came about that we had the opportunity to showcase three new pieces which were being readied for production at roughly the same time, so we thought that we would make space in our programme and make a feature out of it.”

Chotto Desh, Akram Khan. Photo Richard Haughton

Chotto Desh, Akram Khan. Photo Richard Haughton - Credit: Archant


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Speaking at rehearsals in Ipswich, Joss Arnott said that his long relationship with DanceEast and the superb facilities offered by the purpose-built waterfront DanceHouse was a major factor in deciding to premiere his new work in the town.

“I have been working with DanceEast for the last two years. Each Easter they have intensive training courses and they ask choreographers to create work on their scheme students, so I have been lucky enough to work with some very talented young dancers for the past two years.”

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Joss said that working with Evelyn Glennie was the realisation of a long held dream. As an A-level student, he had choreographed a piece to some of her music and hoped that one day they may collaborate on a project without ever really expecting it would come true.

“This was our anniversary year and I wanted to do something special. I have always worked with composer James Keane, who has always written original scores for our work, and we were talking about who we would like to work with, we both came up with Evelyn.

Chotto Desh, a new family dance show all about the meaning and importance of Home, choreographed by

Chotto Desh, a new family dance show all about the meaning and importance of Home, choreographed by Akram Kahn and performed by Moko Dance. - Credit: Richard Haughton

“At first I thought, ‘nah, we’d be pushing above our weight, it’s never going to happen’ but then I realised: ‘If you don’t ask, you’ll never know...”

An email to Glennie’s management company brought a swift invitation for a meeting and within minutes it was clear that the pair got on very well.

Their creative friendship was cemented by that fact that Arnott likes using bold, percussive music to emphasise the strength and grace of what he refers to as his alpha female dancers.

Joss said that the number 5 plays a big part in the evening. “It is our fifth birthday as a company and it is Evelyn’s 50th, so we are holding a joint celebration.

He’s delighted that in addition to writing the score for the new work Wide Awakening, Evelyn will be playing for every night of the tour. “I’m hoping that Dame Evelyn will help us attract a wider, more diverse audience. I am hoping we can introduce a music audience to dance and a dance audience to new music.”

So what will this new music sound like? “Big loud drums, a lot of very delicate metal and some very beautiful marimba,” laughs Arnott. The inspiration for the music comes from his choreography, “which tends to be very powerful, very physical and quite physically extreme, so it’s choreography that can withstand very powerful music. The music is about rhythm, drive and complexity,” he adds. “And it’s about space – there has to be space, because the first ten minutes will hopefully make their brains melt.”

In addition to the new piece, Wide Awakening, Joss will be reviving two favourite pieces from the company repertoire – 24: A quartet inspired by the themes and concepts within the Alexander McQueen exhibition Savage Beauty, exploring ethereal and animalistic qualities through fragility and severity and V: A technical and emotive solo that explores the rare and contorted beauty our bodies have to offer.

Joss works exclusively with female dancers and the evening will conclude with Wide Awakening which he says will be “explosive” and filled with “electric energy”.

“It is masterclass of technique coupled with a heart-pounding frenzy that takes the dancers to the brink of exhaustion.

“Wide Awakening is definitely a conversation and collaboration of artforms; as the musical and choreographic elements were created together, responding to each other to create a truly one-off experience.

“I have always worked in collaboration with the dancers and for this particular work I want to portray a modern and athletic sense of power through adrenaline-fuelled movement.”

5/0 by Joss Arnott Dance and Dame Evelyn Glennie is at the Jerwood DanceHouse on Ipswich Waterfront on October 16.

Akram Kahn on developing a new work about home

Akram Kahn has long been one of Britain’s leading contemporary dance choreographers but gained a more widespread fame when he and his work was featured in the Olympic opening ceremony in 2012.

Born in Wimbledon, he began dancing and trained in the classical South Asian dance form of Kathak at the age of seven. He began his stage career at the age of 13, when he was cast in Peter Brook’s Shakespeare Company production of Mahabharata, touring the world from 1987-89 and appearing in the televised version of the play broadcast in 1988.

After studying contemporary dance he started presenting his own solo work in the 1990s before founding his own company in August 2000. His associations with Ipswich and DanceEast date from the early 2000s developing work in the town as well as staging performances and running workshops.

In summer 2006, Khan was invited by Kylie Minogue to choreograph a section of her Showgirl concert. Khan appeared as a huge projection behind the singer as she performed while in 2008, he co-starred with Juliette Binoche in a dance-drama piece called in-i at the Royal National Theatre, London.

His latest work Chotto Desh, meaning small homeland, draws on Khan’s ability to develop a unique style of cross-cultural storytelling, creating a compelling tale of a young man’s dreams and memories from Britain to Bangladesh. Using a mix of dance, text, visuals and sound, Chotto Desh celebrates the resilience of the human spirit in the modern world and promises to be a magical, thrilling and poignant dance theatre experience for families to enjoy together.

I had an emailed conversation with Akram about the development of Chotto Desh, here are his replies:

Q: Is Desh much changed in this new adaptation?

A: Chotto Desh is inspired by the original DESH and Sue Buckmaster of Theatre-Rites is creating the adaptation. With her focus and the new cast, the dramaturgy has shifted to the universal story of a young man with mixed heritage growing up in Britain. The performers are re-imagining a story that is very personal to me, unfolding their own heritage and narrative into the mix.

Q: Were there aspects of the original performance that you were determined to keep or was it a case of starting again from scratch?

A: There are scenes in DESH that are essential to the narrative and also perfect for young and family audiences. The animation scene is enchanting, the cook scene where I paint a man’s face on my head, the teenager practising dance styles in his bedroom all remain in Chotto Desh. There are new scenes emerging, which I hope will directly connect to young people.

Q: What was it about Desh that drew you to creating a show for families?

A: Since creating DESH I have had two children and although they are too young to see Chotto Desh, I began thinking about the kind of early life experiences I would like to share with them and other children. DESH is a very human piece full of magic and storytelling so I could see a way to extend the life of the piece and reach a new audience.

Q: How is Chotto Desh different from Desh? Is it a variation on a theme or is it a very different piece?

A: Chotto Desh has been developed and re imagined by director Sue Buckmaster and we have also talked to children about the themes of the piece in order to understand what they may want to see on stage. For example, what are their dreams; what do they argue with their parents about? So there will be many recognisable elements of DESH within the adaptation but a shift in the dramaturgy and focus of the storytelling. We also wanted to create a more intimate piece and be closer to the audience. In terms of duration the piece is now 50 minutes rather than an hour and 20 minutes so we had to carefully consider which scenes are essential to the story.

Q: Is it important that dance embraces audiences of different ages? Presumably a family show can trigger a deeper, perhaps darker conversation, than a straight-forward children’s show because older families members are present to discuss themes?

A: Dance for young audiences has developed greatly over the last few years with some wonderful collaborations between choreographers and directors but I think like any performance there should be an instant gut reaction to a piece and children will do that immediately for good and for bad. Hopefully images and questions drift out of the theatre space between parents, carers and children too but it is that honest first reaction which I find exciting.

I would like to think that taking children to see performance provides inspiration, creativity and a more varied view of the world. The more reference points a child has the more they may be able to empathise with the wider world.

Chotto Desh will be different from the family productions that I have seen to date. There are some themes in the piece that are very pertinent to young people growing up in a multi-cultural Britain as well as the more playful elements.

Chotto Desh by Akram Kahn and Moko Dance is at the Jerwood DanceHouse on October 23 and then December 16-20.

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