Private Viewing: Cultural Suffolk relishes its new international reputation

Italian physical theatre company Teatro Kismet performed the classic tale The Snow Queen at the New

Italian physical theatre company Teatro Kismet performed the classic tale The Snow Queen at the New Wolsey and Bury Theatre Royal. Part of Suffolk's international cultural provision. - Credit: Vito Mastrolonardo

Suffolk culture has an increasing presence on the world stage. Arts editor Andrew Clarke applauds our ambition

Suffolk’s cultural standing on the national stage is now recognised, but what is not so well known is the fact that the county has a growing international reputation. Aldeburgh Music has long been recognised as a European Centre of Excellence, but a new report from the Suffolk Arts and Heritage Group has uncovered that Suffolk’s international influence extends far beyond the reed beds at Snape.

Talking to arts organisations based in the county has revealed that Suffolk-made culture is enjoyed around the world and has an impact on audiences from Brazil to Bejing.

Not only is work made in Suffolk going out into the world, the world is coming to Suffolk. Rachel Tarkenter, of DanceEast, said: “This week DanceEast welcomes 21 young people, aged 17–21 years, to Ipswich, from around the world for its first ever Young Rural Retreat. “Based at the Jerwood DanceHouse, each of the young people has been identified by a director or tutor as having the potential to become a young leader in the future.

“Since 2003, DanceEast has been producing international Rural Retreats for established and aspiring artistic leaders in dance. Retreats provide a short, intensive experience that includes opportunities to hear from leaders in the world of business, sport and the arts, to discuss issues and concerns, and to build networks and connections with peers from around the world. Both think-tanks and learning opportunities, Rural Retreats are a unique gathering of leaders from across the global dance community.”


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DanceEast also has an established reputation for inviting international choreographers to create new work and premiere it to Suffolk audiences before it goes out either on tour or to London and the world’s capitals and cultural centres. Dance and theatre has long welcomed international companies and presented local audiences with the opportunity to see the very best in global talent. International physical theatre troupes like Teatro Kismet have perform regularly at the New Wolsey and Bury Theatre Royal.

Ipswich-based physical theatre company Gecko creates work in Suffolk at the Jerwood DanceHouse, previews it here before taking it out into the world. Its latest work, The Wedding, formed part of the New Wolsey’s Pulse festival this year.

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Artistic director Amit Lahav said: “Gecko Theatre Company carry on entertaining audiences globally and are currently developing work in China on its first international collaboration with Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre. The physical theatre company, based in Ipswich, will have given 48 international performances between 2015-16 in Kazakhstan, Malaysia, South Korea, China, Georgia, Australia and Mexico. To date, 13,185 people have seen a Gecko show internationally.”

The Aldeburgh Festival and Aldeburgh Music’s Britten-Pears school for advanced training has long provided a creative home for international artists, but the rise of the Aldeburgh Young Musicians Scheme and the Aldeburgh World Orchestra has offered increased opportunities for musicians and composers to take advantage of the area’s creative resources.

But, it’s not just performers who benefit from Suffolk’s increased international profile. Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury has a thriving international reputation and close links with art organisations around the world. Mark Bills, curator of the collection, said: “We continue to work abroad with artworks from our collection on display in Enschede, Netherlands. The paintings by Suffolk-born Thomas Gainsborough were sent to Holland in an exchange of artwork with Dutch museum Rijksmuseum Twenthe. Ipswich Museum also lent three Gainsboroughs from their own collections to be displayed. In return they sent nine Dutch Golden Age landscape paintings to Sudbury, which were seen by 7,660 visitors over the early summer period this year.”

Even smaller arts events are enjoying bringing the world to Suffolk. This year the Felixstowe Book Festival hosted writers from Poland and Brazil while the first BooksEast Festival in May had authors fly in especially from Valencia to speak in Ipswich.

International links are vital, even in a post-Brexit world. New statistics from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport show cultural sector service exports grew by 14% to reach £5.4billion last year. It makes sense financially, as well as culturally. Suffolk has a lot to be proud of.

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