Remembering a true champion for regional dance

SUFFOLK-BASED DanceEast is celebrating the first anniversary of the opening of the Jerwood DanceHouse next month with a star-studded gala featuring some of the best performers drawn from dance companies from across the world.

The gala will also be the occasion where the regional dance agency pays tribute to its former chairman and DanceHouse champion James Hehir. The former chief executive of Ipswich Borough Council played a pivotal role in turning the dream of a dedicated dance space on the Waterfront into a reality.

Artistic director Assis Carreiro said that DanceEast will commemorate Mr Hehir’s memory by dedicating their state-of-the art, studio dance theatre to him.

“We wanted to honour James Hehir and we asked the family what they felt was appropriate and we were very proud that they wanted us to name the studio theatre after him. He was so important to us and I was just so glad he was there for the official opening but he never got to see us working in the building but now he will be remembered in the dance theatre.”

The first people to perform in the newly-dedicated dance theatre will be some of the world’s top dancers performing both new works never seen before as well as classic pieces.


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Headlining the event will be dazzling, world-renowned Cuban dance troupe Havana Rakatan who will be providing a sneak preview of their national tour at the gala. “They were planning to start their tour in Sheffield but they agreed to arrive in Britain a couple of days early to do the second half of our gala.

“It’ll be very colourful, very lively and because of our links with Cuba, it’s the perfect act to commemorate our first 12 months in the DanceHouse.”

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She said that although they have toured Britain before they have never been seen outside London and the major cities, it should be seen as a major coup for Ipswich.

They will be sharing the evening with a host of leading names from the world of dance. “Ernst Meisner who had a placement with us when he was with the The Royal Ballet, is now with the Dutch National Ballet and I invited him to come up with an evening of dance. He has come up with two pieces, one for dancers from the Royal Ballet and one for dancers from The English National Ballet. Then Slava Samodurov, a Russian who used to dance with the Royal Ballet, is mounting two duets one he did for the Bolsoi and one for two principal dancers for The Royal Ballet ? Edward Watson and Mara Galeazzi.

“Then if that wasn’t enough we have a new piece by French choreographer Patrick Delcroix which I am told is absolutely brilliant and will bring down the house. That will be danced by Tom Whitehead of The Royal Ballet and Ernst Meisner and will be more of a contemporary piece.”

The DanceEast First Anniversary Gala is to be held at the Jerwood DanceHouse on September 25. She said it will present local audiences with a wide range of dance and will demonstrate the top quality work commissioned by and received by DanceEast. She added that the evening will also serve as a launch pad for a packed autumn programme which sees a host of leading names from the world dance performing in Suffolk.

She said that one of the joys of DanceEast having a space like the danceHouse was that they could invite associate artists to develop new work in Ipswich, try it out on local audiences, getting knowledgable feedback from people, before taking it out and presenting the finished work to the rest of the world.

One of the ways that new works are showcased is via Platform East which returns this year after being put aside last year because of the demands of the move to the Waterfront. Three choreographers are putting works in development before an audience at this event Tim Blowfield, Darren Ellis and Heather Eddington.

Tim Blowfield’s piece Left explores the feelings of loss when someone is bereaved. While Darren Ellis has come up with a new work called Little Instruments of Apprehension which Assis described as a song and dance for a pair ? a doctor and patient, a bully and victim or a pop star and their public. Long-time associate artist Heather Eddington will be showcasing a finished version of her work Forgetting Natasha which was developed at Ipswich, the poetic story of one woman’s battle with dementia. The final work of the evening will be Cameron McMillan’s And Then You Were Gone which is a physically demanding and emotionally charged meeting between two strangers. The piece has been extensively reworked for Platform East and features the explosive percussion provided by Japanese Taiko drums. Platform East is at Jerwood DanceHouse on October 8-9.

If Platform East is about work in progress then Snape Dances in November is about providing a Suffolk showcase for the very best in international dance. This year Snape Dance is welcoming back two long-standing DanceEast supporters: The Richard Alston Dance Company and the Akram Khan Company.

Assis said: “We have these guys for an entire month which are very excited about. Akram Khan developed his new work with us, so it will be really special to see how that has turned out.

Richard Alston will be interpreting a diverse selection of music during his evening. Music has always played a major role in his work and he will be unveiled three new pieces for us. Even More which is driven by Prokofiev’s sixth piano sonata; Shuffle It Right which is a light, good humoured piece set to Hoagy Carmichael’s Riverboat Shuffle among others and finally Movements From Petrushka reworks images from Ballet Petrushka to mark the recent centenary of the Ballet Russes.”

The Richard Alston Dance Company is performing at The Snape Maltings Concert Hall on November 5/6. The Akram Khan Company will be performing their new show Vertical Road at Snape on November 19/20.

“Akram developed this piece at the DanceHouse over the summer and it brings together a world-class cast of dancers from across Asia, Europe and the Middle-East who will be performing to a specially commissioned score by Akram’s long-term collaborator Nitin Sawhney.

“This show is centred on the universal myth of angels to symbolise ascension - the vertical road between the earthly and the spiritual. The work is an opportunity to see how performers apply a different cultural interpretation on a common odyssey.”

Akram says in the programme notes: “In a world moving so fast with the growth of technology and information, I am somehow inclined to move against this current, in search of what it might mean to be connected not just spiritually but also vertically.”

Immediately before Snape Dances, DanceEast will be showcasing rising French company Echoa which Assis described as Stomp for the 21st century. “They are very family friendly. It’s an hour-long show. It’s pure entertainment. They have an enormously charismatic group of dancers, drummers and physical comedians. It blurs the line between music and movement. It’s action percussion. It’s very boy friendly and likewise we have TPO from Italy coming back in December. Again its very family friendly. They did Butterflies last year which was a sell-out. It was so beautiful that we’ve got them back to do The Japanese Garden ? so we are going to have lots of origami on our Christmas tree this year.”

Echoa will be at the Jerwood DanceHouse from October 18-20 while TPO will be staging The Japanese Garden in the James Hehir Dance Theatre from December 13-19.

Away from the final shows the Rough Cuts strand will continue throughout the autumn. Luca Silvestrini’s widely acclaimed Protein dance will be setting up camp at the Ipswich DanceHouse to develop a work called LOL ? Lots of Love. A preview will be performed on December 10 with a chance for audiences to offer feedback. The show will look at the way that electronic media has changed the way we live and love one another. The finished piece will then be premiered in Ipswich on January 28-29 2011.

DanceEast’s latest associate artist, Darren Ellis, will be developing a new solo work in collaboration with lighting designer Guy Hoare. It explores rhythm, phrasing of light, movement and sound creating an interactive installation with just one light, one drum and one dancer.

Darren will be previewing the piece on January 8 2011.

Community work is also not forgotten with DanceEast staging a street dance event in Shotley village hall car park on October 31. Developed by Lone Twin Project, this creates a dance work by a community of non-dancers, telling everyday stories of life on their street.

Assis ended on a slightly hesitant note, worrying about future funding. “We are very pleased with the level and quality of work we have been able to provide audiences and we just hope we can continue to do this work because we are very worried about funding in the future. We don’t know what is happening. We are all worried about the financial climate. But we are going to carry on. We are tightening up as much as we can behind the scenes and keeping as much as we can for audiences.”

For more information on the DanceHouse First Year Gala and the autumn programme go to www.danceeast.co.uk

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