Review: Gary Avis and Friends: Dance for Suffolk, The Royal Ballet, Ipswich Regent, September 10-11

Gary Avis and Mara Galeazzi performing the final act pas de deux from The Merry Widow at Gary Avis a

Gary Avis and Mara Galeazzi performing the final act pas de deux from The Merry Widow at Gary Avis and Friends: Dance for Suffolk at the Ipswich Regent - Credit: Archant

Gary Avis and his friends from The Royal Ballet received a deafening standing ovation after they conjured up a weekend of breathtaking dance magic.

Beatriz Stix-Brunell and Ryoichi Hirano performing the final duet from Wayne McGregor's Raven Girl a

Beatriz Stix-Brunell and Ryoichi Hirano performing the final duet from Wayne McGregor's Raven Girl at Gary Avis and Friends: Dance for Suffolk at the Ipswich Regent - Credit: Archant

On Saturday night, the sell-out audience, rose to their feet as one to celebrate the elegant, startling and, at times, beautifully moving performances from 15 of the world’s greatest dancers from The Royal Ballet along with host Anton du Beke and Strictly Come Dancing co-star Joanne Clifton and DanceEast’s dazzling CAT students.

This was billed as one of the great weekends of dance, at any venue, anywhere in the UK this year and it didn’t disappoint. Ipswich born and Suffolk resident Gary Avis, Principal Character Artist and Ballet Master with the Royal Ballet, put together a stunning show designed to show off the breadth and variety of The Royal Ballet’s repertoire.

During a three hour show we had everything from classical ballet (Swan Lake and The Nutcracker) to contemporary ballet (Asphodel Meadows and Raven Girl) to contemporary dance (Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan and After the Rain). It was delivered with seemingly effortless grace, strength and control to the obvious delight of a hugely appreciative audience.

This was Covent Garden come to Suffolk. Host, the self-deprecating Anton du Beke, told us early on that not only this was the largest gathering of principal Royal Ballet stars outside London for 20 years but more than 30 backstage staff and heads of department (lighting, wigs, wardrobe) had decamped to Ipswich to run the show.


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The talent crammed onto the Regent stage was astonishing. The lavish programme read like a Who’s Who of international dance detailing performances by Zenaida Yanowsky, Mara Galeazzi, Alexander Campbell and Ryoichi Hirano, Reece Clarke, fellow Ipswich native Helen Crawford, Meaghan Grace Hinkis, Emma Maguire, Matthew Ball, Lukas Bjorneboe Braendsrod, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Luca Acri, Mayara Magri and Yasmine Naghdi.

Not only were dancers born all over the world but some, like Gary’s professional partner Mara Galeazzi, had flown in from Oman, especially to perform at the Ipswich gala.

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The show demonstrated in dramatic fashion that, despite a popular reputation for being an artform obsessed with tradition, ballet is very much alive and is constantly evolving, changing and developing. The classics provide a solid backbone to new work which is being created and premiered all the time – work by contemporary choreographers such Christopher Wheeldon, Will Tuckett, Wayne McGregor and Ipswich-born Liam Scarlett, all of whom had beautiful, ambitious pieces performed this weekend.

Each piece had its own character. Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows was lyrical and beautiful, while Christopher Wheeldon’s Within The Golden Hour revelled in its playful musicality, Will Tuckett’s Nisi Dominus was quirkily entertaining while Wayne McGregor’s Infra was quietly reflective allowing the audience to become drawn in by the dancers movements and the elegant shapes made by their astonishingly supple bodies.

From the classical programme highlights included The Balcony pas de deux from Sir Kenneth Macmillan’s Romeo and Juliet, Vasily Vainonen’s Flames of Paris and Ronald Hynd’s final act pas de deux from The Merry Widow performed by Gary Avis and Mara Galeazzi.

Anton du Beke wasn’t just master of ceremonies, he dusted off his dancing shoes for a suitably flashy foxtrot with Joanne Clifton and in the second-half teamed up with hometown star Gary Avis for a joyous hat and cane routine to the sounds of Frank Sinatra.

Gary Avis and Friends: Dance For Suffolk was a celebration of dance but it was also an evening about Suffolk. It was an opportunity to raise money for Suffolk Community Foundation’s Arts and Culture Fund which will support local charities looking to use the arts to help those in need.

This weekend’s performances look set to raise £100,000 for the fund. Suffolk’s The Gallery Players, featuring Maria Mattisson, sang I Know Where I’ve Been, an anthem of hope for the disadvantaged from the musical Hairspray to underline the positive effect the arts can have on the world.

It was a unique event, something so complex and personal that cannot be repeated elsewhere. For me, the second act trio of contemporary pieces assured me that the future of ballet is in safe hands: Raven Girl, Brahms Waltzes and After The Rain left me speechless with admiration. They were three very different, very beautiful and emotionally affecting pieces of dance theatre.

I would say welcome home Gary but the truth is you’ve never been away but thanks for bringing your talented mates for a visit.

Andrew Clarke

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