Gary Avis leads gala celebration of dance

Some of the most dazzling international dance stars will be performing in the region this weekend as part of a special charity gala celebration our links to the Royal Ballet. ANDREW CLARKE takes a look at who will be performing.

There can be few regions of the country that can claim to have stronger connections with The Royal Ballet than East Anglia.

And this weekend Ipswich-born Gary Avis is returning to stage Gary Avis & Friends — an international gala of classical dance which will see more leading, contemporary ballet stars on stage of the Ipswich Regent than you would ever see in one evening at Covent Garden.

But Gary doesn't supply the only East Anglian connection. Sir Frederick Ashton, founder-choreographer of the Royal Ballet, came from the region and made his home in Eye. The other great choreographer with The Royal Ballet, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, who died backstage during a performance in 1992, went to school in Great Yar-mouth.

Meanwhile, dancer and rising choreographer Liam Scarlett is, like Gary, a product of the thriving regional dance world and will be unveiling a brand new work for this concert.

With no fewer than six principal dancers and a host of stars from the Royal Ballet and the English National Ballet, it promises to be one of the biggest dance showcase performances in the country and one of the highlights of the national dance calendar.

Tim Holder, the show's producer and a director for the charity The Hunger Project, which the event is in aid of, said that the event on September 11 was wonderful opportunity to celebrate home grown talent.

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'Although it's a homecoming for Gary, who has never danced professionally on the Regent stage, it's also a chance to marvel at the beauty and skill of contemporary classical ballet and to celebrate East Anglia's on-going connection with the world of ballet and the Royal Ballet in particular.

'This very special gala event will also provide an incredibly rare opportunity, outside London, for the people to see the legendary work of two of the world's greatest choreographers who have their roots here, Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Kenneth MacMillan. And in addition to this, there will a new work created by Ipswich-born Liam Scarlett.'

Gary, one of the leading dancers of his generation, who has previously partnered Darcey Bussell, danced with Carlos Acosta and has his own devoted following of fans, said: 'Sir Fred was the creator of so many iconic works for the Royal Ballet including his productions of The Tales of Beatrix Potter, Sylvia and Cinderella.

He is also keen to explain that Sir Fred was not the only choreographer to have links with East Anglia. 'Not many people realise that Sir Kenneth Macmillan also spent much of his childhood in Great Yarmouth. When I dance his work, I can't help thinking of the panoramic skies and stormy seas he must have seen as a child.

'They must surely have influenced the really dramatic and dangerous themes he loved in his story telling. Romeo and Juliet, Maylering and Manon of course, but then there is also The Prince of the Pagodas, the music for which has even stronger local connections, having been composed by Sir Benjamin Britten.'

The works of Sir Fred and Sir Kenneth continue to form the heart of the programme by The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden so it is unsurprising to find a wonderful conpendium of their finest pieces featured in The Royal Ballet's Gary Avis & Friends gala.

Tim Holder said: 'We have the ballroom pas de deux from Sir Frederick's fairytale production of Cinderella, the achingly beautiful Rhapsody to music by Rachmaninov and the intimate innocence of The Two Pigeons pas de deux – which was in fact the audition piece which launched Gary's celebrated Royal Ballet career.

'Sir Kenneth's work will include the bedroom pas de deux from Manon and a wonderfully celebratory and comic finale selection from Elite Syncopations to a ragtime score by Scott Joplin.'

Gary said that the show was designed to be a real tour-de-force. Over two performances, one at 1.30pm and the other at 6.30 pm, he wants to deliver the uiltimate Royal Ballet's greatest hits show.

'I wanted to leave the audience in no doubt about why The Royal Ballet is the greatest ballet company in the world. We have The Black Swan pas deux from Swan Lake, The Rose Adage from Sleeping Beauty and then there are some fabulous recent works by Christopher Wheeldon and Alastair Marriott.

'About 80% of the evening is ballet, but I've also put in few musical surprises. Royal Ballet Principal Steven McRae will be tapping to Benny Goodman, brilliant singer Jumok� Fashola will be singing the blues plus a song by Billie Holiday and also I'll be performing a Fred Astaire and Cyd Charrise number with our host for the eve-ning, Angela Rippon.

'There really will be something for everyone. When you have this many stars on the stage at one time, you need to let them break out and have some fun too.'

Rising star Liam Scarlett is now carrying the choreographic torch for the region. 'I've known Liam since he was six years old, in fact his whole family stayed with me the night before he auditioned for the Royal Ballet School,' said Gary. 'He's a really strong dancer and even though he is still only in his early twenties, he has already created two beautiful pieces for The Royal Opera House main stage at Covent Garden. I'm so pleased that Liam will be dancing in my gala and also is allowing us to perform a pas de deux from one of his works, Asphodel Meadows.'

? The Royal Ballet's Gary Avis & Friends is at the Regent Theatre Ipswich on September 11, 1.30 pm and 6.30pm, �60-�10, 01473 433100,