Get yourself all comfy, grab a cuppa and read on as I speak to the head of creative programmes at DanceEast in Suffolk in our exclusive interview. Lucy Bayliss reveals all about the wonderful world of dancing, her exciting role and even what a typical day involves so enjoy!
Tell us about DanceEast:
DanceEast evolved out of an organisation called Suffolk Dance, which was founded by an exceptional woman, Scilla Dyke. Scilla is a life-long advocate for dance. In fact, she has worked tirelessly to bring the highest quality dance companies to work at first with children and young people in Suffolk. From those humble roots, the organisation continued to grow. In fact it was awarded regional status in 2000 when the name evolved into the DanceEast we know today. We have been housed in the Jerwood DanceHouse, since it was opened in 2009.
How did DanceEast establish itself as a World Class Dance Studio?
Over the past 36 years, there have been a whole range of passionate and committed people that have contributed to the success of the organisation. Each stage of the organisation’s development has allowed us to explore new ideas, reach new communities and grow our offer. Ambition has always been at the heart of the organisation’s values. After all, we want to create the best work right here and bring the best work to Suffolk. We believe big things can happen in small places. So we work really hard to champion what’s right here on our doorstep.
In what way has DanceEast changed since Jerwood DanceHouse opened as your cultural hub?
Having one of the best dance facilities in the country, and I would argue in Europe, does not go unnoticed by artists, choreographers and companies. It’s a great place to work and create, and people love coming to Ipswich. We’ve expanded our long-standing community provision into four studios. Therefore, having such incredible facilities has allowed us to invite a diverse and exciting range of companies and artists to work here. They either make or present work and it has also brought real visibility for the organisation which helps support our outreach work too.
How do you try and work with different Ipswich community groups?
We do a lot of our community work in partnership with other organisations; sometimes schools, sometimes cultural organisations and sometimes specialist partners that bring specific expertise or works with a specific population. We bring our expert knowledge – dance – but don’t pretend to be experts in all things! Some of our new partnerships in Ipswich specifically are developing offers for recently arrived families and refugees, older people and very young children and families. We also do a lot of outreach across Suffolk and beyond. In fact, we’ve enjoyed exploring local heritage with people in Lowestoft over the past couple of years. It’s all about encouraging people to be proud of the places in which they live.
What performances are at The James Hehir Theatre over the coming months?
Every time we launch a new season, I am genuinely excited about seeing the shows and sharing them with our audience. The Christmas show is always a really special one for us. Our previous shows have been hugely successful and we’ve got a new commission again this year. Arthur Pita is a DanceHouse favourite and is making a family show for the first time. This is called Ten Sorry Tales and it’s based on a book of the same name by popular children’s author Mick Jackson. Arthur’s theatrical movement style coupled with the music by Frank Moon and exceptionally stylish design by Yann Seabra mean we’ve got the dream team on this one.
When did you start your role as Head of Creative Programmes?
I’ve been in my current role since 2014, but with DanceEast since 2005. It’s one of the best dance jobs in the country so I feel extremely fortunate to be trusted with it.
Can you tell us a little about your typical working day?
The best thing about my job is that there is no such thing as a typical day. My role works right across our programme and is part of the senior management team. So, I could be involved with anything from the progression of a particular young dancer, writing a new outreach project to engage older people, watching a new creation with world-class dancers in the studio or discussing strategies for organisational development or how to raise funding for a new programme.
What is your background as a dancer?
Like many people working in dance, I had a passion from a very young age. Luckily my mum had a dance school where I grew up in Norfolk, so I have danced all my life. After training professionally, it quickly became apparent to me that the lifestyle of a touring dancer wasn’t going to suit me, so I decided to work with my strengths and move into management. Only about 8% of jobs in the dance sector are performing, so it’s really key that we advocate for the importance of growing skills of dance-lovers to do the other 92%! The creative industries are growing at twice the rate of other industries so there are real work opportunities for people who love all things arts and culture.
Beginners Tap sounds LOTS of fun! What are your most popular classes and why?
At the moment our classes for older dancers are booming which is excellent – and older people are taking all sorts of our open classes too: ballet, Tap, creative workshops, Pilates and Yoga…although we don’t yet have many older dancers in Hip Hop! We are finding that a lot of people over the age of 50 are looking for new hobbies or ways to keep active and social and turning to dance – and they’re right to, too as there’s plenty of research to support the fact that dance is good for your body, brain and social life too.
Do you work with many international dance artists?
All the time, yes. Sometimes I have to pinch myself at the artists and companies we get to work with. The dance community in England is very diverse and our programme is enriched by presenting a whole range of different artists and influences. We commission a lot of new work too and it’s hugely rewarding when one of our commissioned shows has a successful touring life. In Spring 2020 we are premiering Akram Khan’s new work Chotto Xenos. His previous family work, Chotto Desh premiered here too and has gone on to tour internationally, completing well over 200 shows. Arthur Pita’s Little Match Girl was also a DanceEast commission and is still touring now too and at Sadler’s Wells for another run this Christmas.
Why is pilates so beneficial for dancers and as a general fitness regime?
Pilates is all about core stability – for dance it’s essential but it’s pretty important for all over physical health too.
Are there any up and coming dancers who we need to keep a look out for?
We have some wonderfully talented young dancers graduating from our Centre for Advanced Training every year – each year they are all offered places at the best conservatoires and vocational schools and we then watch and wait for them to come out the other side to see where they’re going to go on to. Some of the recent successes have been Jack Parry, originally from Stowmarket, who is touring with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, Elin Anderson (from Worlingham) who is off to Danish Dance Theatre, Reece Calver (Felixtowe) is in Gary Clarke’s Wasteland and Oli Robertson (from Melton) who is embarking on an apprenticeship dancing with James Wilton Company.
What types of classes would you recommend for a novice who wants to improve their overall fitness?
Beginners Ballet is a great place to start as it’s an all-over conditioning class – there is no need to turn up in a leotard, just something comfortable you can move in. Tap, Hip Hop and Yoga are great fun too and each of them is offered at beginners or open level.
What are three things that you love about your job?
Watching dance, watching other people dance, and talking about dance! It makes me happy to see other people getting so much joy from what we do.
What do you enjoy about working in Ipswich?
We have a great community in Ipswich and a huge range of cultural partners. We work with other organisations under the banner of We Are Ipswich and support and advocate for each other’s work. And we have an incredible building right on the waterfront which, in weather like we’re having today, is like looking out on to some sort of Mediterranean marina. I can then stroll on home through Christchurch Park and be home in 15 minutes. What’s not to love?
Where is your favourite place in Suffolk and why?
Rendlesham Forest is always a winner for me. It’s scale and serenity are good for either a peaceful stroll or a bit of an adventure with my two little girls.
How popular has the new BA Hons Dance Degree been so far?
It’s been great! We are now working with our second cohort, and we’ve learned a lot already and the students are having a great time – the group sessions between the two year groups really buzz. I very much hope that the students will stay in Suffolk afterwards and deliver some more great dance experiences here.
Are there any exciting plans you can tell us about regarding the future of DanceEast?
We are very lucky to have world premieres here all the time, so aside from Chotto Xenos in February 2020 (mentioned above) we already have the National Youth Dance Company premiering a piece by the award-winning artist Russell Maliphant (whose company is resident at the DanceHouse) in April and then after that….you’ll have to keep an eye on our social media channels to catch the latest.