This month, I talk to Gary Avis and partner Tim Holder about the herculean task of bringing Covent Garden to Suffolk with their “Gary Avis & Friends” Show and also living in their “private paradise.”
JN: How do you go about creating a show like that?
Gary: The only reason that I could create a show like that is because Tim and I (who is also development director at Suffolk Community Foundation), work together as a team and complement each other’s talents. It’s pooling our resources and combining my connections with the artistic side with Tim’s ability to organise the financial backing and marketing to put on these hugely complicated gala events. We then have our Suffolk producer Bryony Wells who pulls all the technical and logistical elements together. That’s a huge job in itself.
JN: Gary, how did you go about choosing what pieces to put in the production?
Gary: In my role as Ballet Master I get to see all the performances during the year and I chose a selection of my favourites. Classics, such as – your Nutcrackers, Swan Lakes and Romeo and Juliet’s – but also some modern greats. The beauty of the show was that unless you go to the opera house you will never have a chance to see these.
JN: How long did it take to plan?
Tim: Putting a show like that together required planning that stretched back a year. But, wasn’t only the dancers who came. We had the heads of lighting and sound, stage managers and the specialists from Covent Garden working on this show, we had the wigs and wardrobe departments too. Everyone volunteered their valuable time and all these elements had to be co-ordinated.
Gary: That’s why we had to get the programme fixed very early on because the costumes had to be sourced from all over the place. If they are not currently featured in our rep for the season they could be hired out to other companies anywhere in the world. The same goes for the wigs, shoes, make-up, it all took a lot planning. We didn’t just turn up with a costume and switch the lights on.
JN: What was your aim, in creating the show? 8
Tim: Our aim was to create something that no-one could see anywhere else. For example, for this latest production of Gary Avis and Friends you would never get to see that many Principal Royal Ballet Stars on stage in a normal performance at Covent Garden. You may get two or three at most, we had five!
Just seeing The Royal Ballet outside London is a treat because they are not funded to tour the UK. If you remove official duty and substitute a charity like Suffolk Community Foundation, resources fall into place and things become possible.
Gary: Even so, staging a show like that was a big ask. The quality of performance still had to be maintained because the name and reputation of The Royal Ballet was on the line.
JN: So why the Ipswich Regent?
Gary: I have never forgotten my roots. I am a proud Ipswich boy. I love the Regent because this is where I started performing with the Co-op Juniors. And, I suspect, that because I am getting older now, well you never know if that was my last opportunity to dance for everyone on the Regent stage, so it was very special for us. And the atmosphere in The Regent was electric.
JN: Are you enjoying living in Gislingham?
Tim & Gary: (Both simultaneously) We are!
Tim: It’s such a beautiful place. After ‘accidentally’ living in London for over 20 years we both wanted to come home to Suffolk. We were both brought up in Ipswich and wanted to get to know another part of the County that we love so much. We’d never heard of Gislingham. So many people haven’t. That’s fine by us. A little piece of private paradise.
JN: Finally, I must ask you, what are the neighbours like?
Gary: We have terrific neighbours on all sides. We feel really fortunate to be able to say that, and in the wider village too. Everyone has been so welcoming to our whole family!
On two legs and four!! We were also very touched to see so many Gislingham faces in Ipswich for the galas. Wonderful!
Tim: When you live in such a relatively isolated spot people really make an effort. We are constantly surprised at the lengths villagers go to in creating special events and community activities. We both live really busy lives, but we do try to enjoy and contribute to village life as much as possible.