19 December 2022

The final theatre in my Tour: DanceEast, Ipswich

By Rachel Sloane
DanceEast, Ipswich

This was the 26th Suffolk theatre I had been to, in twelve months, in my self-imposed challenge, each time writing about the venue and a different style of production. It was the turn of contemporary dance.

DanceEast opened on the Ipswich Waterfront in 2009, as the centre for professional dance in East of England and host  public performances, usually of contemporary dance.   They also hold classes for amateur dancers – adults and children – of all styles 

A modern building with concrete ceilings, walls and chunky pillars, there is a café with views of the river, and comfortable chairs in bar area. My favourite thing is, on the staircase to the dance studios, there is an eye-catching chandelier – made of dancer’s tutus! 

The tutu chandelier

The James Hehir Theatre is used for both performances, group activities and  business events, and has 200 seats in a studio-style theatre. 

ALICE by the Jasmin Vardimon Company 

This is a reimagining of the classic Alice in Wonderland. Publicised as suitable for over sevens, audience members were emailed a couple of weeks beforehand to warn that some of the performance may be a bit on the scary side. On the night I went it was a mainly adult audience but with a smattering of young teenagers. (A school performance was also held.) 

The impressive setting gave the impression of a giant wordless book, that turned on the circular turntable, with the opening for each scene as it moved, and the numbered Chapters were called Time, Direction, Identity, or Rules and Ruler, etc.

Introduced by dancers leaping and tumbling, the story itself began more gently, as a projected life-size cartoon version of Alice gradually transformed into human form (dancer  Evelyn Hart), with plaited hair, who appeared around the corner of the ‘book’, dressed identically in a white dress with ‘drawn’ pockets, interacting with her cartoon. So the drawing became Alice herself. Very clever. 

(Image by Tristram Kenton) 

This was not the classic story of Alice in Wonderland as written by Lewis Carroll, but, if you knew it, you could spot well-known elements. Alice did eat and drink and grow tall and short, there was a brief vertical Mad Hatters tea-party, (the table standing on end!) and a Cheshire Cat with large projected eyes, a giant billowing fabric mouth, that then became a rather creepy human cat, with an evil expression. The Red Queen and her soldiers were there, climbing the gym-style bars of a page of the ‘book’ and perched aloft on a pile of  rocks, and there was a mad game of croquet too.

(Image by Tristram Kenton)

The music was an eclectic mixture of ballad, rock, hip-hop, and pop (Living Next Door to Alice….) 

The notes for this performance said, 

“A woman, or perhaps a child, unsure of her identity and where she is going. 

Escaping or exploring, discovering the powers within her changing body. The world around her is different, curious, and compelling – at times absolutely bonkers.”

Well yes, it was a bit bonkers but also mesmerising, and I loved this show, even when the challenges of emerging womanhood and the deeper interpretation of this traditional story went over my head a bit! 

I loved the movement, the energy, the pace and the beauty of the dancing. Eighty minutes with no interval… but I was never bored. At times beautiful and poignant it was also laugh-out-loud funny at times, such when the cast of men and women, all dressed as Alice, danced together.

(Image by Tristram Kenton) 

I had been to DanceEast before, but not for some years, but I will go back to see more contemporary dance performances. 

ALiCE by the Jasmin Vardimon Company 16th – 18th December 2022

So – the challenge was over. I have loved it. Am I one of the few people who have been to every theatre in the county, I wonder? I will be looking back at what I have learned in my February article in Suffolk Norfolk Life magazine, and in the New Year on BBC Radio Suffolk and BBC Radio Norfolk on Georgy Jamison’s Monday night show.