Gary Avis' Dancing Feet
PUBLISHED: 14:15 22 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:53 20 February 2013
As the Royal Ballet's Gary Avis adds more names to the list of renowned dancers who will be performing at a charity concert in Suffolk, he talks to Lynne Mortimer about his love of ballet, perfection and his home county
Gary Avis relaxes in theconservatory of his Suffolksanctuary.Born a few miles away from hiscottage on the River Orwell, this iswhere he feels at home and this is where, for afew precious weeks each year, he can unwind.
Where a normal mortal that is to say, aperson who is not a professional dancer at thepinnacle of a remarkable career might sprawlon a sofa and look, well, untidy, Gary Avis lookssomehow arranged.A portrait artist could capture him just as heis now, in repose, wearing casual shorts andshirt; dark, curly hair fringing a strongfeaturedface dominated by intense, expressiveeyes; his long, muscular, legs stretched outacross the floor; his arms, pleasingly graceful.He cant help it. On stage, dancers have to lookperfect through 360 degrees and it becomessecond nature.Even when the constant and enthusiasticsnufflings of Louis and Ella, the two miniatureschnauzers that vie for his attention, cause himto lean over and scoop one of them on to his lap possibly Louis the dancer still lookseffortlessly elegant.
Friendly, genuine and with a wide circle ofSuffolk friends, many of whom he has hadsince he was a teenager, even younger, Gary isone of those rare famous people who remainsclose to his roots.They keep him grounded, he says, and that isprobably important when the critics rave aboutyou (as they do) and you are up there with theleading dancers of your generation.He has partnered Darcey Bussell, dancedwith Carlos Acosta and has his own devotedfollowing of fans. I have seen them. They waitfor him in at the stage door of the Royal OperaHouse and, as he exits on to the street, theysurge forward to offer congratulations and askfor an autograph.
The great choreographer Sir KennethMacmillan, whose ballets (Romeo and Juliet,Mayerling, and Manon) remain at the core ofthe Royal Ballets repertoire, has created rolesfor him.The companys other famous choreographeris Sir Frederick Ashton, creator of La Fille malGardee and Sylvia, who lived in Yaxley, inSuffolk.
In Ipswich, they are currently celebrating thelife and work of Ashton and in theChristchurch Park Mansion there is anexhibition of costumes from his Cinderella andTales of Beatrix Potter.Gary Aviss Fox is costume on display next toJemima Puddleduck.He says: It is amazing to think that acostume I have worn is on show in my hometown. My links with Suffolk are important tome. I live and breathe ballet for 10 months ofthe year; mostly in London.
As ballet master I have responsibility forstaging, leading rehearsals for the corps,soloists and principals.
I am also a principal character artist andplay many of the leading dance/actor roles.This means I too have to practise and rehearse.Some might say I am a perfectionist wellactually, thats very true. Its not just aboutgetting the moves exactly right, its aboutinterpreting the music and telling the story.While I get to dance dynamic andchallenging parts such as Tybalt in Romeo andJuliet, I also get to portray the villains, such asRothbart in Swan Lake and I love doing thecomedy characters I have recently been one ofthe Ugly Sisters in Cinderella, giving me a rarechance to dance in a frock. Previous Ugly Sisters have included SirFrederick Ashton himself.Sir Frederick Ashton said that, in hisimagination, there existed the suspendedstillness of a Constable landscape of mybeloved Suffolk, luminous and calm. That isthe Suffolk I come home to and that I take back to London with me.
At home in Suffolk, Gary likes to catch upwith friends. There is his dance teacher LindaShipton; the Co-op Juniors with whom he usedto dance and for whom, in recent years, he haschoreographed routines which have been intheir Christmas show at Snape Maltings.A lot of my friends are in the local theatrecompanies. In my teens I appeared on stage withmany of them and musical theatre became oneof the big loves of my life.If youd asked me at 16 what I wanted to do, Iwould have said I wanted to be a West Endperformer, dancing and singing in musicals. Butthen I won a place to train with the Royal Balletand it changed everything.
Being a leading dancer in one of the worldstop ballet companies must be a pretty glamorouslife?It can be wonderful, Gary agrees. Thecheers; the applause; the occasional bottle ofchampagne delivered to my dressing room. Ihave danced for world leaders, movie stars andA list celebrities.But the real joy is in the dancing. After ashow, my feet may hurt, my arms ache and,under the make-up and costumes I may be hotand weary but nothing can take away the sheerthrill of performing. I love it.
Gary and Tim, his partner of 19 years, are agregarious couple and while their Londonfriends and their Suffolk friends dont often gettogether, there is one big exception.That is The Hunger Project (THP). Tim, also anative Suffolk man, is the charitys UK directorand his mission is twofold. First he wants toraise its profile and publicise its aims; second,he wants to bring in funds. Hence theappearance at Ipswich Regent of Gary Avis andFriends.For ages I have wanted to bring the stars ofthe Royal Ballet to Suffolk. It has been nearly 50years since the company performed at TheRegent theatre, in Ipswich. And I also wanted todo something for The Hunger Project.There have been a number of challenges getting permission for artists from the RoyalBallet to perform here; getting the top dancersto come along; plus filling the biggest theatre inthe region for two performances.In fact, I have been overwhelmed by peopleswillingness to help. Dame Monica Mason,director of the Royal Ballet, is generouslyallowing us to use iconic pieces ofchoreography and the response of my friendsand fellow artists has been amazing.Principals and soloists including StevenMcRae, Mara Galeazzi, Roberta Marquez,Nehemiah Kish, Paul Kay, Yuhui Choe, MelissaHamilton, Bennet Gartside and Liam Scarletthave agreed to take part and it now seems likelythat this will be the most star-studdedperformance ever seen outside London.
I am also thrilled that English NationalBallet principal ballerina Begoa Cao isappearing, and that my musical theatre friendsfrom Suffolk are taking part in a speciallystaged item.
In a year when everyone has been talkingabout the Black Swan following the success ofthe movie, will Odiles dance from Swan Lake beon the programme?Oh, yes, smiles Gary. That was one of thefirst things that went in.There will also be a chance to enjoy highlightsfrom neo-classical works, among them a pieceby The Royal Ballets Liam Scarlett, Suffolkslatest acclaimed choreographer.
Just back from a tour in Taipei, Gary is nowofficially on summer leave and looking forwardto fish and chips in Aldeburgh (apparentlydancers are allowed the occasional fish supper),and taking in some of the Suffolk landscape heloves.