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DanceEast stages premiere of The Borrowers on Ipswich Waterfront

PUBLISHED: 17:09 07 December 2017

The Borrowers, DanceEast's Christmas show, featuring Arrietty (Hannah Mason), Pod (Thomasin Gulgec) Homily (Estela Merlos). Photo: Jane Hackett Productions

The Borrowers, DanceEast's Christmas show, featuring Arrietty (Hannah Mason), Pod (Thomasin Gulgec) Homily (Estela Merlos). Photo: Jane Hackett Productions

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DanceEast is staging the premiere of a new dance-theatre production of the children’s classic The Borrowers. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to director Jane Hackett about putting dancers in the middle of an animated world

The Borrowers, DanceEast's Christmas show, featuring Arrietty (Hannah Mason), Pod (Thomasin Gulgec) Homily (Estela Merlos). Photo: Jane Hackett ProductionsThe Borrowers, DanceEast's Christmas show, featuring Arrietty (Hannah Mason), Pod (Thomasin Gulgec) Homily (Estela Merlos). Photo: Jane Hackett Productions

The Borrowers is one of the great children’s novels – a wonderful adventure story by Mary Norton about a family of pint-sized people who live around us and refashion everyday objects for their own purposes.

It’s a classic story which has charmed generations as Pod, Homily and their headstrong daughter Arrietty embark on a journey of discovery as they flee their home, embark on adventures, overcome danger before finally finding a safe place to make a new life.

This timeless tale has been brought to the stage for Christmas by dance director and choreographer Jane Hackett and will be receiving its world premiere at the Jerwood DanceHouse next week.

The Borrowers, DanceEast's Christmas show, featuring Arrietty (Hannah Mason), Pod (Thomasin Gulgec) Homily (Estela Merlos). Photo: Jane Hackett ProductionsThe Borrowers, DanceEast's Christmas show, featuring Arrietty (Hannah Mason), Pod (Thomasin Gulgec) Homily (Estela Merlos). Photo: Jane Hackett Productions

Commissioned by DanceEast, this inventive Christmas show blends contemporary dance and physical theatre with groundbreaking animation and sound to create an immersive experience which will place the audience in the heart of the story.

Jane developed the production in collaboration with dance artists Estela Merlos and Thomasin Gulgec working both in Ipswich and at Sadler’s Wells. It features hand-painted animation, created by artist Betsy Dadd, and a specially commissioned score from composer Tobias Saunders.

The production puts the dancers in the middle of an animated world.

The Borrowers Spiller (Lewis Cooke) Pod (Thomasin Gulgec) Arrietty (Hannah Mason) Homily (Estela Merlos). Photo: Jane Hackett ProductionsThe Borrowers Spiller (Lewis Cooke) Pod (Thomasin Gulgec) Arrietty (Hannah Mason) Homily (Estela Merlos). Photo: Jane Hackett Productions

For Jane the development of the show has been a journey of discovery for herself. It started off as an off-shoot of another project she was working on at Sadler’s Wells.

“I was working with the artist Betsy Dadd. She’s a young artist and incredibly talented. She makes animated sequences and works in a very particular, very old fashioned way. She hand-paints every frame, then photographs them and then puts them all together in a very beautiful, unique way.

“We were working together at Sadler’s Wells, on a crazy project about a kitchen that came to life, with pots and pans chasing people around the kitchen. When we saw the scale of the projection – it was huge – it made me think of The Borrowers because it made the people look very small.”

The Borrowers director Jane Hackett.. Photo: Jane Hackett ProductionsThe Borrowers director Jane Hackett.. Photo: Jane Hackett Productions

She says that as soon as she mentioned this to Betsy it became clear that Mary Norton’s book was an important part of their childhood. “It turned out that, when we were young, we both absolutely adored The Borrowers. It made me think of how children see the world slightly differently – as a child you are a small person and you are often overlooked and overwhelmed by the world at large – and I think, that’s partly why children love the story.”

Fascinated by the possibilities of combining dance with animation and state-of-the-art digital projection Jane and Betsy started working on a development project with the help of DanceEast. Enthused by the early workshops, Jane found she had no shortage of ideas but found that working with new technology, at times, required the patience of a saint.

“I have produced a lot of dance and theatre and sometimes I sat there thinking: ‘This would have been so much easier if I just had a couple of dancers and some nice scenery,’ but it was so worth it in the end.

“The biggest realisation was the fact that you can’t suddenly change anything. If you want to change something it takes hours to get everything right again. You can’t suddenly say: ‘Can you make that a bit shorter?’ So you have to be very sure about what you want to achieve and what you want it to look like.

“For the dancers as well, it’s a real challenge, working with backgrounds and visuals which aren’t physically there and it’s not a straight dance performance either. There’s a lot of acting required so they really have to immerse themselves in their character. But, also thinking about how to move objects when they are not really there. Is it too big for me? Is it really heavy?”

She said the show at the Jerwood DanceHouse on Ipswich Waterfront will have four projectors covering the entire stage.

“Having these four projectors will allow the animation to cover the sides as well as the back. You really feel as if you are immersed in that world. I love making work for children because they have such wonderful imaginations and I am always aware that this may be the first time that they may have been to a theatre so we would want it to be a magical experience.”

The Borrowers is at DanceEast from December 13-17.

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