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In memoriam: The years of the Great War in Ipswich, in words, music and dance

PUBLISHED: 15:32 05 February 2018 | UPDATED: 15:32 05 February 2018

Choir and dancers at the first get together of ICS and DanceEast. Picture: MATTHEW CLARKE

Choir and dancers at the first get together of ICS and DanceEast. Picture: MATTHEW CLARKE

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In a unique performance, Ipswich Choral Society and DanceEast bring a newly commissioned work to Ipswich, next month.

Ipswich Choral Society and DanceEast at their first get-together - Sue Sinclair, at the front, is a member of ICS and dances at DanceEast. Picture: MATTHEW CLARKE Ipswich Choral Society and DanceEast at their first get-together - Sue Sinclair, at the front, is a member of ICS and dances at DanceEast. Picture: MATTHEW CLARKE

For its next concert Ipswich Choral Society, one of the country’s oldest established choirs, won’t be looking back to its two centuries of song but looking forward to its next collaboration with the arts. This time, contemporary dance.

After celebrating its 190th anniversary in 2014, the society (ICS) looked around for new projects. Now, having already worked with artists, photographers and poets, it fastened on dance as the next, logical – and actual – step. The idea of combining both voices and dancers in a musical performance was first mooted by choir member and dancer Sue Sinclair.

“Singing has always been my hobby but dance is my passion,” says Sue who says she will be dancing in this production.

The performance and in particular, the first half, is a tribute to the people of Ipswich, 100 years on from the last months of the First World War. It will include the personal stories of local people and will be a dramatic, moving and involving musical and visual experience.

Ipswich Choral Society and DanceEast at their first get-together. Picture: MATTHEW CLARKE Ipswich Choral Society and DanceEast at their first get-together. Picture: MATTHEW CLARKE

Composer Huw Morgan has been commissioned to write new music which will also incorporate some of the well-known tunes from the period. Suffolk Poetry Society too is working with choreographer Mary Davies and ICS.

The audience will sit around the performance area with the choir completing the circle (chairs will be laid out in what the Ipswich Corn Exchange, I am thrilled to discover, calls its “wrestling format”) Lighting will be used to create the atmosphere of a town increasingly worn down by war and the threat of bombing raids. The colourful turn of the century scene with its gaiety and hope for the future will give way to the uniforms worn by soldiers and by women in factories, such as Ransomes in Ipswich, and nurses who worked at the front.

As well as music and words, silence will also play its part in this evocation of Ipswich, a century ago.

The emotional journey of the first half will conclude with the singing of Abide with Me.

Ipswich Choral Society music director Robin Walker in rehearsal. Picture: DAVID ROBINSON Ipswich Choral Society music director Robin Walker in rehearsal. Picture: DAVID ROBINSON

For all the 120-plus participants in the production it is an exciting prospect while the audience will, at times, be surrounded by sound.

This newly-created piece will be paired with a performance of Howard Goodall’s 2008 Requiem. One of our leading composers, Goodall famously penned some of our best-known comedy theme songs, such as the much loved version of The Lord is My Shepherd (Vicar of Dibley). He also wrote the music for The Hired Man, a musical set in a coal town in the north-west. But by far his biggest body of work is his choral compositions, among them Eternal Light: A Requiem.

Howard Goodall did not take the traditional approach to his requiem, feeling uneasy about the emphasis on the medieval church’s preoccupation with judgement and everlasting damnation that feature in most requiems. He says: “in an attempt to provide some solace for the living that mourn, I stripped down the old Latin texts to a few phrases in each movement and laid beside them words from English poems from across the last 500 years.” These include the First World War poem In Flanders Fields. The Requiem was originally performed with dance from the Rambert Dance Company.

Robin Walker is Ipswich Choral Society’s musical director, who delights in giving the society new challenges and making them work, while, choreographing the dance is Mary Davies from DanceEast, where she is artistic director of two companies – Encore East aimed at people aged over 55 who are returning to dance and Dance Unlimited, a group of dance practitioners.

Mary Davies and Robin Walker (front centre) with some of the Dance East and Ipswich Choral Society performers. Picture: MATTHEW CLARKE Mary Davies and Robin Walker (front centre) with some of the Dance East and Ipswich Choral Society performers. Picture: MATTHEW CLARKE

Hailing from Essex, Mary’s own background in dance includes training at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance and working in Europe – Germany and Belgium – in physical theatre. As a freelance artist Mary has toured with companies including The Cholmondeleys (Lea Anderson) and Earthfall Dance Company(Jim and Jessica Ennis). She has also delivered large-scale projects for Wayne McGregor, Maresa von Stockert, Rachael Nanyanjo, Tom Hobden (UNIT) and New Art Club.

The Goodall Requiem is in 10 sections and each one will be accompanied by dance, with Mary creating original choreography.

On the day we meet, it is the first occasion the choir and dancers have come together for a rehearsal and Mary takes everyone (including singers) through a gentle warm-up (see pictures!). Also here today is filmmaker Kate Flurrie, who is filming the proceedings to make a “lasting legacy”, interviewing some of those taking part.

Ipswich Remembers, commemorating local stories from the Great War of 1914-18 and featuring Eternal Light: A Requiem by Howard Goodall (soloists: soprano Gwendolen Martin and tenor Tom Randle) is on Saturday, March 17 at Ipswich Corn Exchange, performances at 2.30 and 7.30pm. www.ipswichchoralsociety.org.uk

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